Album Reviews

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

(Polyvinyl) UK release date: 4 June 2012

Japandroids - Celebration Rock Uh uh oh uh uh uh oh oh! Oh yeah! Alright!

So runs the catechism of garage rock, all present and correct on the full-throated Celebration Rock. A duo, Japandroids are even more stripped back than your average band – never mind a garage, they’d easily set up in a bus shelter. They tick the genre’s boxes in wielding an uncompromisingly huge, swarming collision of feedback drenched guitar and muscular, primal drums. Singer/guitarist Brian King is also prone to statements like: “We started a band not to be famous or make money, but to go on tour. So for us making records is more of an excuse for us to… play the songs for people.” Such songs are, superficially, about drinking, smoking, getting girls, not getting girls and hollering to the heavens about it all.

So far, so ear-bleedingly obvious. Yet Japandroids deserve to be feted because they manage to be different in the midst of staying the same, making the simplest of templates their own in unassuming style. This is far harder than it sounds. Where others have taken the blue collar rock form elsewhere – Titus Andronicus melding it with more highfalutin concerns, Sleigh Bells sexing it up with coquettish metal, The Hold Steady weaving compelling narratives – Japandroids are resolutely, starkly uncomplicated. Garage or no, they’ve distilled rock to its essence. The cover says it all – a black and white photo of the band just having a sit down, it’s as disarming as their music which neither overreaches nor becomes a bone headed parody of itself. It’s still fun, but more than that, it’s capable of feeling important. It frequently actually is.

This is born of redemption. The duo thought themselves dead in the water in 2008, sick of self-recording and releasing to no recognition. They had already agreed to call it quits well before label interest surfaced, with the first LP Post-Nothing issued in early 2009. The band reluctantly agreed to promotion, charging into every gig with the alarming, reckless abandon of those consigned to fate. Heads turned. Buttressed by a critical clamour and blogosphere buzz, touring was like a constant victory lap, each sweat pit of a show a vindication and valediction. Still resigned to disappear, the duo issued a clutch of singles to get rid of remaining material. But then what? Tour over, with nothing left to lose and a fractious relationship smoothed over, 2011 was earmarked as a year to start from scratch and record an album. They thought they may as well try, even if they crashed and burned.

Celebration Rock is instead a triumph, showing that those with least to lose often have most to gain. It starts and ends with a field recording of fireworks, and there are plenty of metaphorical ones in-between as one punishing, joyous song runs into another. The record has a tighter feel than its predecessor, but its (virtually) as-live recording style is retained and arms it with a merciless sense of purpose. Quiet bits? What’s the point. The album’s eight songs fairly rattle along in a rising, sawing blitzkrieg. Lead single The House That Heaven Built especially is an absolute screamer, based around a wordless refrain and key lyric of “Anything tries to slow you down, tell them all to go to hell.” Then there’s the desperate, roiling nostalgia of Younger Us, the breathless Evil’s Sway, the urgent Adrenaline Nightshift.

Importantly, there’s also a lyrical progression – the simpler, largely first person preoccupations of Post Nothing left behind in favour of the inclusive and descriptive. Phrases are sometimes indistinct, but the shift toward a yearning, almost Bruce Springsteen-esque narrative is unmistakable. There’s still drinking and girls, but there’s also a restless suburban romance which will inspire yell-alongs at future shows – exactly Brian King’s aim. Utterly everyday yet utterly recognisable and distinctive, Celebration Rock is pounding, lithe and youthful. It’ll finish, you’ll compose yourself and put it on again.

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More on Japandroids
Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids – Post-Nothing