What I’m listening to: Japandroids

This Memorial Day weekend, get ready to rage

The true rock star, one could argue, is driven by emotion. He/she writes and performs songs not because he/she wants to…but because he/she needs to. Because for him/her, music is more than just a hobby…it’s a way of interpreting and navigating a complex and overwhelming world.

Of course it makes sense then that every once in a while, the true rock star will crash and burn. Jim Morrison’s infamous 1969 breakdown in Miami is the stuff of legends; as is drama queen Fiona Apple’s NYC meltdown 30 years later. Even Wavves’ Nathan Williams suffered a major freak-out 3 years ago in Barcelona, taking a ton of drugs and fighting with his band on stage in front of thousands, perhaps reacting to the overnight success of his first record, Wavves

Vancouver duo Japandroids write music that sounds like it’s on the brink of dissolution. It’s full of fast chords, overblown vocals, and sweat-soaked, fist-pumping choruses that seem one “oh!” away from passing out in a pool of beer-y vomit. The last time I saw Japandroids live, this almost happened.

It was 2009, just months after the release of the band’s critically acclaimed debut record, Post-Nothing, and the band was playing an early show at the Barbary. (Read the full review of that show here.) “Early” here truly means early—the show started around 6.30, and had to be over by 9 to make way for a dance party happening later that night. All well and good except for: sometimes rock’n roll can’t be quarantined to a specific time slot. About half-way through the set, singer Brian King’s microphone cut out, and he lost it. He stormed off the staging sputtering curses, and by the time drummer David Prowse coaxed him back, it was practically time for the show to end. I remember feeling annoyed, and slightly uncomfortable then, but looking back, I’m glad I got to experience it. It was such a raw, tense moment of passion, and seeing King unwind was like being granted a secret glimpse into the mind behind the raging anthems.

The band’s sophomore record, Celebration Rock, drops next week. And while the band’s had 3 years to reel in any lingering microphone-related anger…the same passion (and threat of sudden derailment) remains present.

The record kicks off with the adrenaline-fueled “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” a punch-y bar band anthem that insists “Don’t we have anything to live for?” then answers, almost immediately, “Well of course we do, but until they come true, we’re drinking. And we’re still smoking.” There’s an honesty and simplicity to these lyrics that makes them so powerful—and coupled with hard-hitting power chords, it seems like Japandroids are the mouthpiece for an entire generation, drinking and smoking while they wait for their dreams to come true.

Follower “Fire’s Highway” is similarly breathless and frenzied, with wailing power chords and a fervent chorus of “Ohs”—while “Adrenaline Nightshift” is perfectly-crafted road music, capturing the feelings of invincibility and banality that come with the open road.

And while Celebration Rock draws on a variety of influences—from ‘70s power ballads to fuzzed-out ‘90s rock to The Boss—to me the influence that jumps out most is that late ‘90s, early 2000’s Vagrant Records (dare I say) emo influence—bands like The Get-Up Kids and The Ataris who crafted records full of cathartic rockers about growing up and leaving town. I loved these bands when I was in high school, and have great memories of blasting So Long, Astoria while driving around the New Jersey suburbs late at night, probably on the way to the diner, since that was the only place open past midnight. Listening to Celebration Rock brings back these same feelings: restlessness, wandering, yearning—especially on tracks like “Younger Us,” when King recollects, “remember that night when you were already in bed, said ‘fuck’ and got up to drink with me instead?” Who doesn’t remember a night like this?—before calling out passionately “Give me younger us!” it’s nostalgia, yes—but there’s also a sense that “younger us” has never left and is waiting—burrowed deep within our brains—for another change to rage.

Closers “The House That Heaven Built” and “Continuous Thunder” are similar bluster-y—and indeed, the one criticism one could level at Celebration Rock is that it’s too much of the same: save brash rock’n roller “For the Love of Ivy,” this is a record full of similarly-pitched, anthemic rockers. At the end of the day though, I don’t mind—Japandroids rule because they are able to capture a specific mood and a feeling, and really, that’s all I need. I know I’ll be blasting Celebration Rock at full-volume from my apartment speakers this Memorial Day weekend (sorry neighbors!); hopefully my hairbrush-microphone doesn’t cut out on me, or we might have serious issues.

Celebration Rock drops June 5 on Polyvinyl; see Japandroids live June 29 at Johnny Brenda’s.

Related stories: What I’m listening to: ReptarWhat I’m listening to: Your 2012 Summer Road Trip Mix-TapeWhat I’m listening to: The Spinto BandWhat I’m listening to: Lower DensWhat I’m listening to: Jack White