Kelly Clarkson. Miley Cyrus. Moby.
These hit-makers aren’t exactly favourites among indie-rock purists, but Tokyo Police Club embraced them all on the 2011 covers project Ten Songs, Ten Years, Ten Days. According to the Ontario band’s drummer, Greg Alsop, the response from fans was overwhelmingly positive.
“People were saying, ‘Oh my God, I love your cover of this song, and I hate Kelly Clarkson, I can’t stand Miley Cyrus,’ ” he remembers, reached on the phone in his recently adopted home of Los Angeles. “These are master songwriters and artists writing meticulously calculated songs that work for a reason.”
By performing these slick tunes using “a Vox amp and distorted vocals and a shittier drummer”, Alsop and his bandmates—singer-bassist David Monks, keyboardist Graham Wright, and guitarist Josh Hook—found that their fans became amenable to slick, radio-friendly pop. They applied this principle when working on their new album, the recently released Forcefield, which was written over a gruelling four-year period.
“We were looking into hip-hop producers like Illangelo, or we were talking about trying to collaborate with some of the guys from MSTRKRFT to go to a more electronic-tinged album,” Alsop remembers of the drawn-out process of writing and recording. “There were a lot of different ways the songs were interpreted.”
In the end, the group opted to remain within its wheelhouse, working with returning producer Doug Boehm and centring the arrangements around punchy, distorted guitars.
“They can do things a keyboard can’t do,” Alsop says of the group’s instrument of choice. “It’s percussive, it can drive something along without a pad. That kind of dubstep keyboard can be really exciting and rhythmic, but there’s nothing that sounds like a pick thrashing into six strings.”
Tokyo Police Club’s fondness for fretwork is highlighted on “Tunnel Vision”, which flexes its muscles with brawny alt-rock riffs.
Elsewhere on the nine-song LP, “Hot Tonight” is a youthful portrait of nocturnal curbside loitering that anchors its juggernaut pop chorus with exuberant six-string strums, and “Toy Guns” surges forward with punky verses before unexpectedly shifting into a laid-back hip-hop groove during the chorus.
Most striking of all is the eight-and-a-half-minute first track, “Argentina I, II, III”, which opens the album with an epic three-part suite and delivers misty-eyed romance with sprawling drama.
“You want to do something bold, especially if you’ve been away for that long,” Alsop says of this comeback cut, which was released online as Forcefield’s first teaser track. “We’re not a young band anymore, so I don’t think we need to be so brief as we once were. We were really concerned, early on, with people getting bored of our music—not wanting to try to hold people’s attention for longer than two minutes.”
Although “Argentina” is four times longer than the songs Tokyo Police Club used to write, it’s similarly gripping. Successes like this mean that, although making Forcefield was an agonizing four-year process, Alsop has no regrets.
“It’s very true to what we should have done,” he says. “I don’t think we made the wrong choice at all.”
Tokyo Police Club plays the Squamish Valley Music Festival’s Tantalus Stage next Saturday (August 9).