Jeff Pearson, September 12, 2012
Listen: “The House That Heaven Built”
Rarely has the music world seen a more aptly-titled record than Japandroids’ second full-length effort, Celebration Rock. The “Whoa-oh” shout-along chorus per minute ratio is as high, or higher, as the empty beer can per square-foot ratio of even the most collectively inebriated fraternity house in the world, and even the most tight-laced classical music snob couldn’t help but partake, pumping their fist in the air, dripping sweat all over those around them, were they to listen to the Vancouver duo’s record in their audiophile headphones. There is a playful nature to the record that defines the band as music to simply enjoy for the fun of enjoying music. There are no frills, no gimmicks. With Celebration Rock, you get exactly what is advertised: rock and roll of the most classic, carefree ideals. While promising nothing and delivering such a stirring, uplifting record, Japandroids ask an interesting question: can rock and roll be life-affirming? Whether you choose to celebrate life is really up to you, but Celebration Rock is certainly a celebration of something.
Japandroids do have a lot to celebrate, so it makes sense. After releasing a couple of EPs and trudging their way through the Vancouver music scene for a couple of years, Brian King and David Prowse, all but broke and not seeing growth outside of a small circle within their city, decided to go their separate ways after they finally released their debut LP, Post-Nothing. The Internet had something to say about that, however. The record was practically unanimously acclaimed by the critics, and Japandroids were thrown headlong back into the world they were, however reluctantly, willing to escape. They signed with Polyvinyl, who gave them the worldwide circulation they were—well, really the world was—needing, and began to tour their two-man wrecking crew all over the globe. For a couple of guys who were about to disband and perhaps face the working world in Vancouver, or have to try to start anew with a new band, they had made it. They had never dreamed of taking those aggressive tunes farther than maybe the west coast, and here they were playing festivals and clubs anywhere they pleased. It certainly makes sense that the frustration of Post-Nothing has given way to a kind of comfort and confidence in putting out a loud, fun second record.
This is not to say that the frustration of the struggling years as a band aren’t still prominent in Japandroids’ music; in “The House That Heaven Built,” arguably the most anthemic battle cry of the year, King shouts “When they love you, and they will / Tell them all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down / Tell them all to go to hell.” Not only is “The House That Heaven Built” rousing to the point of raising goosebumps on the skin, the song is empowering to the listener. As you sing along to one of the many aforementioned “Whoa-oh” choruses, the thought of, “Yeah, maybe I will tell those naysayers to just go to hell,” is sure to pass through your mind at some point. It’s a statement from the band to not make the mistake that they almost made; they are trying to strike within you a will to carry on with your dreams, and to never stop based on what other people dictate. The duo will never forget the troubles that the music industry gave them for so long, and though they have made it and can live comfortably while ditching their day jobs, they want to always show their roots and to push people to pursue their dreams. Much of Celebration Rock is pointed to those who might be at their own fork in the road, young dreamers who are looking for their place.
King assumes the role of one of those youths gone wild on the album’s opener, “Nights Of Wine And Roses.” The fact that the album opens with the lines, “Long lit up tonight, and still drinking / Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do, but until it comes true, we’re drinking,” is no accident. Celebration Rock is an album meant to touch the hearts and minds of the young culture trying to find themselves in a world that constantly questions youth and in which kids often feel lost and out of place. The way that Japandroids defy the norms of music themselves, creating such a massive sound using simply guitar and drums, digs even deeper into this concept; the record is truly a rallying cry for social outliers, and is delivered with the appropriate bombast to give those who need it most the feeling that someone out there has their back—perhaps even an army of someones. In many ways Japandroids represent the voice of the new lost generation, an inside man for youth culture that can deliver a fist to the throat of establishment while living within the heart of it.
Though raw energy is something that Japandroids will seemingly—hopefully—never abandon, the fact is that they can’t be that voice forever. They display a tendency to shy away from delivering strictly culture’s lost children some sort of justification on “Continuous Thunder,” Celebration Rock’s closer. The song is inherently a love song, though a sonically punishing one. King delivers moving imagery over Prowse’s fittingly thunderous, tumbling drums, saying, “Heart’s terrain was never a prairie, but you weren’t wary / You took my hand through the cold, pissing rain / Dressed to the nines, arm in arm with me tonight.” The song shows a maturity that might feel like new territory for the band were it not for the perpetually assaulting sounds the duo manipulates. It is perhaps a signal to the band’s devout following that they decided to close the record with “Continuous Thunder,” much like the deliberate choice to open the album the way they did. Celebration Rock shows a growth that the band is going through, and they are hoping to lead the lost generation to, perhaps, finding themselves. Growth might not be what youth is looking for at the moment, but when it is delivered with such energy, it’s hard to argue.