In 2012 the Canadian duo Japandroids (Brian King and David Prowse) struck rock and roll gold with Celebration Rock, an album that did exactly what the title promised. They toured the world on its anthemic tracks that were invigorating to shout along to and when the tour ended the band simply went silent.
Five years later, the duo has returned with Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. The format is the same, a short album of eight songs running just over thirty-five minutes, but the band looks to grow up, moving away from their straight-on-til-the-morning party blasts to more questioning adult lyrics, art rock noise experiments and a hungover sense of reality.
The title track opener is the closest the band comes to its former self as King’s layers of riffs and Prowse’s rip roaring drumming lock in, revving up to a sonic highpoint that will be familiar and exhilarating upon first listen. “North East South West” continues the ooh and ahh chorus highs but also adds an acoustic guitar to the mix for a hyperactive road song touch while “True Love And A Life Of Free Will” plays with a slower buildup.
The art rock flows in during the short “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” with distortion and buried vocals and becomes full fledge on album centerpiece “Arc Of Bar” a seven and half minute excursion. Digital bleeps from new (for this band) synthesizers pair with marching drums in front of spoken (slightly dark) lyrics from King, growing backing vocals support things as the track works its way through bloodletting, drinks and relationships. The song feels important to the singer but also sluggish to the listener and never breaks through the speakers as it should.
The final three songs fall back into the duos wheelhouse but remain slightly short of past heights. “Midnight To Morning” searches to return to a safer place (“bring me back home to you” its lyrical call) while “No Known Drink Or Drug” goes guitar heavy to start and becomes hip swinging sweet as it rises above the fray but ends in a fadeout fizzle. Closing the album is “In A Body Like A Grave”, stripped down and powerful speaking to the futility of life while still soldiering on because the players know no other way.
King and Prowse never set out to conquer the world, but their keen sense of speaking to the rock and roll youth (of any age) with emotional, minimalist yet soaring anthems, stirred something deep inside their fans. Near To The Wild Heart of Life has a few flashes of that passion but the band (like its fans) know that great nights all have to come to an end; the dawn brings a new day.