I fully support duos. With today’s technology and gear, two people can make quite a racket. When I saw Vancouver duo Japandroids at the Polyvinyl 15th Anniversary Fest in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., I was floored by Brian King’s guitar setup. I mean, I knew they were loud and guitar-fueled (obviously), but WHOA. Something like six speaker cabinets with selector pedals sending his axe to the different amps and cabs, each with different settings and effects. A gearhead’s dream. What I wish I didn’t see was them bitching endlessly at the sound guy, but that’s neither here nor there.
Bookended by the popping of fireworks, Celebration Rock is no huge departure from the band’s Post-Nothing mission statement in 2009, but the little twists on that style make it that much more satisfying of a record. Don’t get me wrong, I liked their debut, but I liked it more in theory than in practice. It always seemed a little one note to me, with little variation in dynamics and tempo, turned to 11 at all times. "We always need to figure out how a song can be super fucking intense the entire time. Until that happens, it's not done." King said in a recent interview for Pitchfork, and in my humble opinion, that’s a dumb way to write songs. Nothin’ wrong with loud, but if you’re gonna punch up the Get Up Kids' late-90’s style of emo with sheets of shoegaze guitar, you gotta have a “Valentine” in there somewhere.
Their debut had ballads of sorts with “Crazy/Forever” and “I Quit Girls” but they were still so frickin’ loud. There is not quite a “Valentine” acoustic ballad here (but MAN would that hit hard amongst their fuzzed-out fare) but they do dial it back a pinch on closer “Continuous Thunder,” with King dropping below his standard sing/shout range to a nice baritone. But the one thing that really helps this “always loud” situation is that the David Prowse’s drums drop out or pull back more often than before and King’s guitar dials back the fuzz more frequently. Not too often though. Just enough to let the songs catch their breath.
Back to the rockers. Just as “The Boys Are Leaving Town” paid homage to Thin Lizzy, “Evil’s Sway” nods to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” with its "Oh yeah! Alright!" over a persistent beat. When King’s guitar peaks in this song, that hit-you-in-the-chest sound that blew me away live is realized on tape. Post-Nothing always sounded more “noisy” than “powerful.” Prowse’s drums sound incredible here as well, I must note.
“For the Love of Ivy” has constant breakdowns and gaps, followed by a blitzkrieg to the song’s big finish. “Younger Us” has great call-and-response vocals, and is therefore instantly singable. Single “The House That Heaven Built” has a dancey beat a la Death From Above 1979 and those amazing "Oh oh oh"s. And then there’s the line “If they try to slow you down / Tell ‘em all to go to hell.” There’s another mission statement if I’ve ever heard one.
Lyrically, the album is less about cheesy catchphrases to shout with your friends (I never liked that "French kiss some French girls" line anyway) and more about the struggles of being a full-time band, if not overtly, then bubbling beneath the surface. The band before you almost never was, nearly imploding in the short time between recording Post-Nothing the point at which the rest of the world caught on. Knowing this makes the songs resonate that much more, and leaves you feeling even more glad to have this sophomore record.
They stuck with it, and I for one am glad they did. I’m nitpicking with the problems with the album and this band in general, ‘cause in the end, nothing feels better than two guys assaulting your eardrums like their life depends upon it.