Music » Music Features

For the Good Times

Japandroids’ rousing rock is an intentional youth-culture soundtrack.



Celebration Rock, Japandroids' second album, opens with the sound of fireworks puncturing some faraway night sky. The racket is percussive and insistent, but it never devolves into the gimmickry of establishing a drumbeat or rhythm track for the opening song, "The Nights of Wine and Roses." If the album title doesn't make clear, this is celebration rock: bright, big-hearted indie punk intended to sound as enormous and as flashy and as commemorative as a fireworks display. That this larger-than-life sound derives from just two people is remarkable: Singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse sound at once outsize and streamlined, as though loud, fast, and barely controlled was a moral imperative rather than a genre description.

So, what exactly are Japandroids celebrating? Six months after the release of Celebration Rock, it's tempting to answer that question with: 2012. It's been a great year for the band, who followed up the heady, glowing album reviews with a string of sold-out tour dates. Even if that momentum has slowed in the lead-up to list-making season, the duo seem to have barely noticed, perhaps because the music remains so potently relentless, so intent on inspiring listeners. No wonder it was released in May: This is a graduation speech as three-chords-and-the-truth.

First and foremost, then, Japandroids are celebrating youth. More specifically, the last days of youth, just before the onset of adult concerns: jobs, kids, loss, bills, and death. "Long lit up tonight and still drinking" goes "The Nights of Wine and Roses." "Don't we have anything to live for? Well, of course we do, but until they come true, we're drinking!" King sings those lines with the animating desperation of a man who understands that drinking may soon become a coping mechanism rather than an act of rebellion.

This youthful romanticism is as old as rock-and-roll itself — older, in fact. From the first chords of "Rocket 88" or "That's All Right, Mama" or "Rock Around the Clock" or whichever song you use to mark rock's origin, artists have celebrated the present moment, with no concern for the future. That idea has held sway over five decades of popular music, occasionally threatened by ponderous prog rock in the 1970s or the over-orchestrated, over-considered indie rock of the 2000s, which was targeted more at knowing twentysomethings than at aspiring teens. In other words, Japandroids' party has been in full swing for years, at least since Springsteen first shuffled down E Street, and they're not shy about erecting towering new anthems from the detritus of the past, whether it's Thin Lizzy ("The Boys Are Leaving Town") or the Gun Club (a cover of "For the Love of Ivy").

While he did inspire some mid-2000s rock acts (Arcade Fire, the Hold Steady, the Killers), Springsteen seems also to be a guiding influence for King and Prowse. Not only do they try to replicate the sheer size of the E Street sound, but they share the Boss' defining faith in rock-and-roll as a redemptive force — a compass for youth looking for direction. Japandroids forego the regionalism and storytelling (perhaps a condition of hailing from Vancouver rather than heartland America) in favor of a more generalized romanticism that has more to do with '70s power-pop acts like Cheap Trick and a DIY-sound firmly rooted in the left-of-the-dial aesthetic of Minutemen and Black Flag. Every song on Celebration Rock sounds like "Surrender" blaring through the broken speaker in the Replacements' "Bastards of Young" video.

Their energy is intended to be contagious, both a reflection of their audience's excitement and incentive to party. "We tried to simulate the sound of what we thought the crowd would do during the songs," King told Pitchfork earlier this year. "Dave and I were in the studio just screaming out as if we were in the audience at our own show." That approach, while fueling a series of energetically catchy songs, has also helped them build a reputation as a fierce live act, renowned for their loud, sweaty, leave-everything-on-the-stage shows.

As with any romantic artist, Japandroids lead with their hearts, and their hearts can lead them into trouble. Sometimes it's just a tin-eared lyric like "the wine and roses of our souls!" on "The Nights of Wine and Roses." More often, it's a cranked-to-11 intensity that makes no room for dynamics, subtlety, or nuance. Their music consists of big statements spelled out in fireworks, but there's never a whispered secret or an ambiguous turn of phrase. In this regard, Celebration Rock not only fetes youth but demands it: It's only eight tracks long, but the album requires stamina. Japandroids are playing to kids who haven't yet blown their eardrums, who can party into the early morning hours without getting tired or cranky, who can hoist foamy red plastic cups with each shout-along chorus without throwing out their backs. All others may feel very, very old.

And there's the central contradiction with this album. It wants to soundtrack your legendary night out with good friends, but it also wants to be an artifact for its audience, to serve as a poignant reminder of good times even when they're long over. Japandroids celebrate the moment yet know it's fleeting: gone almost before you realize you're enjoying it.

Hi-Tone Café
Saturday, November 24th
9 p.m.; $13

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