Japandroids – Celebration Rock
In 2009, David Prowse and Brian King were in their upper twenties – hardly kids – but their debut album Post-Nothing was peppered with the immediately relatable post-adolescent yearning that college-aged kids were also nailing at the time, e.g. “We run the gauntlet / Let’s get to France / So we can French kiss some French girls” from the endlessly-repeatable “Wet Hair”. However it also carried reflections on an expired youth. “We used to dream / Now we worry about dying,” sings King on their breakthrough single, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. Celebration Rock extends on that theme. The album opens with the sound of fireworks and the band wondering if they have anything to live for, deciding that until their dreams come true, they’ll keep drinking and smoking. They’re exchanging one sense of ennui for another; they know where they are in the world, they’ve figured out their twentysomething problems, so what now? The fireworks suggest that the New Year has just crested and as the drums drop out, King shouts out his resolution: “We don’t cry for those nights to arrive / We yell like Hell to the Heavens.”
Lyrically, the album is a lot more dense. Post-Nothing was remarkable at least in part for its lyrical sparseness, with songs like “Crazy/Forever” with its three lines over six minutes. King’s guitar lines have grown up at least a little, maturing from bratty shitgaze to sound more like a scuzzier Fucked Up, meaty and pulsing, but still deceptively lo-fi. In fact if there’s one weakness to Celebration Rock, it’s that at times the band smothers the songs in fuzz, suffocating the instrumentation which could’ve benefited from some breathing room. Prowse’s drumming has grown even more energetic, pounding the kit with the ferocity to match King’s soaring oh-whoa-ohs. There’s a visceral satisfaction in nailing moments like the one on “Fire’s Highway” where the drums drop out before crashing back in again that encourages drumming along. It hasn’t been a radical change and the key to why lies in a recent Rolling Stone interview, where King explains that the driving motivation behind Celebration Rock was just so that they could go out on tour again and play live music. At eight songs and four and a half minutes apiece the album isn’t extraordinarily short, but the no-frills, perpetually rumbling structure of the songs makes it feel like a quick listen. It risks seeming insubstantial but that same quality might also be why it’s so easy to listen to it dozens of times in a row.
In an interview with The AV Club in 2009, David Prowse said, “I’m sure the next record title will be clever in some way, but probably not genre related.” Perhaps unwittingly, he lied: Celebration Rock is not just a cool-sounding title but a perfect description of some of the best records of the last ten years. Typically described as being in the vein Springsteen and drawing influence from bands like The Replacements and Husker Du – with regards to the latter, Japandroids have described their music as “lo-fi Husker Du covers” – these bands deal in stories of human triumph, where broken people plumb the abject depths of despair and eventually come out on top. The most obvious is The Hold Steady, whose arch troubadour Craig Finn has been writing anthemic guitar-rock since 2004 and who summarised the mission statement of celebration rock in 2008 on the appropriately-titled album Stay Positive when he sang, “Our psalms are sing-along songs.” On the more emo end of the spectrum there’s also Titus Andronicus, who gave us exuberant, unadorned lines of resignation like “You will always be a loser / And that’s okay!” shouted at a million vocal chord-shattering decibels.
The celebration is not so much within the songs, which are often lyrically pretty bleak, but in the way they emphatically encourage a sort of spiritual camaraderie; they’re identifiable if not always directly relatable (and be thankful for that) in the kind of “I’m fucked and so are you so let’s all start drinking and agree to stop thinking” way that leaves you standing on the side of the road at 3am with the only important people in the world shouting mantras like, “And if they try to slow me down / I’ll tell ’em all to go to hell.” Celebration Rock both describes and participates in a tradition of life-affirming rock that’s as hedonistic as it is reflective and King and Prowse know this, which is why they write music for the live show rather than the bedroom listen. On the recording process for the album, King tells Rolling Stone, “It was very simple and pure, and very live.” Whether he realised it or not, that applies to listening to the album as well.
by Jake Cleland