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Japandroids' latest album is full of the sort of screaming, unadulterated love that the best rock 'n' roll strives for.
I'VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD how music reviewers do what they do. How can someone listen to an album once or twice or six times over one or two or 10 days and come to a compelling, coherent conclusion in the small window that proper album promotion demands?
Clearly, some critics can do it, but my failure to accomplish anything like meaningful criticism in a timely manner excludes me from their company. So I tend to focus on my life, list-making and musings about musical generalities. Still, I'm listening to music, and new music, almost constantly.
Call me slow, but it often takes time for greatness to sneak up on me. I might recognize cleverness or hard work from the outset, but it takes repeated listens (like, dozens or hundreds) before I can properly judge music.
I've had almost four months with the album "Celebration Rock" by Japandroids, and I can properly say that it is the best music I've heard over those four months, and it may be one of the best rock records I've ever heard. It's certainly one of my favorites.
Prior to this summer, my Japandroids experience was limited to the semipopular song "Young Hearts Spark Fire" from their album "Post-Nothing." That song is a powerful rip into the negative aspects of growing up--worries about death and girls. It's dripping with distortion and the tears of faded aggression.
So I'd heard of Japandroids, but I'd never been moved by their music. It was a little too loud, a little too punk, a little too rough.
Then "Celebration Rock" happened, and it took the same themes of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" and idolized them, replacing the tears with drunken grins.
It's a better message: You can look back on your invincible teen years and mourn, or you can laugh and try to do it all over again. "Celebration Rock" opts for the latter, or at least gives hope that it's possible.
And hope is important here. Not Pollyanna optimism, but the kind of desperate, sweaty longing for things to never be the same again. We're in Bruce Springsteen territory here, throwing guitars at the facade of the past and smirking at the cracks.
A lot of rock music has been described as "anthemic" in the past 10 years, in what I assume is an attempt to compare today's bands to what rocked our worlds when we were teenagers. Mostly, it amounts to manipulative movie-score tricks: a louder chorus or more instruments onstage.
Every one of the eight tracks on "Celebration Rock" is an anthem, not by virtue of its size--there are only two people in this band--but because this is desperate music. It is an album prefigured (or prayed for) by Walt Whitman's "barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world." It was designed to do nothing less than make you put your fist through your cubicle wall in joy. Springsteen is smirking.
It's the sort of rock that makes going deaf a worthwhile side effect of cranking your headphones up. It makes you want to buy 5-foot-tall stereo speakers.
I know this isn't music for everyone. It's loud, it's aggressive and it's frayed at the edges. For those reserved folks out there, know that it might inspire fits of head-banging.
But aren't we all looking for inspiration? That's the sort of thing that takes time to find.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036