Why are there so few great rock bands now? So much contemporary “rock" music falls into increasingly specialized categories, whether it’s synthy, spaced-out “rock" or dour, thrashing “rock” that features the grim reaper on album covers, or studio spit-shined pop music that purports to be “rock” solely because it happens to incorporate some over-processed guitars. I’m not trying to sound snobby or rockist or sixty-five (I’m twenty-five), but sometimes you just need a loud, sweaty, heart-on-sleeve combination of loud guitars, crashing drums, and well-conceived melody. 2016 has given us an embarrassment of riches in terms of compelling and challenging music. But like an itch that I just haven’t been able to scratch, I’ve found myself completely bereft over this last eleven months of a single rock band onto which I could latch. Whatever it is that I’ve been looking for, Twenty-One Pilots ain’t doing it for me.
So thank God that Japandroids are back. The fearsome duo of Brian King and David Prowse are an increasingly rare breed. They make exhilarating and passionate music driven by incessantly re-listenable guitar riffs, air-drum worthy solos, more “woah-oh-oh” choruses than you could ever need, and a seemingly unshakeable teary-eyed optimism. 2009’s Post Nothing and 2012’s Celebration Rock were two of the best rock albums of the last decade and fear not, their painfully-long-awaited comeback single “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” (off their upcoming so-titled third record) is just as excellent (that’s such a Japandroids song title). It’s been a long time since something this heavily desired so perfectly satisfied my expectations.
Even as Prowse and King have promised more experimentation on their upcoming LP, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” is par for the course in the best way — an opening drum roll, then a precious moment of silence followed by an explosive, crashing riff. The sound is completed by King’s impassioned vocals about lonely barmaids and hometown angst, and a chorus closing line both dumb and profound — “I used to be good, but now I’m bad.” This is a song, like so many of their catalog, meant to provide the soundtrack for dive bars and nights where nothing good happens after 2 AM. It will wake you up in the morning and keep you up late at night. It sports an instantly memorable refrain (“And it got me all fired up / to go far awaaaaaay”) and places just the slightest amount of studio polish over the band’s previously lo-fi sound (so maybe it won’t blow out your speakers). It’s everything you’d want from a new Japandroids song.
Thanks to this little 5-minute burst of mid-autumn adrenaline, Near to the Wild Heart of Life is now my most anticipated album of 2017. Consider me fired up.