Music

Tokyo Police Club: Elephant Shell

Ross Langager

For a debut so long on anticipation, Elephant Shell is short on a lot of things.


Tokyo Police Club

Elephant Shell

Label: Saddle Creek
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-05-05
Amazon
iTunes

For a debut so long on anticipation, Tokyo Police Club's Elephant Shell is short on a lot of things: short on inspiration, short on original character, short on creative spontaneity, and, well, just short. Clocking in at a terse 28 minutes, it's about as fleshed-out and developed as a single sitcom episode (and not on HBO, either). There is, of course, nothing wrong with the whole brevity thing, if you're into it, and this suburban Toronto foursome has a good deal invested in brevity.

The soul of wit it may be, but brevity is a subtle knife. When only one of your songs lasts longer than three minutes, you've got a miniscule window of time to make an impression. Tokyo Police Club spend at least half to two-thirds of nearly every song crafting a painstaking simulacrum of every Interpol song ever recorded, leaving a scant slice of seconds to carve out a niche for themselves. This remaining portion is taken up by an uneven series of stabs at distinction, some of which strike a chord but most of which ring hollow.

Very little about the band threatens to distinguish itself as truly interesting, generally speaking. The rhythm occasionally builds up some irresistible inertia, but is entirely too precise to achieve the pace of edgy abandon it strives for. Guitarist Josh Hook layers resonant but gutless effects over lead lines that the Strokes' Nick Valensi did much better seven years ago. Dave Monks' voice hints at brainy, post-puberty sensitivity; he launches his vowels like paper boats on a park pond. But his vocalizations skew further towards detachment than towards emotional engagement; one gets the distinct impression that he's singing more to the microphone than to anyone beyond it. The placeholder lyrics don't give him nearly enough opportunity to emote anyway. In "Listen to the Math", he opines, "If I am the joke / you're the punchline"; such glib clichés abound.

It's too bad Tokyo Police Club tends to be so enmeshed in indie generica, because there are decent ideas struggling to be free now and then. The album's best tracks break from the smothering exactness that makes most of its songs feel indistinguishable. "The Harrowing Adventures Of…" leaves out the usual guitar razor traps, instead deploying xylophone, bass-drum stomps, acoustic strums, sympathetic strings, and the least calculated handclaps on the record in a manner that is striking in contrast to the rest of the stew. "Your English Is Good" shakes off its initial similarities to fellow Canadian dance-rockers Hot Hot Heat with some earned momentum and shout-alongs actually worth shouting along to. The former is genuinely charming, and the latter is unabashedly fun. Considering the lack of these qualities elsewhere on Elephant Shell, they are most welcome in these cases.

Still, the album doesn't ever feel genuinely exciting. Since this is exactly what the band is aiming for, it's a problem. They don't do nearly enough with the brief window of opportunity they have afforded themselves, and seem too fashionably pent-up to take that key leap of faith beyond the terra firma of their dominant influences in the foreseeable future. In "Sixties Remake", Monks sings, "you've got nerve / but we've got tact", and I can't help but feel that Tokyo Police Club would be more worthy of their hype if that statement of qualities was reversed.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

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.