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Japandroids - Celebration Rock

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Artist: Japandroids

Album: Celebration Rock

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Jul. 31, 2012

Every summer needs a record like this. Never mind the arduous backstory, that Japandroids’ guitarist Brian King nearly died between Post-Nothing and its follow-up, that the band considered breaking up in the interim, or that it took three years to come up with eight tracks. None of that is on the record. This is the kind of easy, accessible, not-quite-guilty-pleasure rock and roll that sounds best blaring from open car windows late at night. Celebration Rock bashes and clangs and manically stutters out songs about breaking old bonds and heading out for the territories. As a subject matter, it may be clichéd, but only because almost everyone feels compelled, at some point, to do it.

Musically, Japandroids fall somewhere between the Hold Steady’s fists-in-the-air drinking anthems and the scrabble and splutter of No Age. There’s something of The Replacements in their rasp-edged, sloppy romanticism, a bit of Husker Du in the way they slip sing-along hooks into abrasive sonics. Though only a two-piece (King sings and plays guitar, while Dave Prowse plays drums), Japandroids manage to fill every crevice in the sound, with long-ringing power chords, prism-splintered strumming and punch-drunk, speed-crazed, fill-scrabbled drums. There’s not a lot of dead space here.

Celebration Rock is not exactly polished, but it’s tighter and more forceful than Post-Nothing. A certain amount of rawness is critical to Japandroids’ appeal – the band just wouldn’t sound as real and urgent if the production was too clean – but there’s none of the sliding-off-the-beat sloppiness that occasionally emerged in the debut. King and Prowse sound like they’ve been touring for two years straight, like either could anticipate and respond to any move the other might make, even in the dark, half-asleep and blindfolded. You can hear it in album-stopping “Fire’s Highway,” in the way shimmering, lyrical chords give way to a frantic, fractious rhythm instantly, seamlessly, without the slightest hesitation. The songs punch and swerve and sway like organic beings, structured in a way that amplifies rather than hems in emotional resonance.

Lyrically, too, the album shows the effects of long touring. Songs are concerned with coming and going (“Fire’s Highway”), road-dog horniness (“Evil’s Sway”), late night drinking bouts (“The Nights of Wine and Roses”) and nostalgia for times and selves left behind (“Younger Us”). You get the sense of scenes and people rushing by through the windows of a moving car. Explosive energy takes precedence over deep connection. Celebration Rock is about feeling fantastic right now, not about planning for the future or remembering the past. And that, along with the fireworks that bracket the album, is what makes this the quintessential album for an American summer, even if it was made by two Canadians.

By Jennifer Kelly

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