The powerful emotional releases and explosive Andrew W.K.-isms of Japandroids’ sophomore release Celebration Rock resulted in an onslaught of critical acclaim, leading to the group quickly becoming one of the bigger bands in indie-rock. But since that album’s 2012 release, Japandroids have been completely silent; Near to the Wild Heart of Life marks the band’s attempt at returning to their former relevance.
While the band’s M.O. remains largely the same (loud guitars, cathartic choruses, nonstop energy), they’ve managed to alter their sound in a number of ways. The guitars are less distorted, some synthesizers have been introduced into the mix, and the husky howl used so heavily by vocalist Brian King on Celebration Rock has been tamed into something more radio-friendly. Although some purists may take issue at these developments, they work well to advance and adjust the group’s sound without robbing them of their strengths.
The songwriting also manages to diverge a bit from Celebration Rock; whereas that album was a front-to back rush of noise and excitement, Near to the Wild Heart of Life manages to avoid monotony with an energy-level that varies from track to track. The opening title track is certainly a highlight, settling firmly into the style of the group’s previous releases with a remarkably catchy, anthemic melody and some fun lyrics that will strike you as either remarkably impactful or a bit cringe-worthy, depending on your disposition. The crunchy “North East South West” seems to be channelling Bruce Springsteen at his poppiest, mixing things up with a fun acoustic-guitar groove and a memorable chorus until a mid-song breakdown, where the tempo shifts unexpectedly and leads into a fairly emotional outro. The synth-assisted slow-burn of the 7-minute “Arc of Bar” may be a bit overlong, but it nevertheless manages to create both a fun, memorable groove and a uniquely mysterious sound that Japandroids have never quite managed before. All in all, the album is a noted success, and if the band can continue making alterations to their formula without losing sight of what makes them great, it seems they’ll have a full career ahead of them. — Reagan Jones