Celebration Rock – released in 2012 – was a party with Japandroids as house band, riffing on love, lust, youth, alcohol and rock’n’roll. It began and ended with fireworks and firmly established the Canadian duo in some quarters as saviours of guitar music.
But parties weren’t meant to last as some cool dude once told us, and five years later on their third album Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids’ Brian King and Dave Prowse are hungover, tired and reflective. Within the latest offering there are still bar anthems, but it’s closing time. Whereas before they were either writing about being home or being away from home, the lyrics now address somewhere in between, with richer production, slower tempos and more instrumentation.
Not immediately though – the title track picks up where the previous record ended; a furious noise of manic drum fills, downstrokes and trademark “whoa whoa”s punctuating the chorus. ‘North East South West’ is first evidence of the new colour and nuance that lyricist and singer King has spoken about in recent interviews. Vocals high in the mix above layered guitars, it’s a country-tinged ode to home, a theme they revisit on the acoustic-driven ‘Midnight to Morning’. A slow burning fuzz introduces ‘I’m Sorry ( For Not Finding You Sooner)’, a short and not particularly strong effort which merits inclusion here as a set up to the record’s centrepiece ‘Arc of Bar’, all seven plus minutes of it. It’s a departure for Japandroids, a slow synth-infused number with their girlfriends on backing vocals and King singing earnestly about mosquitos and God.
‘No Known Drink or Drug’ begins with revving guitars but rather than a quick handbrake release, the track slowly moves through the gears, the pace and phrasing of this love song consciously pushing King’s lyrics to the fore. You can sing the big choruses all over this album without running out of breath, which may well steer the songs into arena territory when played live. The bolder direction taken here suggests that Japandroids have planned for that not inconceivable notion.
If debut Post Nothing is about getting out of Vancouver, and Celebration Rock documents that escape, then Near to the Wild Heart of Life is evidence that nothing feels as good as the loves, lives and comforts of home. In what feels like a pivotal moment in their career, Japandroids have settled into their skin, and with the presumably bigger budget afforded them by new label ANTI-, they have expanded and enhanced their sound on a different but ultimately rewarding record.