Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Back in 2009 when Japandroids were casting aside fears of death while French kissing French girls some of us got the wrong end of the stick about how they fit into the world. Though the lo-fi shoe fit when no one knew whether shitgaze was a load of bollocks or a valid categorisation of a handful of bands with more treble than sense, Japandroids were built for bigger things. Maybe not Tonight With Jonathan Ross (that’s still on, right?), but whereas I bitched, in an otherwise complimentary review, about Beach House neglecting the bedroom for the stadium on new album Bloom, Japandroids’ message was built to be universal. Their private fears and wishes were supposed to be broadcast on massive scale.
But a lo-fi duo was always going to be lumped in with other groups around that time. The smudginess of the recording sometimes masked the reckless abandon and cathartic disregard for pretence on their debut album Post-Nothing. On Celebration Rock there’s no way you could call Japandroids a lo-fi act. The production is so vast you could put your hand through it and the guitar leads shimmer like stars. It draws attention to how much, in tempo, vocal style and chords, they’re effectively a pop punk act.
Bookended with the sound of fireworks the album marches to life with ‘The Nights of Wine and Roses’ and Japandroids’ mission statement “Long lit up tonight and still drinking / Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do / But ‘til they come true / We’re drinking”. Aside from the song structures being easier to pick out, the brighter recording quality shines a light on the detail and intricacies in guitarist/vocalist Brian’s King’s open chords and leads. The drums are given the space to pound that you never knew they needed on their chaotic debut, as David Prowse simultaneously constructs and breaks the spine of the music.
Right from the beginning Japandroids’ call and response harmonies go stratospheric and the hooks, often buried on Post-Nothing, take centre stage. ‘Evil’s Sway’, ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’, ‘Younger Us’ and ‘Fire’s Highway’ keep things in a zone affectionately referred to by the band as “blitzkrieg”. It’s like it sounds and the hooks are thrown at the kind of breakneck pace that’s liable to give you whiplash.
The mid-record cover of ‘For the Love of Ivy’ is a slight musical change of pace, bringing in psychobilly, and it works because The Gun Club shared a similar unhinged quality to Japandroids. The spiralling guitar slide in the intro is one of the biggest nods to noise on the album, but the band were only a noise act as route to being a loud act, so the clearer quality of Celebration Rock only sharpens rather than neuters their attack.
When filmmaker Werner Herzog released a documentary about death row earlier this year he was keen to point out that it was not only about death but about the urgency of life. So if Post-Nothing’s most telling lyric was “We used to dream / Now we worry about dying” then each song on Celebration Rock is a call to arms for the urgency of life in the moment. Even when Japandroids deal with the past it isn’t with sepia-toned nostalgia but under the same kind of duress as the present. When King and Prowse scream “Give me that naked new skin rush / (Give me younger us) / Give me that you and me to the grave trust / (Give me younger us)” on ‘Younger Us’ it’s not a wistful, fleeting thought, it’s a burning drive to bring memory into the moment – a kind of necromancy of the past.
The pace steadies on the last two tracks of the album when single ‘The House that Heaven Built’ emerges as Japandroids’ grandest statement. Though I feel their catharsis is best carried in their most reckless moments, the song and steady, pounding closer ‘Continuous Thunder’ turn the album into a cohesive piece. At only eight tracks Celebration Rock is beginning, middle and end.
From ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’s rally against prosaic apathy to ‘Evil’s Sway’s “On the lash / and lashing out” celebration of decadence and waste Celebration Rock brings the kind of gut-spilling abreaction that’s rarely done right outside of Titus Andronicus. Japandroids know where we’re all heading and that our most youthful moments will be forgotten, but they perform with a wish that world will end with a bang and not a whimper.