Album Review: “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” by Japandroids

Canada. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “Canada”? Is it maple syrup or our great maple leaf? Maybe a beaver, a beer or some people playing hockey? I’m sure whatever you’re thinking of is something along those lines when it comes to Canada. Now what if I asked you to think about Japandroids? I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t be thinking about any of the Canadian things you mentioned before, and in all honesty, before I checked out Near to the Wild Heart of Life, I wouldn’t have either; however, after listening to their newest album, I can tell you that Japandroids is one of the most Canadian things I’ve heard in a while – especially when it comes to their music.

Japandroids is comprised of two Canadians from Vancouver, British Columbia in their mid-to-late thirties – Brian King and David Prowse. As far as their sound goes, they’re classified as “Alternative”, but that doesn’t do them justice as they’re much more of a folk/rock sounding duo. The two burst onto the scene back in 2009 with their very successful album Post-Nothing. Post-Nothing got Japandroids to realize they had a good thing going on and after being highly touted as one of the best albums of 2009, they decided to stick to this whole music gig. Skipping forward a few years to Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids has now fully developed the blend of folk-like Canadian style music in with the familiar rock style of the 80’s and 90’s which gives them quite a uniquely Canadian sound.

The first track on Near to the Wild Heart of Life just so happens to be the title track and it does not disappoint. Japandroids slap you in the face right away with a strong drum roll build up to a rock tune you’d expect to find hockey players listening to before a game. The boys lay down a really simple speech-like melody through most of the song that gives it a “hype track” vibe. That’s not all that gets you excited though, with lyrics like “And it got me all fired up, to go far away”, and “I used to be good, but now I’m bad” you can basically feel the backbeat drum pattern thumping along with your heart as you subconsciously tap your foot and bob your head. Personally I can’t help but blast this song and shout out the lyrics at the top of my lungs whenever I’m driving and that brings us to another point. The boys really knew what they were doing as far as radio airplay goes. This is the perfect track to play on any sort of rock station seeing as it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t fight the infectious chorus of this song. All in all they start things off strongly, and smartly with this brilliant title track.

After a hype track like that you’d think that Japandroids would follow it up with maybe a lighter song, but they keep their feet on the gas by pumping out another great Canadian rock song. “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” was a great opening track that definitely sounded Canadian, but the song that follows it truly feels Canadian through and through. “North East South West” talks extensively about Canada whether it’s referring to cities like Toronto or Vancouver, or the nation itself. The duo fans their nationalistic flame with lyrics like: “No matter how much I fan the flames, Canada always answers when I call her name” and “Toronto I’m trusting you to cut the cane, cause I’m saving Vancouver for a rainy day”. Lines like these show off their love for our nation, while simultaneously pumping up rock lovers of all nationalities with their patented hard speech-like melody that typifies folk/rock music. The real grit comes in at about the 3:05 minute mark in the song when the boys break the song down into a half-time feel that makes all listeners feel at home. As you can tell, I really liked the first two tracks and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that.

Moving along through the album the duo slows things down a touch in the next few songs, but that’s not to say that they aren’t good. Both “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”, “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” and “Arc of Bar” focus more on the backing tracks, hometown memories, and musical ability of the band rather than the “hell yeah let’s go to the bar, have a couple of beers, and watch the game” mentality. “Arc of Bar” especially personifies who Japandroids are as a group. “Arc of Bar” is a direct reference to the ARC bar in Vancouver, which was one of the places the band used to play at when they were just starting out. They write about being home just drinking and having a good old time, which reflects their style of music really well. It’s nice to see the boys pay homage to their home – yet again – in one of their songs.

Again the next few songs bring back their fast and catchy folk/rock sound as they dial right back into that Canadian rock sound. “Midnight To Morning” and “No Known Drink or Drug” both have that upbeat rock feel to them that gets audiences going. Finally Japandroids wrap up their album with “In a Body Like a Grave” as a sort of author’s note to the audience telling them just how far the duo has come and what their journey has been like. My personal favourite song on the album is actually “Midnight To Morning” because I feel like it perfectly describes going out with your buddies and having a grand time just drinking beer, watching hockey, and talking about nonsense all night despite your lady telling you to be home before 12:00.

Overall, Japandroids put together a killer folk/rock album that appeals to rock fans from all over and not just the great white north. With songs ranging from super hype punk/rock hits to little folk like ballads, the group nails a solid 8.25/10 score from me. The album brings high energy and nationalistic pride that score big in this kind of genre, so all I can say is; if you’re a fan of rock and you haven’t given it a listen yet, what are you waiting for eh?



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