Celebration Rock doesn't shadow or shade its intentions. Rather, the second album by Vancouver duo Japandroids is hooky, high-energy, sweat-on-the-brow, heart-on-the-microphone music that bounds ahead with a headstrong, romantic spirit. The title is not a feint. It is a fist in the air.
Though the pair's distortion-heavy guitar tone owes a debt to acts such as Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr., its primitive propulsion and straightforward sentiments seem mostly descended from Fun House-era Stooges.
"Bless you," answers drummer David Prowse at the invocation of Iggy Pop. "That's in Brian [King, guitarist] and my top five albums of all time. Brian might put it No. 1. Talk about directness. It sounds like his lungs are about to burst and his throat is going to give out. It sounds like they're beating the shit out of their instruments and putting every ounce of themselves into those records. That's certainly something we wanted to capture."
That breakneck abandon works as an essential component of their 2009 debut, Post-Nothing. At the time, the feeling was rooted in a very real desperation. Just as Japandroids put what became their breakthrough disc to tape, they had decided to quit. They'd kicked around Vancouver for a couple years, released two EPs and felt like the end was obvious. In Calgary, the first stop of their "final" tour, an ulcer in King's stomach perforated and dripped acid on his organs. Had they not been within five minutes of a hospital, Prowse says, King might've died. They scrapped the rest of the trek and prepared to hit the kill switch.
But they were soon buoyed by a positive Pitchfork review that raved about the band's primitive appeal: "[Post-Nothing] affirms that, even in these times, life doesn't need to be as complicated as we tend to make it."
Japandroids' fortunes reversed instantly. Post-Nothing ruled year-end best-of lists, and Celebration Rock arrived as one of last year's most anticipated and, once again, universally lauded albums.
"Not to make it sound too dramatic," Prowse says, "but I do think we've kind of existed on borrowed time ever since that time when we basically resolved the band wasn't ever going to do much. We'd done our thing in Vancouver and that was about it."
In April, eight years after King and Prowse drove to Coachella as fans, they played on one of the main stages. Prowse describes it as one of those "weird moments where you more fully grasp how strange your life has become." Yet it hasn't diminished their wild spirit; if anything, the exposure has only amplified their drive.
"That's part of the reason we tour so much: It's like we tricked people into letting us do this," Prowse continues. "We don't know how long it's going to last so we want to take every opportunity we have."
Celebration Rock is loud but not complicated. It doesn't need to be, as the simplicity aids in the directness of the emotions. Like a good country song, the power's in its essential honesty.
"We're a pretty simple band. There are only two instruments, and there aren't a lot of bells and whistles or overdubs on our recordings at all," says Prowse. "Basically it sounds like two guys playing in a room. We both like all kinds of music, but there is something very effective in just being simple and direct emotionally."
That essentials-only attitude radiates throughout Celebration Rock immediately. On opener "The Nights of Wine and Roses," for instance, the duo comes on like The Hold Steady set to turbo, declaring "We don't cry for those nights to arrive. We yell like hell to the heavens!" As two wayward souls sing out loud together in the "pissing rain," they channel the spirit of "Born to Run" with "Continuous Thunder." Elsewhere, they exalt in the "naked new skin rush" and "girls learning love, wild and free."
These two grown men make you feel like a kid again. Like the last album's most popular track, "Young Hearts Spark Fire," Celebration Rock is rife with innocent hope and unyielding, almost rebellious determination yearning to breath free. It's the very essence of what rock's always been about, and why it's sometimes remarked that the blues' baby is music aimed at teenagers. While we undeniably age, that teenager remains inside us, waiting to be stirred again. That's exactly what Japandroids do.
"In a weird way, I feel a lot of times like I'm making music for the 18-year-old version of myself," Prowse agrees. "That music does stick with you, and it has to do with the fact that when you're that age you're creating your identity and trying to figure out who you are, and music is such an important part of that."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Roiling rock."