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JAPANDROIDS – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Somewhere between 2012’s stellar Celebration Rock and 2017’s Near To the Wild Heart of Life, Vancouver duo Japandroids grew up. The band returns from the five year break with eight new songs that are more polished than anything they’ve ever done.

Trading their breakneck urgency for a more controlled approach that incorporates a broader palette of sounds, the band fully succumbs to the Springsteen spirit in their hearts. Rather than lament their adolescence in the rear view mirror, the band makes carrying the burden of maturity sound downright heroic.

Opener “Near To the Wild Heart of Life” hits all the Springsteen-esque themes (girls in bars, leaving a dead-end town, chasing your music dreams) with the punk-meets-rock energy of Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound”. By stabilizing their pacing, Japandroids allow the storytelling to play a larger role and “North South East West” is a musical postcard from the album’s protagonist to the small town he left behind on the album opener. For fans of the band, the first three songs are a logical step forward from Celebration Rock while the rest of the album challenges everything you’ve come to expect from Japandroids.

“I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” infuses shoegaze fuzz with distant beats and serves as the sonic bridge to “Arc of Bar”, a seven minute epic of guitars and synths that comes up a little short of its lofty intentions. Lyrically, Brian King writes lines that border on cheese (“I’ll love you ‘cause you love me”) but his earnest delivery speaks to deeper truths that even the most pedestrian lyrics can capture in the neon reflections of an empty bar. On “Arc of Bar”, the words don’t quite deliver the payoff the music builds towards, but the willingness to push towards a larger sound certainly isn’t a disappointment.

Settling back into their new groove on “Midnight to Morning”, King delivers another road song – this time about loneliness and bottles – without throwing in any cowboy references à la Bon Jovi (the third New Jersey artist to pop into my head while listening to this Vancouver band). Like their previous albums, Japandroids leave some of the best music for the end of the album with “No Known Drink or Drug” reminding the listener that above all else, music is love and love is music. With that, the band ends on their biggest anthem yet with the magnificent “In A Body Like A Grave”. Staring age, the traitor, dead in the eyes, Japandroids acknowledge the weight of growing older without blinking. After perfecting the exuberance of youthful optimism on Celebration Rock, Japandroids find new fire in the most unlikely of places on Near To the Wild Heart of Life and continue their emergence as one of the best rock and roll bands making music in 2017.

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