Outside of Vancouver's unsung garage-rock scene, most Japandroids fans have found the band by little more than word of mouth. With but a limited Canadian release of their debut Post-Nothing on aptly-named indie label Unfamiliar this spring, the unassuming two-piece have been propelled south of the border solely by a flurry of blog buzz, including Pitchfork's "best new music" recommendation, which spurred disciples of the site to knee-jerk iTunes downloads.
For some bands, the avalanche of premature praise can be more of an impediment than a boon. Take, for example, San Diego noise-punk duo Wavves, who were hoisted into the spotlight earlier this year and poised for numerous year-end lists, only to crack in front of a thick and expectant crowd at Barcelona's Primavera Sound Festival in May. (Their disastrous set ended with the drummer pouring a beer over the singer's head, to furious applause.) Not to say that such a monumental meltdown is inevitable. With the exception of signing with Polyvinyl last month for a broader U.S. re-release (due Aug. 4), Japandroids have actually remained decidedly low-key. That could be chalked up to simple lack of exposure, since guitarist Brian King was hospitalized for a perforated ulcer in April, which led to the cancellation of a string of tour stops right out of the gate. But as the team has taken to the road for a month now, very little controversy has followed in their wake.
After all, Post-Nothing has more to say than so much self-serious prog rock. If its title reads as an attempt to breed ironic postmodernism with a nihilistic twist, their ridiculous moniker quickly dispels such notions. And if the visceral crunch of King's fuzzed-out guitars and David Prowse's frenetic drum rolls—with both sharing vocal duties—suggests the artsy dissonance of lo-fi rippers No Age, a closer listen to Post-Nothing's modest 35 minutes immediately indicates otherwise. Opener "The Boys Are Leaving Town" could be read as a jab to mid-'70s Brit-rock, but with only two lines of lyrics spread out across four minutes, these guys are hardly spouting any clever hipster anthems. If anything, their pinched harmony—as they desperately repeat, "Will we find our way back home?" for much of the song—feels far too terrified to even find its way to a third line. Follow-up "Young Hearts Spark Fire" multiplies its words exponentially, but with their hang-up on worrying about death, rather than crushing on the "sunshine girls" of their youth, the song takes very few left turns.
Every one of Post-Nothing's eight tracks follows a similar template, more or less. Each one is longer than it would seem to merit, the lyrics often border on sheer overindulgence from repetition, and the content, if you but amp down the distortion, is far too blithe to really be all that innovative. For most budding bands that might be a fatal flaw, but Japandroids remain all the more endearing because of it. "Crazy/Forever" may just cross the six-minute mark as it alternates between riff-heavy stoner rock and emo-inflected, nostalgic-by-way-of-glum shoegaze. But when it ends rather abruptly in a churning, monotone climax, it's no surprise to hear yourself humming the chorus all over again. While "Heart Sweats," with its pop-punk aggression, plays like some lost Rivers Cuomo track, showing more grit and guts in four minutes than Weezer has shown in years. And "Wet Hair" rewards repeated listens despite its silly preoccupation with French-kissing French girls.
Only seldom do the boys overstay their welcome (as they do on "Rockers East Vancouver" and closer "I Quit Girls"), which is saying quite a lot for an album that seems so off-the-cuff and rather unaware of its own ambitions. With so many self-assured indie pin-ups hitting the fan every week, it's a welcome relief to hear a band that requires no more than a brick basement and their own crude energy to get a point across. As for playing a headlining set, whatever Japandroids may lack in back catalog they more than make up for with pure nerve. Sometimes there's nothing better than just listening to a couple punks toss off a set, artless and loud.
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