PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids prove once again that they are one of the very best rock bands on Earth with their third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life.


Japandroids

Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Label: Anti-
Release Date: 2017-01-27
Amazon
iTunes

The Canadian rock duo Japandroids have always been equal parts precious and precocious. Their debut album Post-Nothing was powerfully lo-fi, featuring a rigid two-instrument-two-voice delivery system that knocked twee songs into the upper decks with the fury of a hardcore band. Their worldview was beautifully summed up in the band’s first epic, “Young Hearts Spark Fire", which featured the beautiful refrain of: “I don’t wanna worry about dying / I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls.” Post-Nothing is a knowing title. Japandroids certainly did not break any new ground on the album, but they the played with rare passion and real physical exertion.

Still, Post-Nothing was no warning for their second album, Celebration Rock -- a virtual highlight reel of classic rock tics, gorged on blood, sweat, and beers. It’s the band’s Great Leap Forward -- like from Bleach to Nevermind or The Bends to OK Computer. (Japandroids never made anything as spotty as Pablo Honey.) With an expanded lyrical palette that was capital “R” Romantic, Celebration Rock was full of music which had the intensity of a life and death struggle and an optimistic spirit that made the listener feel like anything is possible. Even its surrendered closer, “Continuous Thunder”, gives passion to measured expectations: “Oh, and if I had all the answers / And you had the body you wanted / Would we love with a legendary fire?” It’s a rare moment of apprehension in an album that’s full of go-for-broke, living-in-the-moment maximalism. This kind of introspection runs throughout Japandroids' third album Near to the Wild Heart of Life.

As we've seen, the title can be used as a shorthand for listeners to predict what a Japandroids album will sound like. The phrase of Near to the Wild Heart of Life not only signals verbosity -- the album features some of the band’s most poetic and thoroughly constructed lyrics -- but also its central subject matter: the chase after life’s passions and the effect it has on our spirit.

The scene-setting opener “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” details the protagonist's journey of leaving his hometown in three verses. In the first, he’s prompted by his best friend, he says goodbye to the regulars at the local bar in the second, and has a passionate dream in the third in which he sings to “You”. This “You” figures largely over Wild Heart -- the press materials for the album say that the album forms a loose narrative, although there isn't a conventional story here. Instead, the songs create a suite when taken together that detail the push and pull that one feels when they’re out chasing their dreams yet still yearn for love and domesticity that centers our lives.

The title track is followed by the heartland rock (by way of R.E.M. and the Replacements) of “North East South West” which is essentially a giddy tour-itinerary through the USA supplemented by shoutouts to the band’s hometown Vancouver. Aching with excitement and reservation at the prospect of new love, “True Love and a Free Life of Will” punctuates the wandering spirit of the first two songs by grounding the journey firmly in the realm of the interpersonal: “Baby, be the beast and free what burdens me / And I’ll love you ‘cause you’ll love me.” Remember, a “wild heart” doesn’t just go out searching, but also loves intensely. It’s a surprising turn for a band that once seemed perpetually (and happily) stuck adolescence. With shoegaze guitars and a muted, effected vocal that repeats and refines a chorus for two and a half minutes, building like a miniature of Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”, “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” resolves the first side of the record with hymn-like sincerity. You think it's a happy ending until the album’s biggest departure, “Arc of Bar”, starts the second side.

“Arc of Bar”, an epic, synth-driven, seven-and-a-half-minute monster, is Japandroids’ “Hotel California” by way of Rush. Puncturing the ease that “I’m Sorry” created, “Arc of Bar” throws us into a negative image of the record’s first half, detailing the uneasy hedonism of the road: “And the sun is like an omen / Goading me to the Gospel / But I got no plans at all / Except to drink as soon as possible.” Japandroids previously treated losing self-control as a cathartic act, but here, older and maybe wiser, they see the pitfalls it presents.

Both “Midnight to Morning” and “No Known Drink Or Drug” act as a salve to “Arc of Bar”’s relapse. “Midnight to Morning”, with its jangly guitar, ascending melody, and blissful chorus, features the phrase “bring me back home to you" repeating like a mantra throughout. And then we're brought to the beautiful, sober resolution of “No Known Drink or Drug”, which is as powerfully direct as anything on Celebration Rock but, unlike songs on that record, finds its catharsis in another person: “No known drink or drug/Could ever hold a candle to your love.”

The tremendous closer, “In a Body Like a Grave”, moves out from the personal realm into a larger meditation on life itself. After detailing the various ways that life can get you down -- love scarring your heart, work sapping your soul -- singer Brian King finds optimism with seemingly overwrought lines like “there’s heaven in the hellest of holes”, “a drink for the body is a dream for the soul”, and “Love so hard that time stands still.” But, in the world of Japandroids, there is no such thing as cliche: there is only impassioned truth. In an album that’s constantly about forward motion -- whether it be touring through North America or mapping the landscape of the heart -- “In a Body Like a Grave” tells us that, no matter what, we must keep going. That we must keep trying.

Previously Japandroids’ music made you forget your troubles with cathartic release and simple optimism. The necessary maturity that the band needed to progress from Celebration Rock to this album is the same we need to navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Now, even in the face of life’s measured expectations, they’re still inspiring. This is the secret of Japandroids charm: they’re able to make your humanity feel herculean. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life conjures the same humanist swoon that runs through everything from the Who and Bruce Springsteen to Sufjan Stevens and Explosions in the Sky. Every moment on the record feels like life and death -- and that’s because life itself is life and death.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.