Revived and ready to go

Japandroids sound refreshed on their latest record

It had been five years since Canadian duo Japandroids graced the world with a new record, and fans of the heartland revival band were more than eager. After fusing classic rock bombast and punk urgency on their 2012 record, Celebration Rock, the band aimed for an even bigger, crisper sound on their latest album.

“We were pretty silent on social media,” said Japandroids drummer Brian King. “People are like, ‘Now that your hiatus is over, are you excited to be back?’ and it’s like, what hiatus? We played 250 shows and then wrote and recorded a new album.”

Following that short break, the band released 2017’s Near to the Wild Heart of Life, a record that feels more polished, yet somehow contains the gratifying immediacy of their last album. Compromising that rawness may register as a cheap trade-off to some, but the record is just as successful in retaining the fast-paced, youthful energy of the band’s early work.

The Concordian spoke to King about his writing process with bandmate David Prowse, and how they found inspiration to release their first bit of material in five years.

Over the phone, King said the process as a whole was very overwhelming. “When you’ve spent the last four years working on an album, you’ve just got to go at your own pace,” he said. “But once it’s finished and out of your hands, you try to make the most of it.”

Though daunting, this process wasn’t a new undertaking for Japandroids. “We went very quickly from being a local band to an internationally touring one,” King said. “With each album, it just gets a little bigger each time.”

To a lot of people, it seemed like the Vancouver legends had vanished into thin air. And in indie rock, that can either make or break a career. “We weren’t on social media updating a lot of the time. David was busy with his girlfriend, and I had met mine. We’ve actually been very busy in that time,” King said. “We released the last record in 2012 and toured all throughout that year. We toured almost all of the next year. When we got home at the end of it, we were just totally burnt out, both physically and mentally. It came to the point that, despite how much we love playing in the band, we just needed a break.”

According to King, the band hadn’t taken a serious break in five years. The initial recording sessions for the new album started after the band’s last tour. They took about six months off to detox before writing and putting new ideas to work.

“It’s hard to lead a normal life when you’re in a band. After six months off, we both really started to miss it, and that’s when we started writing again,” King said. “We probably spent about one year writing and then recorded the whole thing by the end of 2015.”

Working with producer Peter Katis on the new record was a good move for the band, as he is well-known for his work with groups like The National and Interpol. Mixing the record turned out to be a long and arduous process, but the end result undoubtedly sounds more polished. And apparently, it’s more polished by design. According to King, when the band started about 10 years ago, they aimed to replicate the raw and untutored sound of garage rock bands emerging from Vancouver at the time. “That’s the kind of band vibe we were going for,” he said. “That’s the kind of record we wanted to make.”

The band achieved that vision on their sophomore record, Celebration Rock. “Of course, we could have just continued doing the same thing, which I know a lot of our fans would have liked,” King said. “We really like that record, but it didn’t interest us artistically anymore.”

With that in mind, it’s clear the band made a conscious effort to execute something different. The transition from self-recording to making a real studio album wasn’t a matter of trying to sound more professional. Those aspects became an afterthought. But considering how much better they sound in the studio, expect nothing but improvements from here. “It’s uncharted territory for us,” King said.


Japandroids live at Corona Theatre

Since the release of their 2012 sophomore opus, Celebration Rock, Japandroids have occupied a spot in the musical zeitgeist as one of Canada’s all-time greatest bands. These droids are manufactured in Vancouver, which is evident in the group’s repertoire of songs, which often namedrop geographical locations in British Columbia.

When Japandroids’ first chord rang across the stage of the Corona Theatre last week, the audience was instantly transfixed and didn’t divert their attention until the end of the 15-song set. The Vancouver natives kicked off their first Montreal performance in years with the title track off their latest release, Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Japandroids’ music operates on sheer kinetic energy, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that guitarist and vocalist Brian King’s vivacity on stage perfectly paralleled his playing and singing on the record.

Filling the venue to its absolute brim, the show was an amazing presentation of synergy formed between audience and performer. The crowd was moshing and singing along with untutored enthusiasm throughout the show. Such was the case for the performers themselves, who transferred this energy back and forth like wildfire. The energy was tossed to-and-fro from band to audience and vice-versa.

The Canadian icons were poised and confident.

King asked if anyone in the crowd was at the band’s Cabaret Mile-End show, which took place all the the way back in December 2012. A few zealous responses were scattered throughout the crowd. King devoted “Younger Us” to the dedicated few who attended that show.

The two fans fixed at the front of the crowd were sporting homemade “North East South West” baseball caps, which caught King’s eye. The titular song off the band’s latest effort, “Near to The Wild Heart Of Life,” was dedicated to those two, who seemed to be revitalized with new energy that somehow topped their initial gusto.

And of course, there had to be that one guy who, at every concert, yells out a request to play “Free Bird.” Not usually in the band’s lineup of songs, but the request caught the interest of King, who, for a brief moment, considered covering the song with his ill-prepared drummer, David Prowse, so that they could both botch the song together.

Japandroids rocking the night away.

The set ended on a particularly climactic note, with an especially stomping rendition of the band’s biggest anthem, “The House That Heaven Built.” There was no encore, but it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say everyone in attendance felt satisfied with King and Prowse’s performance.

Photos by Erin Walker


The best Canadian albums of the millennium

The best of Canada, (from an American’s perspective)

20. Single Mothers – Negative Qualities (2014)

As a style, punk rock has always been rooted in emotional expression, or at least pessimism, but sounding legitimately irate on wax has often been the Achilles’ heel of bands whose rage is rendered contrived when translated in a studio. On Negative Qualities, Single Mothers’ first full-length album was a stellar effort on that front, tossing out vividly pissed-off imagery and lucid notions left and right. The album’s lyrical quips are all punctuated by plenty of solid riffs.

19. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (2011)

The concept of the rock opera has become something of a lost art. The always prolific Fucked Up went out large and loud on their artistic statement, David Comes to Life. The album’s themes of love and self-discovery relate on a universal scale as well as in the context of a structured narrative. And up against these brick-house guitar arrangements, the script serves as just an added level of emotional investment.

18. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (2015)

Emotion presents a more unified front than Carly Rae Jepsen’s lone hit “Call Me Maybe.” A-list songwriters and producers such as Sia, Devonté Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, Shellback and Greg Kurstin help Jepsen focus her bubbly pop effervescence into a cohesive sound that hits an irresistible sweet spot.

17. Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)

Kaputt utilizes 80s sophisti-pop, new romanticism and FM adult contemporary to deliver a wonderfully messy dive into maximalism. Atop that, it’s filled to the brim with twinkling synths and wailing trumpets and saxophones.

16. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator (2014)

The opening titular track is about as complex as Impersonator gets, with skeletal, off-kilter strings and vocal loops intersecting each other before Devon Welsh’s bulletproof baritone charges in with contemplative lyrics about insecurity and isolation. The rest is a chilling hatch patch of minimalistic electronic as desolate as Montreal winters that can fill a room with its ambition.

15. Women – Public Strain (2010)

While clinging to the lo-fi grit that made them such a varied but equally compelling group, Women broadened their horizons for this sophomore album. Two years in the making, Public Strain is more urgent than the debut in that the melodic parts are more corrosive, the tension is more palpable, and the shimmering, razor-sharp sonics are more evocative.

14. Ought – More Than Any Other Day (2014)

More Than Any Other Day snapshots the same kind of primal energy in all of Ought’s influences and filters them into a collection of songs that seamlessly volley between biting political punk and jittery post-punk finesse.

13. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (2009)

For their debut, Japandroids hit the ground running on Post-Nothing, a warm, endearingly jumbled disorder of fuzzy guitar, ecstatic drums and overly-optimism lyrics yelled in unison by guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse. The album’s childlike presentation is at times juvenile, but it captures a brand of buoyancy and nostalgic reminiscence for societal defiance that’s impossible not to bash along to.

12. Women – Women (2008)

At its most melodic, Women’s debut is a blend of noise and songcraft that adheres best when the band taps into its pop side. Underneath these nuggets of nervy, cavernous cacophony are some of the best distillations of high-octane pop of the millennium.

11. Grimes – Visions (2012)

On Visions, Claire Boucher further expands the esoteric sound she fostered on her past efforts, where her songs hovered in an infinite space loop one moment and hit the dancefloor in the next. Boucher’s baby-voiced vocals are so divisive yet intoxicating that you can’t help but envelop yourself in her otherworldly soundscapes.

10. White Lung – Deep Fantasy (2014)

Vancouver B.C.-based punks White Lung reached a blistering peak on their 2014 album, Deep Fantasy. The record is an unrelenting assault of thrash-crossover mastery. The intricate guitar leads and arresting vocal performances from singer Mish Way contribute to a rewarding set of songs that swirl by in less than 20 minutes.

9. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Wolf Parade enlists producer Isaac Brock on its debut, Apologized to the Queen Mary, using his attuned ear as a source to tinge their chrisp indie pop tunes into something larger than life, producing cinematic grace while acknowledging their debt to post-punk bands of yesteryear.

8. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (2008)

On their self-titled debut, Crystal Castles churn out eight-bit noise as auditorily challenging as an Atari game’s soundtrack. These sounds churn into something chaotic, and oftentimes moody pop with a warped exterior. It was an especially revelatory sound in an age defined by technological paranoia and uncertainty.

7. Crystal Castles – (II) (2010)

Crystal Castles are, at their core, an electropop band. But on the follow-up to their instant classic debut, the band takes the disjointed sonic trickery it specializes in and pushes its stylistically singular sound to new heights. (II) has a much darker, melodic edge and punchier sonics than its predecessor, while elaborating on the more ethereal components the band ventured into on its debut.

6. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012)

With an abundance of jumpy, anthemic chants as hooks, sung from the perspective of a naive young-adult on the verge of adulthood, Celebration Rock delivers on the earth-shattering ruckus, youthful gusto and fiery fervor Japandroids delivered with their debut, Post-Nothing.

5. New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005)

Twin Cinema is a sharp and abundantly enjoyable indie record which never lacks in its references to pop music. This is thanks to the zestful performances, contagious hooks, simplistic production approach and quick-wit writing, usually from the articulate vocabulary tongue of its members.

4. Preoccupations (FKA Viet Cong) – Viet Cong (2015)

Despite the eclectic range of industrial and post-punk viewpoints, Viet Cong manages to contain it all in a finely tuned, bone-chilling experience. The warped sounds permeating this record are unified by a strong stylistic line and unmatched energy.

3. The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? (2004)

Like their fantastical moniker implies, the Unicorns are playful, seemingly functioning in a mythical world of their own. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? ambitiously balances the band’s lo-fi leanings with acute experimental flourishes and a mastery for pop. This is held in tandem by an instrumental palette of synths, recorder and clarinet.

2. Death From Above 1979 – Heads Up (2002)

Taking notes from fellow two-piece acts such as Lightning Bolt and Liars, Death From Above 1979’s recipe for destruction is a pummeling, danceable fit of clamor with enough punk sensibilities for the indie kids and enough distortion for the noise addicts.

1. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Arcade Fire’s gorgeous debut is both poignant and empowering, and injected with a spirit that many indie-rock acts desperately lack. The band’s members operate in perfect synergy, pushing the album’s dense instrumental catalog to breathtaking musical vistas about childhood and the psychological trappings of adulthood.

Honourable mentions:

Drake – Nothing Was The Same (2013)

Mac DeMarco – 2 (2012)

Purity Ring – Shrines (2012)

METZ – METZ (2012)

Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Music Quickspins

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (ANTI-, 2017)

This Canadian alternative rock band will get you all fired up with their opening tack, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life.” Their high-energy guitar riffs and vocals will lighten the mood as they sing, “So I left my home and all I have, I use to be good but now I’m bad.” Their sound is reminiscent of the nostalgic, smooth rock songs that used to play on the radio in the late 90s. Their West Coast flavour can be heard in their track “North East South West,” as they sing about Western Canada being their home. You might have heard similar alternative songs, but Japandroids prove classic alternative rock never gets old. Their track “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding you Sooner)” combines upbeat ballads with an emotional tone of vocals singing: “I’ve been looking for you my whole life.” The song has a beautiful intimate side to it, although it still makes you want to blast the volume and dance around. It’s a great album for a long drive, preferably somewhere sunny that will take you on the road Near to the Wild Heart of Life.

Trial Track: “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding you Sooner)”

Score: 7.5/10


Your guide to the Polaris shortlist, in a heartbeat

Photo courtesy of Polaris

Feist – Metals (2011; Arts and Crafts)

If you were expecting a continuation of The Reminder, think again. Subdued, stripped down, yet still sophisticated, this record is completely worth the four year wait. Feist will be finishing her year-long tour this October in South America.

Trial track: “Comfort Me”


Grimes – Visions (2012; Arbutus)

Grimes sounds confident and assured on her third record, recorded entirely in her bedroom here in Montreal. Now based out of L.A., look for her performing at Club Soda on Sept. 20.

Trial track: “Genesis”





Drake – Take Care (2011; Young Money)

On his second album, Drake slowed down the production – and it paid off. The L.A. Times and New York Times both named it the best album of 2011, while The Globe and Mail included it on their top ten list. This is a strong contender for the prize.

Trial track: “Take Care”




Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012; Polyvinyl Record Co.)

The Vancouver-based punk/noise rock duo made a second record remarkably similar to their first, 2009’s Post-Nothing, in the best way possible. This album leaves a bigger crater than the first, and it even features a Gun Club cover.

Trial track: “For the Love of Ivy”





YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN – YT/ST (2011; Psychic Handshake)

Debut album from Toronto/Montreal based genre-defying duo. Performance art? Music? Noh-wave? What you need to know: they’ve teamed up with fellow shortlister Fucked Up for a 7” available soon, and they have a new album available digitally now.

Trial track: “Queens”





Cadence Weapon – Hope In Dirt City (2012; Upper Class Recordings)

Rollie Pemberton, dubbed ‘Canada’s most creative rapper’ by the National Post, is on a roll. Hope In Dirt City is his third album to claim a Polaris Prize nod, his second to make the shortlist, and his most commercial effort. The music video for “Conditioning” was filmed entirely in Montreal.

Trial track: “Conditioning”





Cold Specks – I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (2012; Mute/EMI Records)

At 23 years old, Aly Spx (better known as her stage name Cold Specks) is the youngest artist to make this year’s shortlist. Her debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, fills the gothic void in contemporary Canadian indie rock.

Trial track: “Hector”





Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur (2012; MapleMusic Recordings)

Kathleen Edward’s fourth album, Voyageur, is her second to make the shortlist. The single “Change the Sheets” was co-produced by her current grammy-award-winning boyfriend, Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame.

Trial track: “Change the Sheets”




Fucked Up – David Comes to Life (2011; Matador)

Fucked Up already have one Polaris Prize up on their mantelpiece; the hard rockers won in 2009 for The Chemistry of Common Life. The band calls their most recent release a ‘rock opera’ and love story set in the 1970s and 1980s.

Trial track: “The Other Shoe”




Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital (2011; Sub Pop)

Montreal’s resident indie rock husband-wife duo, Handsome Furs, announced their breakup as a band just one year after the release of their third album, Sound Kapital. Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry wrote the album solely on piano, inspired by 1980s Eastern European electronica.

Trial track: “Serve the People”



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