Japandroids: or how i learned to stop worrying and love alternative rock

The lines of defining music are thick and thin. Many times certain sounds cross boundaries while others strictly stay away from one another. Something can be funky and jazzy at the same time, while we often separate the two. Other sounds are associated with indie rock or strictly identified as indie (fairly and unfairly, I think, to those who might not understand what ‘indie‘ is), but they can also be fuzzy or have remnants of shoegaze. We have noise rock, power pop and folk rock, metal and new rock. Then there’s punk rock and its off shoots into hardcore, screamo and surf punk. Underground, psychedelia, garage rock, and quite frankly, the list is endless. But through everything else, there’s alternative rock. Which could be a title used to blanket an entire decade, or decades, let alone its a genre with many moving parts and associations. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “alternative rock?” I think of a college radio show that devoted it’s format to ‘alt rock’. And I think of the guys who ran it. They certainly were alternative.

What has me thinking about alternative rock lately is Japandroids. A Vancouver two piece with two records out. They had also released a compilation record between the two LPs, No Singles. And while their latest Celebration Rock  (out now on Polyvinyl) seems to be storming the nation, as a chronic back-listener I am stuck on Post-Nothing.

Post-Nothing is only eight tracks long and lasts somewhere around forty minutes. When you listen to the record you listen to it the whole way through, at least I do. Because it sounds like one long song. A mantra if you will. Telling us to raise our voices and thrash our bodies, The Boys Are Leaving Town, Young Hearts Spark Fire and Sovereignty always leave me wanting more. Friends of mine listened to this record when it came out in 2009 and I remember disregarding it. But like all past music mistakes, I don’t remember why I made this one. Even though we cannot live in the past we certainly can listen to older records. In fact, I do believe that that is the meaning of life.

Whether you tag Japandroids as alternative rock or not, something about their music makes me think about ‘alternative’ sounds. Maybe it’s those mid-western friends who love Japandroids that make me associate them with alternative. (Because, you know, everything alternative is also mid-western.) Perhaps its the heavy chords and monster drums fills. The delicately smacked cymbals  and the oo-ee-oo choruses that make your heart beat faster and faster. The two, Brian King (guitar) and David Prowse (drums) share the vocal responsibilities. A sound so full and distinct I can’t believe my rock-driven listening past hadn’t thrust this record on me sooner.

Genres in music are something that identify it, something that schedule it, section it and associate it with formats, lists, websites, prose, geography and time. What is it that makes me think Japandroids are alternative? It is the shouting? The friends I know who love them and play music just like them? Where maybe the credits on their records are ‘bass and yellin’ ‘? Do they sound like past bands who are noted as alternative?

Rockers East Vancouver slices into me unlike any other song ever has. It starts rock-steady and massive and then it breaks down into movements. Post-Nothing isn’t as clean as Celebration Rock. The production lends itself to the low-fi feeling the record leaves you with. But tracks like Rockers East Vancouver and Heart Sweats resonate detail. Japandroids are anything but messy in their production, even if you can call their music distracted or jumbled. King and Prowse are more aware of every sound on this record than you think. Crazy/Forever, which starts out mostly as instrumental and then also has movements – is proof.

simple design, complex sounds. we like it.

The duo have talked about how touring was the way they wanted to live their lives. Their music sounds just like that too – taking influence from every corner and ideas from every genre. Do they associate their music with alternative? They certainly are indie. But their appeal is massive, or at least it should be. The point here is that, music lines are thick and thin.

I’m not sure I want to place Japandroids anymore, but when I listen to them my brain shoots off in every direction (thank god.) This band makes me want to learn, talk and read about alternative rock more than any other band has prompted me to. And I’m not sure why. But I am sure that I just want to live inside their records forever. So bring it on, boys. Bring it on.