Album: Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Release date: 27 January
Sounds like: Young hearts sparking fire on the edge of Gastown.
“But I got no plans at all, except a drink as soon as possible.”
Five years since Celebration Rock and there’s murmurings in the Japandroids camp. If you think about it though, this is a band that have been on tour for years, then they go into the studio, lay some tracks down, maybe have a few months off to let the ringing in their ears die down a bit, then BANG! Here’s the new record. So, it’s really not that long – we all need a rest, don’t we? The duo of guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse always make good use of their succinct personnel; sounding like there’s 6 of them hammering away at various different instruments when they’re in full flow – it’s frightening how much speed and volume they gather and on Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, they showcase how it’s not always the unstoppable force that has the biggest impact.
The scrappy guitar build of the title track, combined with David Prowse’s rapid fire drumming, which hurtles forward like an approaching freight train is an explosive opening gambit – it hits hard, sending jagged, splintering guitar lines straight into your ears and King’s powerful cries of being “all fired up” and making “some ears ring” from the sound of his singing. This scuzz-pop opener is the kind of zealous and frantic opening that digs into your brain and squeezes your heart inside your chest. It’s teasing though, because at nearly five minutes long, it’s still over too quickly. The ramshackle stomp of North East South West celebrates life on the road, as King reminisces of burning through cities, drinking dundras dry and playing the odds, it’s a road-movie song and also seems to be a touching, albeit humorous message to King’s sweetheart (“it ain’t shit compared to loving you” he states on the song’s anthemic chorus). Upbeat and irrepressible, it’s textbook Japandroids, despite the clear, crisp, punching production, which blisters and pops compares to the fuzzier-nature of their earlier two albums, yet, it doesn’t detract one bit from the enjoyment and confidence in Japandroids.
There’s an air of melancholy, but hopeful melancholy on the sweet drum-led stomp of True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will (long title alert). King is thoughtful and hazy on this warm and almost-ballad piece. As it’s Japandroids – the ballad is twisted though; the fizzing, crackle of King’s voice, coupled with Prowse’s scattered, looping drum-fills, which build and build with the wall of shoegaze-guitar shred; “all life long, until I’m gone…” croons King – dude, feels right there. The emotional meter is kept running on overdrive during the fuzzy and breathy I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner). Containing only four repeated lines, this is a trippy and mesmerizing piece of music, that barely makes 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length, but its seeking and heartfelt urgency is one that really strikes a chord and gives real feeling to the narrative that Japandroids are carving out.
The bridge that connects the two halves of Near To The Wild Heart of Life, is the 7 and half minute journey of Arc of Bar, which is frankly, outstanding. From the compute code-guitar wave of electronic bleating, to the stamping, relentless percussion and King’s half-sung, half-almost-rap vocal lead, it’s a stalking, finger-snapping, jacket-shrugging bravado – “I was rolling like a pair of dice, one for laws and one for lies” states King, before saying “but all of this, I tried to hide, behind a glaze of sweat and fire” maybe revealing it was all a facade? The way this builds though; King and Prowse are so in sync anyway, but on Arc of Bar, they hit a new level of what Japandroids is all about; this bursts, erupts and lays waste with a chorus of glorious “yeah yeah yeahs!”, the wistful backing vocal chants alongside the hedonistic lyrical outpouring. I’ve listened to this over 30+ times now and it still floors me.
Prowse takes the lead on the sweet heartland-rock of Midnight To Morning, which is yet another tale of travelling – the chorus of “those yellow lines on the I-5, bring me back home to you” and the story of “devil by my side / right between us two” is so fucking fist-clenching and poignant. Credit to Prowse again for his drumming, which is a continuous thunder of raw, warping energy as he still has enough power to wistfully state that he will be returning and that’s a fact. On the riff-tastic emotional-punk of No Known Drink Or Drug, Japandroids deliver their romantic nostalgia in bucket-loads, especially the line: “No known drink, no known drug, could ever hold a candle to your love…” Jim Adkins will be kicking himself if he ever hears this, it’s that sound he’s been looking for all his life. In A Body Like A Grave closes Near To The Wild Heart Of Life and feels pure Japandroids through and through – the overlapping acoustic strumming, power-pop chords, glorious optimism and a zealous air-punching chorus. It concludes the journey perfectly – roll credits.
It’s hard not to be moved by this. It’s hard not to feel a sudden surge of emotional outpouring. There are moments on Near To The Wild Heart Of Life that have made me weep, want to punch the heavens and launch myself off of a huge stack of things. It’s that hook of irrepressible optimism and brightness that shines through in their songs; lyricist Brian King is the ever-cheerful optimist; it’s hard not to smile, to be gripped by his and Prowse’s lyrics and the sunshine tone that blasts from the band. They’re an incandescent bolt of riotous energy that fizzles and crackles with such warmth, passion and loudness – you cannot turn away, you have to absorb it all.
Question: What volume should you play Near To The Wild Heart of Life at?
Answer: FUCKING LOUD.
“Only god knows where, and devil knows how.”