If there is one word that goes against everything rock music stands for, it’s stability. Over the years rock has thrived both thematically and musically from artists fighting the norms of the world around them while pushing their sounds to new heights. Yet when a band finds a style that works, like the Vancouver based duo Japandroids, it doesn’t matter if the music is pushing the genre further because you’ll be too lost in the mosh pit to care.
Ever since the band’s 2009 release, Post-Nothing, Japandroids have made a name for themselves as the type of band that makes every song sound like the biggest party you’ve ever attended. And on their 2012 album, Celebration Rock, the party reached critical mass as each track felt like culmination of the biggest moments of your life, except with more guitar solos. In the years since that record Japandroids have been relatively quiet, a word not commonly used to describe the band.
But now we have Near to the Wild Heart of Life, and it finds the band in a place of comfortable stability. This isn’t to say that they’ve some how softened in their time away, in fact it’s quite the opposite. With this new release Japandroids have crafted their most mature and accessible record yet.
Any fans of the band’s previous work should know what they’re getting into with Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Their trademark heavy riffs and passionate vocals remain but in a welcome surprise they carry a little more weight to them this time around. The album’s title track captures this perfectly; at its core it remains a undeniable Japandroids track but with the added bonus of being more developed than their past work.
Lyrically the song hits on a major theme of the album; finding love in one’s self and the world. As Brian King sings about the difficulty of leaving his home to discover himself, David Prowse’s expert drumming gives the track the shot of adrenalin that has defined the band’s career. It might not be a party song but it’s hard not to feel something stronger when listening to this and many other tracks on Near to the Wild Heart of Life.
Be they about finding a place to belong (‘North West South East’) or a person to love (‘True Love and a Free Life of Free Will’, ‘I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)’) the songs on Near to the Wild Heart of Life are some of the most beautiful tracks the band has put together, offering up a hard fought hopefulness that rings true. In fact the only true misstep in this collection of tracks is the seven plus minute ‘Arc of Bar’ which kills the momentum a bit and never really finds a solid theme.
But even that track isn’t a complete miss as it contains the other developed factor of the album; added instrumentation. What was once a guitar and drum band has expanded to include synths, backing vocals and even a acoustic guitar or two. These might not be the most dramatic changes but they keep with the sound the band is known for while adding an extra layer.
And that’s really the beauty of this album; yes it’s actually what you expect a Japandroids record to be but that’s okay because the band is so damn good at what they do.
I keep returning to the song ‘No Known Drink or Drug’ and its lyrics about a love for a person so strong that nothing else can compare. It’s the type of song that the band wouldn’t and couldn’t of made eight years ago but now it feels right for them in this moment. As the music ages so do we and it’s just nice to hear Japandroids won’t be slowing down with age anytime soon.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out on January 27th via ANTI-.