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The Charlatans - Modern Nature

The Charlatans Release ‘Modern Nature’

The Charlatans Release ‘Modern Nature’

The Charlatans have been unfortunately plagued by a double-sided curse. Unfortunate in the fact that they have lost multiple members to various causes of death, both natural an un-, double-sided in that they inevitably muster on, producing genuinely good albums every few years since the late 80s. Their new release, Modern Nature, is their 12th in 25 years. Having released two previous albums in the wake of band member deaths, this being the third, their first since the death of drummer Jon Brookes – who left the band in 2010 with the brain tumor that eventually took his life. The album comes after five brutal years for the band, though keyboardist Tony Rogers was quoted as saying that they were determined to carry on to honor Brookes’ memory, “Jon was adamant that there was going to be another Charlatans record, and you have to put that into your own thoughts.”

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

The Charlatans – Modern Nature

The eleven new tracks, running about 47 minutes, were produced by The Charlatans and Jim Spencer and mixed by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Portishead), and features a number of contributors, including Pete Salisbury of The Verve, Stephen Morris of New Order, Gabriel Gurnsey of Factory Floor, Kate Bush’s backing singers Melanie Marshall and Sandra Marvin, Sean O’ Hagan on strings and Dexys’ Big Jim Paterson on brass. Despite being a conglomeration of sound, it remains grounded in the basic keyboard-guitar sound that has become the Charlatans’ pedigree over the past quarter century.

Well known for soul-tinted R&B Britpop, Modern Nature is tinged with the melancholic keyboards and shiny guitar splurges like most Charlatan albums, but possesses a pacing that mellows and satisfies the thirsty listener lacking any lately potable Britpop. This is not a gateway album for anyone new to 90s Britpop, but remains one of their most tautly wound, with well written songs and the intricate instrument (rhythm section) backing that has defined them since their inception. Beginning strong yet imbued with nostalgic tones and melodies in “Talking in Tones” and “Come Home Baby”, there is an obvious gist here, one of fatality and vitality. Yet despite all that there is a notable lack of fodder here, specifically what you would expect to find from an outfit 25 years gone in the UK scene. Finishing off both musically and lyrically strongly with “Lean In”, “Trouble Understanding”, and “Lot to Say”, The Charlatans look to tour with the same grueling schedule as normal, one of the few “old” bands to populate set lists with actually decent new songs and the classics you spent the $50 for. A year from start to release, the band went into their studio Big Mushroom in January 2014 and lead vocalist Tim Burgess remembers, “We were aching for the summer when we wrote it. It was freezing and we were trying to write songs that made us happy.” Like all of us, the band should be happy it’s still around, doing what they love, and getting to see thew world while they do it.

The Charlatans play in Japan and Taiwan in March:
03/19 – O – East, Tokyo
03/22 – Neo Studio, Taipei
03/25 – Club Quattro, Osaka

Dybbuk, the dislocated soul of the dead, Illustration by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, (29) And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

                                                                                             — John 5:28-29

The story of Lazarus of Bethany, in the gospel of John, is well known among those followers and scholars of religious texts to confirm the last and most important of Jesus’ seven feats—the Resurrection—the lynchpin in the signs that point to his divinity and what his more zealous adherents would go on to use as justification of his continued relevance. Indeed it has become the central tenant of Christianity. It’s no lie, the defiance of death, the finger in the face of nature, tipping the scales of time, resurrection is a powerful idea. But, owning up to the very real scientific nature of the Lazarus phenomenon, and as its scarcity defines its high value, Lazarus—i.e. the dead coming back—is more potent as a metaphor, at least in terms of saleability, than as a reality. Who doesn’t want to live forever, or at least think they do?

No one in their right mind believes that it is possible today to raise the dead, but having a look around at the neo-evangelical fervor that has gripped the United States, and the power and reach of quasi-cult organizations like Scientology, it seems that many want to believe. The best-selling novel series Left Behind attests to this. Even those who claim atheism seem to be searching for something to believe in. What exactly is yet to be seen. Hence the popularity of the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and similarly genre’d Game of Thrones and the plethora of lesser quality copycat series based on a pastiche of fast and loose mythology and incorporating the Force, or some form of intangible “magic” as core form of guiding power. But what actual magic do we seek? Belief in a 2000 year-old Bronze Age John Lennon who preached peace and love? What say the followers of Yoda, Gandalf & Khalisi? What chance does Jesus, let alone, the rest of us have in the race to the final finish?

Jesus of Nazareth was not the first to be raised from the dead. Even Lazarus, who beat him to it, was not the first to be raised from the dead. If we remember our Greek mythology, both Achilles and Heracles (or Hercules, if you prefer) died and were resurrected, both after accomplishing a number of feats that pointed out to their contemporaries their own place in the pantheon of gods. Before them in the ancient near east, Baal and Osiris lead a motley crew of old-timey resurrections, presumably based upon their own predecessors reanimation as well. In short, resurrection is old school. But because it’s such a high gloss issue, it’s basic story line has stuck in our collective craws since before recorded history and became especially popular throughout the not-much-else-going-on middle ages.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

History of English Affairs

Take William of Newberg, whose 12th century work History of English Affairs depicts several instances of medieval revenants, those poor unbelieving criminal souls who didn’t quite make the cut in life and so, in death, come back, ostensibly, to haunt their their friends, family and associates. How irritating that they were shits when they were relatable corporeal humans, and after finally passing, they return—covered in dead people doodie—to do it all over again. If they embody the resurrection of damnation, who are the damned—us or them? Is it any wonder that vampyric legend out of 16th century Baltics became conflated with the peasant folklore of medieval British revenants—imagine their complexions. Ghastly indeed.

The Dybbuk, recently popularized in the Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man, is yet another form of revenant from Jewish mythology, a dislocated and parasitic soul cleaving to the living in order to right a wrong. Then there is the Draug, the animated corpse from Norse mythology, that has similar characteristics to humans (think the ring-wraiths from Lord of the Rings). The less popular Nachzehrer, a Germanic mixture of a vampire and ghost, begins to recall the reigning champ, the zombie.

Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead spawned and popularized the genre of the reanimated undead, there are too many instances of zombie culture to name. It is its own universe now, seemingly a living entity whose evolution is written not from the mind of writers worldwide, but from a growing compilation of material from which to morph a collective unconscious of the undead.

Such seems to be the case with the new show Resurrection from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and ABC Studios, based on the eponymous novel by Jason Mott, which is apparently based on a dream the author had, and not the eerily similar 2012 Canal+ television show Les Revenants, itself an adaptation of the 2004 film Les Revenants by Robin Campillo, in which millions of French zombies return, not to eat le cerveau (brains), but to reintegrate into their former lives. How French, they just want their postprandial cheese. Is its likeness to the 2003 film Yomigaeri (Back From Hell) by Akihiko Shiota coincidental or a process of cross-cultural collectivity? Are we drawing from some vast unconscious pool of similar imagery for a reason or for commercial sales? Is this an evolution or a stagnation?

The Resurrection of Mogwai

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Mogwai live at 2009 Summer Sonic

The unclassifiable Scottish band Mogwai left me wanting circa their fifth full length album, Mr. Beast (Play It Again Sam, 2006), which also carries the dubious distinction of being the last compact disc I bought. The jewel case, dense with rich, disturbing decoration, included—beyond the actual disc itself—a booklet of paintings by the cover artist Amanda Church and a DVD of the Making Of Mr. Beast at their newly constructed Castle of Doom Studios in Edinburgh. I wanted more and I wanted less. More clarity and less feedback. While it still appeared that the band were, as a friend put it after their mediocre 2009 performance at the mediocre and rain-besieged Summer Sonic festival outside of Tokyo, “muddling about in their own piddle.” I could no longer hear the lovely and noisome progression of instrumental bliss I loved from Young Team (Chemikal Underground,1997), Come On Die Young (Chemikal Underground,1999), Rock Action (Matador, 2001), and Happy Songs For Happy People (Play It Again Sam, 2003). At the time it seemed that we had both emerged out of an extended adolescence and, like old loves often do, faded from one another’s lives. In their case it made sense that they had run out of sublime melodies to tear apart and put back together with guitar, drum and keys. In my case the fade caused them to disappear completely from my conscious mind. The age of the compact disk had joined the 8-track cassette in technology’s abandoned corner lot trash heap. So be it.

And so life goes on. And tastes progress. The older one becomes the harder it is to listen to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai around others. The pretty parts are fine, orchestral, sublime and are made for sunny Saturday picnics by the lake, but soon the lilting melodies tend toward to the post-WWI musical DADA-ism of post-rock noise art. There is meaning there, there’s just no explaining it to the in-laws. It then becomes extremely situational listening, rarely being played on the family Bose system or being aired out only during the sporadic family drives to Joshua Tree or, heaven forbid, Texas.

Les Revenants - The past has decided to resurface

Les Revenants – The past has decided to resurface

The television heads have gotten wise to paying top dollar for indie rock songs to attract the ever-waning attention spans of twenty-somethings. Lorde, Fun., The Halo Benders (also, think Lou Reed’s death eerily coinciding with his song Perfect Day on a Playstation 4 ad) have all been lucratively synced, but it’s more than just a snippet of a single by the latest Coldplay-for-hires, this was “Coming Home – Part II” by Skylar Grey, a benign tune in itself, but when paired with ABC proselytizing wantonly sentimental and vaguely apocalyptic evangelical fodder, it turns the stomach. The promos for Resurrection are full of Jesus light and leave you feeling like you’ve douched with a dirty Mormon undergarment, while the Canal+ Les Revenants has the pristine lakes and pastoral forests with just enough of the dark and gritty feel of the subterranean backalleys of old wartorn Europe—the resurrection of life in contrast to resurrection of damnation. Though outwardly we strive for the former, it’s the latter that we secretly covet. Like, though coveted by all, the return of a long-missed loved one, is not right, and somehow, it’s all going to go horribly wrong. I hope that for ABC Studios & Plan B there are the seeds of a Walking Dead / World War Z planted deep within the bowels of Resurrection. If so it could be ABC’s next Lost.

Nausea, at least for me, has always implied a cure, a revolt against treacly ills of bad writing and religious indoctrination. Synapses firing, I searched through my folders of global television series unwatched for clues. It was then I happened on Les Revenants and my introduction to French zombies began. Cueing up the first episode you hear “Hungry Face”, the title track off of Mogwai’s 2013 soundtrack and you are sucked in by the familiar stroke of fret, combination of keys, and patter of drums, but moreover by the use of silence, pairing mercilessly with Fabrice Gobert’s stunning visuals which transcends mere television watching.

Does Mogwai make the series a success singlehandedly? No, but the meditative and mystery implied in the haunting tones sets the table nicely. Les Revenants is Young Team on Quaaludes. Subdued and at times ambivalent, it represents the more contemplative side of the band. The side that, behind the sheer wall of mind-numbing Marshall stack feedback, you always knew was there, but wondered how they could ever more fully explore that side. Discipline and restraint have supplanted the atonal choler that plagued various tedious middle-marches of albums past, leaving listeners awash in euphonious and dulcet tones that have transcended the mere physicality of instruments toward a diviner vibration. Laced with songs entitled “The Huts”, “Kill Jester”, “Eagle Tax”—which, despite their nonsensical titles, belie a narrative beyond the seeming nihilistic text (in some cases the series writers used their scores to write the series). One senses a denouement, an unfolding of a mystery, growth. This growth is most noticeably sublime when its power is wielded with authority rather than youthful angst. The erstwhile rage spun from delicate and brooding melodies that have garnered Mogwai avid audiences spanning multiple musical genres has matured into instrumental mastery.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Rave Tapes – Sub Pop 2014

Their most recent release, Rave Tapes, continues where Revenants left off. “Heard About You Last Night” opens by demonstrating an almost austere Buddhist simplicity, yet they stake the territory of resonant clarity for grim abstinence. There is plenty of sex, but no pornography. The album’s waistband—“Remurdered”, “Hexon Bogon”, “Repelish” and “Master Card”—is thick with rigorous and meaty cuts of guitar-driven narrative backed by keys both luminous and mysterious. The swirling epic “Deesh” takes us to concise altitudes where only when the silence prevails can one hear the true framework of whitenoise, while the album’s closer and the first single “The Lord Is Out of Control” can play both as a hearkening toward and a recanting of tones as narrative progressions. Provocative mixing of electronic beats, organs, vocoders and ocean waves propel the multitude of inner monologues toward an attainment of true revelation through collective unconsciousness. Attaining musical excellence is one thing, yet the key to maintaining harmonious Nirvana is to not be happy, to never be satisfied with status quo achievements. To not be born again, but rather to have become. To be becoming.

In retrospect I guess I should have realized that it was the shitty acoustics of the concrete warehouse venue in which they played to 10000 middlingly stoned, distracted and overprivileged youths that made the 2009 show such a letdown. Summer Sonic is a good idea gone horribly astray from its hopefully humble intentions. Lord knows the amount of money they are paying decent musicians to come from across the world to play in a sweltering concrete convention pavilion. What’s worse they’ve convinced the youth of Japan that it is normal, good even, that they should see, not just a show, but cram multiple artists together under such conditions. If I am honest I will admit that I had grown apart from Mogwai on my own, but such a reunion can either reinvigorate a once mirthful love or push it farther afield. In my case Summer Sonic performed the latter. May the Lord Be Out Of Control On Thee, Summer Sonic.

Organized religion represents a trusted link to the mythology of the past, but if there is any kind of rough guide for living in the modern world, it must be film, for good or ill. Occasionally when we cut through the fog of dogma, and the two-faced stubbornness of politics we come to nuggets of wisdom, such as this, from the mouth of Celine, in the Richard Linklater classic Before Sunrise, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but…who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Forget Gandalf, fuck zombies and screw loved ones back from the dead, these are Hollywood’s attempt to recreate more mind-numbing blather—that you’ve already seen—to entertain you to death while real life goes on all-around, and inside of, you. It’s not on the screen. It’s sitting next to you. The true magic is eye contact, the breath, community and connection. And I don’t mean WI-FI.

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor Friedberger

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor Friedberger

The Beard – EP 45 – Eleanor Friedberger by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor FriedbergerEleanor Friedberger must have a great sense of humor. Like a dry martini, just a touch of vermouth. Watch her music videos, listen to her lyrics, look at how she dances. She has secretly always wanted to be a Second City or a Groucho Marx impersonator. A runaway Vaudeville / carnival sideshow perhaps? Regardless of this writer’s esoteric projections of her would be aspirations, Friedberger has grown into her rightful place as a musician. Since her days as one half of the indie-electro brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, she has tamed and matured her sound from the frenetic pell-mell vignetting the Furnaces seemed to perfect in the early aughts for their massive underground following toward a more focused vision of her desired sound. Her guitars and keyboards are generaly tight and melodic and only occasionally stray toward the atonal, and seemingly then only as a sly comic reference to her previous incarnation. But more than taming her sound, she has enlarged it as only a seasoned and mature musician—one who makes choices, good ones—in a way that embraces her obvious love of blues rock, synth pop and lyrical storytelling. All three of which she has honed to an incredible degree on Personal Album, her second solo release, which somehow makes greater use of her talents than her excellent solo 2011 debut, Last Summer.

Wesley Stace, the folky-poppy singery-songwritery type, who has used the stage name John Wesley Harding, nebulously wafts his Velvet Underground-esque storytelling ability throughout the album, though necessarily where we know not. Added to Friedberger’s adeptness as spinning yarns as if she’s writing a letter to you—her Minnesota kissing cousin from summer camp—this album surely is ringed with emotionally-tinged tales of the imperceptible plights and miniature loves of everyone’s life. This album is personal, just as is any album, written, recorded, performed, packaged and played, Eleanor is just using that wit of hers again. To quote Holden Caulfield, “Goddamned funny is what it is!”

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor Friedberger

Goddamned good songwriting is what it is actually. The album is broken up in three acts, each segued by a palate cleanser (“Echo or Encore” & “I Am The Past”). The first part is a paean to Bob Dylan’s lovechild he sired with Pavement in the late 90s, with help from George Harrison as a matchmaker, if he were GOB of Arrested Development uttering yet again, over exquisite harmonies and layered melodies performed by a pretty tight band, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Or maybe just experimentation. As on “When I Knew”

When I couldn’t get her out of my head
So I got her out of hers instead
No I couldn’t get her out of my head
So I got her out of hers instead
I know I couldn’t get her out of my head
And then we ended up in…

…bed? What Eleanor is getting at is that everyone makes mistakes. That’s why God made tomorrow. But it is the mistakes that often make us. So that if you can not exorcise your mistakes into a witty and taut indie-pop album, and leave them to become pieces of beautiful pop puzzles that get stuck in the minds of people who listen to them, waking up singing, “If that was goodbye, I must be high,” you would do whatever came naturally to you. “My Own World”, “Tomorrow Tomorrow” and “You’ll Never Know Me” (an ode to the never-was Flaming Lips collaboratation with 60s-era Nico and zombie Clarence Clemons.) is Eleanor telling us that inhabiting somebody else’s shoes is much the same as being in our own. Part two is all just a beautiful dream. Create it as you will.

The denouement is the epic “Other Boys”, which in any other artist’s hands, would be a seven-minute rock opera. Yet in the melancholic celebration of the tristesse of the frailty of human choice, Eleanor somehow merely makes the song—and the album, and life—seem longer than it really is (another Harrison trick to be sure), while still turning in a pop song that you could bounce a quarter off of. It’s an album that will stick with you. You will listen to it all year. You will remember it in five years. It has an aroma and a flavor and it will color this age with the semisweet sadness of remembrance of fun times past.

New Music - of Montreal & Harouki-Zombie

New Music – of Montreal & Harouki-Zombie

Asking too many questions never got anyone any answers. Beyond the dull what is the meaning of life and why god why asking questions to yourself whilst sitting alone in a room is more a kind of mental masturbation leading to nowhere. Might as well put some music on that snazzy Bose Digital SoundDock on your desk and ask yourself why it doesn’t sound like vinyl. Which merely begs yet another question: what to play?

If for no other reason that you should be dancing as much as your still young legs can, but you kinda want to rock some funky dance-punk in your skinny jeans, then the latest of Montreal release Daughter of Cloud is exactly what the existential doctor prescribed. 17 tracks of rarities ranging from the days of 2007 yore circa the epic Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? through to 2010’s False Priest, the album is in realty two—the first nine tracks one of unreleased material and the subsequent eight a compilation of tracks previously released on hard-to-find 7”s. Thematically and stylistically as disparate and off-the-wall as rarities albums are, there is a cohesive element to Kevin Barnes iconoclastic meanderings. Simultaneously serious and jovial, an earnest self-consciousness pervades every note, be it tongue-in-cheek electro-funk, pretty twee-pop, or glib dance-punk. Even if it doesn’t make your foot tap and head bob, the lyrics on “Sails, Hermaphroditic” (If I could Dr. Frankenstein (Dr. Funkenstein) the world (if I could change your mind) / Start this bitch anew / I would change the shit out of you) are enough to make you laugh at the world, and your useless self-conscious stall tactics.

New Music – of Montreal & Harouki-Zombie

Rather than arranging the songs chronologically, Barnes sequenced the tracks to take you through a whirlwind of images slap-painted with raucous fury and tinged with fragile emotion. Beginning with genre-mashing up-tempo beats and guitars the 56-minute album eventually dissolves into softer shades and straightforward songs, yet still features the trademark of Montreal cadence-switching sensibility. Even their most accessible single, “Tender Fax” has moments of irreverence, as if it just can’t stand to be three full minutes of radio candy. On the penultimate track, “Noir Blues to Tinnitus” Barnes explores the idea of sound within the human ear without a corresponding external sound, i.e. imagined sound or better put, the noises / voices in our head. It might be a confusing, glam-rocky and hallucinatory place, but listening to the sounds play out from Kevin Barnes’ head is always new and exciting.

New Music - of Montreal & Harouki-Zombie

of Montreal Group Compilation

Much like Harouki-Zombie’s debut EP Objet Petit A, the new project from Orenda Fink (of Saddle Creek’s Azure Ray) and Nina Barnes (of Montreal’s chief album artist). The title track is an immediately infectious beat-driven female whisper-fest that elicits images of dark subterranean European clubs where effortlessly stylish singles dance unselfconsciously in stroby lights. “Soldier’s Gun” continues in this vein while stepping up the tempo and heavy breathing in sexy foreign tongues. Polyviynl Records simultaneous release of Daughter of Cloud and Objet Petit A is no coincidence. There is much crossover. Firstly, Nina Barnes is Kevin Barnes partner in art, music and marriage. Secondly, the male Barnes has penned and lent his production skills on the stylistically similar yet more light-hearted third track, “Vacated Hunters”. The final track “Swamp Theme” is a dancy, trip-hop ode to zombie swagger in double-time. In the era of the portable, the EP would not be complete without not one, but two dark and house-y “Objet Petit A” remixes (digital only).

Daughter of Cloud is available on CD, 2xLP (cyan or black vinyl), cassette (purple tape), and digital formats. Objet Petit A is also available as limited edition hand-numbered purple 2×7″ + MP3. Better not to ask why, just find an online garage sale, buy a vintage turntable and follow the link to the vinyl. It comes with the MP3, so you can still maintain your minimalism.

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Sigur Rós – Valtari

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Sigur Rós VALTARI

Like any Sigur Ros album, listening to Valtari for the first time is like waking from a nap—groggy and un-lucid. All music is a series of patterns: keys, scales, chords, progressions but somehow Sigur Ros consistently avoids such trappings (four years after the band formed in 1994 they added a keyboard player who was the first member to have any formal musical training). Instead of verses and choruses, the band settle into some dream logic who’s music is as prickly and gentle as a shiver running up your spine and whose lyrics come across like an elfin spell (or perhaps the Twin Peaks dwarf gently cooing you to sleep at your bedside while the fever wears off, or continues, gloriously forever). Is it my tin ear or does Icelandic (or the nonsensical language that Jonsi occasionally sings in “Vonlenska” or “Hopelandic”) sound a bit like English played backwards? It would not surprise me if eventually Sigur Ros released a box set of everything they did in reverse wherein we would discover that each song served as a different lentil soup recipe. Or directions to build a giant rainbow.

This is where the weakness becomes the strength. It is less ambitious. It is a sidestep. A diversion from a path that was itself a diversion. Click To Tweet

Sigur Rós – Valtari

This isn’t to suggest that Valtari is some masterpiece or the high point of Sigur Ros’s career. It is neither. I just am not interested in delving into its shortcomings. I can’t quite explain why this album’s exact flaws become more and more endearing. Here’s an attempt anyway: Our Icelandic boys find themselves wading through a slow, slogging syrup throughout the entire album. Their usual crescendos and rhythmic flurries are all forsaken (aside from a brief attempt at a bpm over 60 in the album’s most churning piece “Valou”) for something that seems to amount to an examination of the void. The hypnagogic void. The subliminal void. The vicodin void—this is the shit I would imagine some phenomenal biopic of Michael Jackson would use, in the vein of Terrence Malick, for the scene where he drugs himself into a death-coma while we watch in slow awe as our hero fades away from this life of sound and fury that, pathetic as it reads on paper, has a glorious tinge of the heroic within.

Sigur Rós - Valtari

Sigur Rós during the recording of Valtari
Jón Þór Birgisson
Georg Hólm
Orri Páll Dýrason
Kjartan Sveinsson

There has been a certain trajectory to Sigur Ros’s albums from 1997’s Von establishing their amorphic ethereal sound through 2008’s Með Suð I Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust which found them trudging their way into a kind of acoustic pop realm that becomes bouncy and melodic. Jonsi’s 2010 solo album Go further clarifies this evolution by focusing his sound, simplifying it. Valtari takes a wild sidestep off of this trajectory. It is interesting that something so hushed and almost lazy can come across as almost wild but in the context of Sigur Ros’s career this is a new wilderness. What was becoming clear and rousing, rhythmic and fierce has now evaporated into an introverted ambience. Valtari is less a band performing together than it is something akin to a symphony warming up while a few kettles whistle with boiling water perfectly on key.

This is where the weakness becomes the strength. It is less ambitious. It is a sidestep. A diversion from a path that was itself a diversion. It is a muscle loosening. The soundtrack to a king’s golden slumber.

Japandroids Celebration Rock

Japandroids Celebration Rock

Japandroids Celebration Rock It is hard to imagine Brian King and David Prowse being in a room together and not sounding like ten guys with heavy equipment making a lot of noise. But making good, and occasionally great, rock noise. And being unapologetically melodic and poetic about it to boot. But they beat me to that punch: this is Celebration Rock. This is about being unapologetic. This is about youth and fireworks and like the studied dissonance of the intro track “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, says, “Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do, but until it comes true / we’re drinking.”

But doesn’t that sound rather like a band straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood, between their first and second album, between living the dream or just merely dreaming their lives away?

Japandroids Celebration Rock

On “Fire’s Highway” Brian King croons, “A northern soul in southern lands/ will always find his way to southern hands.” which perhaps begins to speak to what the Japandroids duo have experienced in recent years with the unexpected success of their debut album Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl, 2009): the incessant touring, the searching for comfort in unknown territory, the desire to continue burning the wick at both ends while remaining unsure at to what comes next. He goes on to add, “So give away your gypsy fears / and turn your restless nights to restless years.” Your dreams are no longer unrealized. They are happening right now and how do you feel? To continue deeper into the labyrinth means to give up the old life and become a new person. To give up the quest means to live Groundhog’s Day as a fry cook at some greasy spoon and watch the girl of your dreams walk out time after time, never knowing how much you used to rock.

They bought the idea of the dream. From the press release, “Japandroids fought tirelessly against their own creative limitations, struggling to expand their sound beyond the simple sloganeering that dominated Post-Nothing.” Sure, there were issues. There was supposed to be a lead singer. They were supposed to be friends. There was supposed to be success, money, the trappings of rock glory. Overland travel is a grueling experience, and add touring and pouring your young musical hearts out every night in yet another nameless college town to that, and it changes into that four letter word we don’t like to talk about in association with our dreams: work. Because you can only play your current discography of twenty-two songs for so long (especially if they add up to just over an hour), before they are grumbling for more. They—the audience, the unseen and insatiable internet hordes, the record industry insiders—they always want more. So on top of making a name for yourself as one of the most explosive live bands playing, you have to write more songs—good songs—in order to sustain the dream. Luckily, that’s what happened.

The question as to why music is so much better loud and in the dark can only be answered individually, yet the fact remains that while the night is the realm of sleepy-time dreams for most, for some it is when they are most awake. Click To Tweet
Japandroids Celebration Rock

Japandroids Jam Space Panorama

Despite a few unsure moments (If a rough theme of the album is travel and driving, then the fourth track, “For the Love of Ivy”, seems to be a tenuous diversion down a back country road that dead-ends at one of those swamps for which the south is famous), there is very little fodder on the eight song, 35 minute tribute to life. For indeed the motif of the album resides in that cliché of carpe diem (or more aptly carpe noctem), citing relentless references to Fire, the Night, Hell and Heaven, Thunder, and not above all, as they so eloquently put it on “Adrenaline Nightshift”, “…“waiting for the generation’s bonfire to begin”. But what does the chorus, sung, like most of their call-and-response-y choruses, in rousing duet, mean, “There’s no high like this / Adrenaline Nightshift”? The question as to why music is so much better loud and in the dark can only be answered individually, yet the fact remains that while the night is the realm of sleepy-time dreams for most, for some it is when they are most awake.

The wistfulness of “Younger Us”, at 3:33, which wins the race for the shortest track on the album (the other seven all hovering somewhere in the 4:20 range), hearkens back to Post-Nothing as much as “The House That Heaven Built” is forward-looking and full of optimistic naïvete. Yet it is the album’s final track, “Continuous Thunder” that displays the full lyrical maturity of the young two-piece that sounds like a five-piece. Understanding that it is the “simple sloganeering”, the driving beats of the almost militaristic drumming, and the droning background guitar that people want, that they hear in their heads when they aren’t listening to this on their mp3 players walking to the subway, and asking, “O and if I / had all of the answers and you had the body you wanted / would we love with the legendary fire? / And if the cold, pissing rain flooded that fire / would you still take my hand tonight? / Singing out loud yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, like continuous thunder./”, might just be the reason that Celebration Rock penetrates our ears like a perfect display of fireworks reflects in our eyes, fading out to in a fragmentary blur of light to soak in to our corneas, leaving the dark illuminated only with our own dreams of thunder to live for.

Japandroids 2012 Tour Dates

Japandroids Celebration Rock

  • Jun 22, 2012 – Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 23, 2012 – Lee’s Palace, Toronto, Canada (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 25, 2012 – La Sala Rossa, Montreal, Canada (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 26, 2012 – Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 27, 2012 – Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 28, 2012 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 29, 2012 – Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, PA (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jun 30, 2012 – Rock & Roll Hotel, Washington, DC (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jul 3, 2012 – 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, MN (with Cadence Weapon)
  • Jul 7, 2012 – Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Canada (with Previous Tenants)
  • Jul 12, 2012 – Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL (with Ty Segall)
  • Jul 13, 2012 – Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival), Chicago, IL
  • Jul 29, 2012 – Fuji Rock Festival, Niigata, Japan
  • Aug 12, 2012 – Treibhaus Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland
  • Aug 14, 2012 – Parades de Coura Festival, Ponte do Lima , Portugal
  • Aug 16, 2012 – Workman’s Club, Dublin, Ireland
  • Aug 17, 2012 – Mandela Hall, Belfast, United Kingdom
  • Aug 18, 2012 – Funkirk Estate (Beacons Festival), Skipton, United Kingdom
  • Aug 19, 2012 – Summer Sundae Weekender, Leicester, United Kingdom
  • Aug 22, 2012 – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Aug 22, 2012 – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Aug 24, 2012 – BootBooHook Festival, Hannover, Germany
  • Aug 25, 2012 – Obstwiesenfestival, Dornstadt, Germany
  • Aug 27, 2012 – Zoom, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Aug 28, 2012 – Beatpol, Dresden, Germany
  • Aug 29, 2012 – Magnet Club, Berlin, Germany
  • Aug 31, 2012 – Pod Minoga, Poznan, Poland
  • Sep 1, 2012 – Hydrozagadka, Warsaw, Poland
  • Sep 3, 2012 – Akvarium, Budapest, Hungary
  • Sep 4, 2012 – Chelsea, Vienna, Austria
  • Sep 6, 2012 – Kino Siska, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Sep 7, 2012 – Postgarage, Graz, Austria
  • Sep 8, 2012 – NKC Park, Zagreb, Croatia
  • Sep 10, 2012 – Lucerna Music Bar, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Sep 11, 2012 – Feierwerk, Munich, Germany
  • Sep 12, 2012 – Treibhaus Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland
  • Sep 14, 2012 – La Chocolaterie, City of Brussels, Belgium
  • Sep 15, 2012 – Leffingeleuren Festival, Leffinge, Belgium
  • Sep 16, 2012 – Incubate Festival, Tilburg, Netherlands
  • Sep 18, 2012 – Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Sep 19, 2012 – Rotown, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Sep 21, 2012 – Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg, Germany
  • Sep 22, 2012 – Gleis 22, Munster, Germany
  • Sep 23, 2012 – Luxor, Cologne, Germany
  • Sep 25, 2012 – Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Sep 26, 2012 – Voxhall, Arhus, Denmark
  • Sep 28, 2012 – Pustervik, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Sep 29, 2012 – Strand, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Sep 30, 2012 – John Dee, Oslo, Norway
  • Nov 1, 2012 – Grande Halle de la Villette (Pitchfork Music Festival), Paris, France

Available on 180-gram vinyl with 20-page lyric and photo booklet.

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