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Album Review: Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

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8 songs, 35-ish minutes, and an album cover in black and white simply depicting the two band members.  This is the Japandroids formula, for better or worse.  Their latest release, the much anticipated Near to the Wild Heart of Life shows a sense of familiarity and growth.  After going dark for nearly 3 years (meaning no shows, no new music, and most importantly no online presence), the band slowly announced some “reunion” shows towards the end of 2016, followed by the announcement of a new album in 2017 and release of a few new songs.  Japandroids never really follow the tour, record, tour, record cycle that most bands are accustomed to.  They don’t necessarily go on hiatus in between records, but they’ve stated how they only create and perform new music when they both feel they need and want to.  So you know that when new music is coming out, it’s coming from a place of purpose.

One of my good friends stated, “Finally listening to the new Japandroids album and it sounds like…a Japandroids album.”  He was simply stating how similar it was to the other releases under their belt.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  While the album surely encapsulates their classic sound, I would argue there is a sense of growth and maturity that can be heard here.  Again, it’s just drums and guitar, but some of the drum work sounds a little more advanced, and there is even some acoustic guitar!  Actually, a lot of acoustic guitar if you really listen for it.  It is still ambitious stadium rock performed by two guys with their two instruments and voices, yet in my opinion shows the next logical type of album they could have made.  This is not Celebration Rock part 2.  It builds on that record and Post-Nothing, and like those two albums did, makes me want to see these songs performed live as soon as possible (which I will have the opportunity to do in a few weeks at Terminal 5).  They’ve even stated numerous times how they write songs for their live performances, so in that respect they will meld nicely with their pre-2016 set lists.

The opening track which is also the title track picks up right where Celebration Rock ends, so at first it does seem like we’re getting a sequel to that last album.  But then the next two tracks, “North East South West” and “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”, feature a prominent acoustic guitar, something that noticeably absent in Rock. “I’m Sorry” brings back distortion, but is more of a ballad than anything else.  This then goes into “Arc of Bar”, which starts off like it should be on a Muse album, but ends up being a 7 plus minute epic buildup.  This leads into “Midnight to Morning”, one of the more forgettable tracks on the record even though it has a strong chorus.  “No Known Drink or Drug” is the only other track that is reminiscent of Celebration Rock, which was ironically the second song the group released from the new album after the title track.  The album closes with “In a Body Like a Grave,” another anthemic number full of potential high school yearbook quotes.  With lyrics such as “a drink for the body is a dream for the soul,” and “gather the gang and make that night an ultimatum to the universe, fuck or fight” sprinkled throughout this song, and the record as a whole, you know the Japandroids are not slowing down their brand of stadium-sized rock that gives a middle finger to growing up.

Track Listing:

  1. Near to the Wild Heart of Life
  2. North East South West
  3. True Love and a Free Life of Free Will
  4. I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)
  5. Arc of Bar
  6. Midnight to Morning
  7. No Known Drink or Drug
  8. In a Body Like a Grave

Additional Links:

  • Pitchfork Review: “For the most part, Near to the Wild Heart of Life sticks to the Japandroids M.O., but the end results are less enticing.”
  • Uproxx Review: “Celebration Rock was designed for the space between 10 PM and 2 AM, when you’re drunk enough not to be self-conscious and just sober enough to not be passed out. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life meanwhile is made for every other hour of the day, when you’re trying to negotiate your hopes and dreams amid the trials and disappointments of boring old non-party-hearty everyday life. To put it in Springsteen terms: Celebration Rock is Born To Run, and Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is The River.”
  • NPR First Listen:  “If Celebration Rock was two guys’ way of romanticizing the messiness of a dramatic past — real and rediscovered — then Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is its natural sequel, re-envisioning youth as a passageway to a new and better place.”
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