Allow me to add my hoarse and obscure voice to the hosannas: Celebration Rock, the second full-length by Vancouver’s Japandroids, is an instant classic, full of prickly angst and unbridled joy and primal screams that splash onto everything in between. It is destined to be replayed endlessly, to enjoy multiple pressings, to be purchased several times over by the people whose bones it rattles. And–if my impression of those people, of we people, is correct–it’ll even have the exceedingly rare honor of being found just as readily on shelves as it on hard drives. Celebration Rock is the kind of album you want to possess, because until the day Brian King and David Prowse come to your town, that will be the only way you can touch what you’ve been feeling.
There are obvious touchstones here. No Age, for instance, that other pair of West Coast punks with big riffs and big hearts. The Hold Steady, over whose “Constructive Summer” Celebration Rock opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” seems to have been scribbled. There are flecks of The Dismemberment Plan’s communal loneliness, Titus Andronicus’ last-minute desperation, The Replacements’ shambolic hope. An abundance of that particularly masculine vulnerability that Archers of Loaf first distilled and The Constantines damn near perfected.
If those and a hundred other bands are the parts, Japandroids aren’t necessarily the greater whole, or even the natural sum, or anything else so technical. But the sound Japandroids have cultivated on Celebration Rock is something like the wick green shoot at the center of a vital branch, or a live nerve that’s suddenly been exposed. It’s a feeling that’s been there all along, a torch carried by all of the above, but it’s rarely burned with such unflinching clarity and immediacy as it does here.
Make no mistake, this is an exuberant record–that title’s irony free–but there’s a sharp, sad core at Celebration Rock’s center. Listen to the guitar attack that draws the opening of “Evil’s Sway” into the first verse: who knew you could make a punk song sound sad, and not just sad, but aching? It’s an album that seems to acknowledge its own death in some way, or if not its death, its obscurity; Japandroids might be playing for bigger audiences than they ever imagined would want to see them, but Celebration Rock isn’t going to win them any Bon-Iver-style crossover action, no matter how high the gathered accolades rise. Their audience is a small one, however bully their pulpit. It’s kids from suburbs and small towns who raised themselves on rock ‘n’ roll, and who’ve suddenly realized with some small twinge of fear that being adult-aged doesn’t make you an adult. It’s the music that plays in my head every time I buy a new pair of Vans. Come to think of it, it’s the moment before Heaven. words/ m garner