Published Jan 25, 2017When you've made the aural equivalent of the 100 percent emoji, where is there left to go? If you're Vancouver's Japandroids, you throw out the playbook and start over.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the band's third LP, and first new music in almost five years, dispenses with the guitar-drums-amps-to-11 aesthetic that's become the duo's hallmark, trading them in for scale and nuance via tempo changes, an expanded arsenal of instruments and a general willingness to explore the studio as opposed to capturing what the band do live.
While the pitchforks are no doubt being sharpened by those who saw the band as rock's saviours — they're not, nor have they ever claimed to be — it should be noted that the band's eternal restlessness remains, both in the music and singer Brian King's surprisingly verbose (for him at least) lyrics. Travelogues have long been Japandroids' lyrical bread and butter, but here, King's condensed an album's worth of road stories into "North East South West," a midtempo stomper that nevertheless feels as at home in the band's oeuvre as any of their odes to Vancouver (or wherever King and drummer David Prowse are calling home these days) do.
But even on an ostensible love song like "I'm Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)," there's a sense of distance baked in. And even while the band write seven-and-a-half minute jams centred on a synth riff ("Arc of Bar"), that restlessness propels the record forward with the same momentum that powered 2009's Post-Nothing and 2012's Celebration Rock. If anything, these moments of respite from the pedal-to-the-metal playing that's been the band's M.O. since day one (and remains intact on several tracks) only make their music sound grander and, coupled with King's more personal lyrics, heavier.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life isn't the record fans waited five years for. But backed into a corner, Japandroids have penned a truly great record filled with all the guitar hooks, shout-along choruses about nights spent drinking, sweating and longing to be somewhere else that we've come to expect. Give it the chance it deserves and it will not disappoint. (Arts & Crafts)