Last August, when Japandroids announced a run of shows slated for the tail end of 2016, it broke the silence on a three-year hiatus that followed a mammoth run of dates in support of their second album. A second announcement not long after confirmed what many people had spent two months speculating — a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Celebration Rock’.
The world’s a very different place to what it was when the band stepped off the stage in Buenos Aires in November 2013. But while both sides of the Atlantic are bracing themselves for the inevitable changes that are coming their way, it seems for the Canadian two-piece, it’s pretty much business as usual — at least at first.
Following the eight-track format of their two previous LPs (as well as timeless classics by the likes of The Stooges and Springsteen), ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’ is a record made specifically with vinyl in mind, its separate halves offering two different aesthetics and narratives.
The first half bristles with a youthful catharsis and builds on the same fire-in-the-belly punk rock the duo are known for. Opening with the first single and title track, the hum of feedback and thunderous drums instantly suggest that, rather than diversify their sound, Japandroids have opted for the if it ain’t broke mentality, something which has served them well in the past and continues to do so.
While it’s easy to draw comparisons to the latest Beach Slang record, the 'fuck you' sense of pubescent rebellion that populated that album here feels mature, refined even; more the soundtrack to starting your own life as a twenty-something, than a teenage knee-jerk reaction to the life your parents had planned for you.
The record’s second half is somewhat of a departure from the clattering energy of the first. A heavier emphasis on melody sees the band build on the feeling of maturity that pervades the whole album, taking it one step further. And though the meandering ‘Arc Of Bar’ teeters on the edge of self-indulgence, before falling head first in to it, both ‘No Known Drink or Drug’ and ‘In A Body Like A Grave’ close the record in fine fashion; no longer experiencing that exhilarating first taste of freedom, but settled in to a happy sense of adult cynicism.
Much like its name suggests, ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ is an album which, at its very core, is a record about what it means to be human. It wears its emotions proudly, however ugly some of them might be, while managing to tap in to something that feels bigger than the sum of its parts. A bold and confident return.
Words: Dave Beech
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