Three years feels like an eternity when it comes to releasing new music for bands these days, but considering Canadian alt-rock duo Japandroids racked up some 200 shows in a year to support their last offering, Celebration Rock, they certainly needed a well-earned rest before heading back into the studio. Brian King and David Prowse are among the most successful two-piece bands, but it nevertheless left the pair burnt out, emotionally and physically. Needless to say, their radio silence did not go unnoticed. So when they returned to the scene late last year, their appearance was met with great excitement and anticipation. Their announced their third album, Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, and released a single of the same name. They quickly embarked on an international tour across the US, UK and Australia, offering fans a little taste of the album ahead. Now, finally, the album has been unleashed.
Given the band’s evolution from anguished, jaded grunge on 2009’s Post-Nothing to the more triumphant Celebration Rock, exactly where they would head next was unclear, and admittedly the first single did not feel memorable, considering its simple continuation of the anthemic sounds of their last outing. North East South West offered much the same, with the band lamenting on the long-flogged hardships of touring; “Coast to California, the highway hot, noise, narcotics and the New York night.” After playing to audiences in nearly 50 countries we obviously understand the need to vent, but we were hoping for a little more creativity.
Thankfully True Love and a Free Life of Free Will sees the album grow more open, honest and intimate, harnessing the anxieties of relationships and romance. While the sound still feels similar, the lyrics develop further and the album starts taking off. King has always demonstrated remarkable talent for waxing lyrical about some of life’s most pointed insecurities with reckless triumph. The same can be said for album standout Arc Of Bar, the first song to showcase a strong progression, with metallic synths adding a welcome new dimension over the roaring guitars and thundering drums.
It’s this constant discomfort and unease with life that seems to have forever run throughout the band’s sound. Midnight To Morning admits that over time the band has to travel “So many miles, with so much to lose.” The accelerando at the end of the song only adds to this sense of growing anxiety; likewise, No Known Drink Or Drug, the most ’00s-sounding cut of the record, transports restless thoughts of love and materialism from an agitated mind into a grungy, punk-infused musical context.
At the end of the day Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is a reflection on just how wild and unsettling life really is. Musically, it’s a balanced cocktail of all things Japandroids; while Post-Nothing was anarchic, grungy rebellion and Celebration Rock was a joyful expression of dreams realised, here the band maintain their surface level positivity while admitting that beneath the sleek veneer, things are not as simple as they would like them to be. It’s this yin-yang element that keeps you coming back to the record. There’s nothing necessarily new here, but that’s okay. As proclaimed in album closer, everything felt by humans is “All in a lifetime and all in a body like a grave.” Life rolls on. Luckily, we have albums like this to remind us that we are not alone.