So Tokyo Police Club has a new album coming out. I didn’t even know I was excited about it until I heard the news! But these exclamation marks would seem to suggest that I am excited indeed!
Now that my extremely elegeant lede is out of the way, let’s talk brass tacks: this is a good band! After a heavily-hyped debut EP they put out a very enjoyable first LP. I remember enjoying it, anyway; I was struck by the fairly distinct tonal shift, moving away from the brash guitar-heavy structures of the EP into more tonal and keyboard-flecked tunes. In retrospect, however, there’s only one song that has really stuck with me hard through the years: the gentle, elegant, downright lovely “Listen To the Math.” Its spare arrangement, powerfully melodic guitars, and surprisingly deft use of the term “Australopithecine” still knock my socks off nearly six years later.
I came to their follow-up, Champ, an unfortunately-long time after it came out. Aside from a cursory half-listen or two when it first came out I actually sort of disregarded it entirely until after I became enamored of keyboardist Graham Wright’s solo album Shirts vs Skins. That record is brilliant, from the vaguely-ragtime piano number “No Hard Feelings” to the tender lullaby balladry of “Birds Of A Feather” to the saxaphone skronk and infectious wordplay of “Potassium Blast” to the classic power-pop of “Soviet Race.” It was one of the best records of 2011; how could I not check out his other output?
In retrospect, Champ is essentially a pop-rock album with a healthy smattering of keyboards; think a more laid-back, fun-loving Bloc Party. They are integrated seamlessly, though; there are tracks where it’s tough to separate them from the rest of the mix. The pacing and arrangements are nicely varied, making for a group of songs that actually sound different (unlike their EP, which—while I enjoy it—had a certain sameness to it). Heck, the first song alone runs the gamut. “Favourite Food” starts with a softly-strummed acoustic guitar and David Monk’s vocals coming across more laconic than usual. Perhaps that’s fitting, given that the lyrics suggest he’s examining the perspective of a damaged senior citizen bound to a hospital bed.
“With a heart attack on your plate you were looking back on your days, how you spent them all in a blur,” he carefully enunciates before continuing. “Let the sugar melt down your throat because you know it’s sweet getting old. With a lollipop and a rose, let the hospital be your home.”
The tenderness of the first half of the song disappears as quickly-strummed electric guitars cut in and the pace accelerates exponentially. The remainder is propelled with frantic drumming and reverberating guitar, ending in a squalling finish of guitar soloing that is downright thrilling.
It’s a strong start to an album on which the strong start pretty much doesn’t stop. With no exaggeration, each of the first seven songs could be a huge single: “Favourite Colour” is a catchy, stuttering start/stop number about friends who have been separated for a time before they move in together and are getting to know each other again (the comparison to K-Ci and JoJo is priceless); “Breakneck Speed” is an amiable mid-tempo pop song; “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” sees Wright’s keyboard take center stage, augmenting the song’s melodic edge while Monk’s wordless falsetto hook in the post-chorus amps up the energy; “Bambi” is an amazing centerpiece, a jittery amalgam of glitchy synths and pop-rock guitars that is possibly the band’s most purely danceable number to date; “End Of A Spark” is a big-guitar number and an infectious sing-along song; “Hands Reversed” is a curveball, slowing things way down and paring the instrumentation back to finger-picked electric guitars and a plodding, propulsive drum beat while Monk explores the lower end of his vocal register; “Gone” is an entirely enjoyable number about longing for a picturesque scenery when one just needs a break; “Big Difference” establishes a frantic pace to accompany lyrics about lashing out against isolation; “Not Sick” and closer “Frankenstein” mash up elements of the songs that precede them, adding more stoic tones and lyrics to square the circle and reflect the more serious opening tone of the album.
I’m serious, people; Champ is a fully-fantastic pop rock record from back to front. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since I got off my butt and put it on with intent. Expectations are officially high for this new release!
Forcefield is out at the end of March, but you can pre-order it now through iTunes. There’s also a fairly-complicated pre-order set up through PledgeMusic that includes CD, digital, and vinyl copies (though it appears to be targeted at US fans). Digital versions and other releases can also be found through their Canadian label, Dine Alone Records.