Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tokyo Police Club: Champ

What a welcoming sound is Tokyo Police Club's Champ. Good, simple rock seems increasingly hard to come by lately, and all too easily dismissed by the critics. It seems like a minor moment in music, and to a certain degree it is, but not because it's not a grandiose, profound statement. It's just hard to escape the stigma of being merely good rock. It feels like it's been about a year since the last time I heard a rock record that didn't desperately want to be something bigger. Those records sometimes succeed and sometimes get overblown and obnoxious. An album like this is fated to be seen as an underachiever, all-too-familiar and not overly ambitious. Whether you think it's important to be ambitious or not, this works for me: I've listened to it about eight times since I opened the package yesterday.

This is probably not because it's an intensely life-changing listen. It's just so immediate and in-the-moment that it seems to rush by unexpectedly, so when it's done, I want to start again. "Favourite Food" (hurray for Canadian bands using Canadian spelling) is an ideal opening track, easing the listener in with a few abstract keyboard flourishes (the album isn't utterly devoid of ambition and thoughtfulness, after all, they use their keyboards deftly throughout) and slowly unpeeling a downtempo strumming tune into an anthem. Acoustic guitars and soft keyboard tones give way to drum fills and jangly REM type riffs and away we go.

Sometimes they're a little punky, like on the blistering "Wait Up (Shoes of Danger)," or on "Big Difference," which has the relateable chorus of "That's why I can't send you Christmas cards / It's why I have to keep you in the dark / Less big words and more exclamation marks." Sometimes they sound like irresistible pop, like on "End of a Spark," or on "Not Sick," which is led by a great drum beat while the keyboards deploy the main rhythm to match it. And "Gone" echoes The Coral, which is a sentence I never thought I'd write, since not even The Coral echo The Coral. It's fun and a little drizzly.

I don't want to go the "sound of a generation" route with this: it's really just a nice record. Even so, I know my generation does disaffection the way Lennon's did rebellion and Cobain's did angst. But we still like to rock, so I'm all for the chorus of "Favourite Colour," which manages to hook an anthemic riff around what is essentially first-date small talk. This album is sorta the sound of many small moments collected over time, little observations preserved, deliberately recalling a time when staying up late was key. I think it's something my generation picked up by listening to Pinkerton over and over and watching Wes Anderson films and Garden State too many times, but it could just be me. Not that this sounds like the soundtrack to Garden State: it's too lively for that. And "Breakneck Speed" wraps all of that detachment and resignation up in a Coldplay or Kings of Leon-sized riff, shines it up real good, and shoves it in your culture hole, reaching for the epic while knowing they're stuck on Earth. In those moments where the band creates a sound that could fill a stadium, they never fail to provide a solid percussive base for their rock that many MOR arena-size groups neglect.

"I remember when our voices used to sound the same / Now we just translate." Dave Monks' voice has that detached sigh, wistful on one hand, optimistic and sincere on the other. All this uncertainty comes out on the final track, "Frankenstein" which brings the chorus of that song back by asking "Tell me it's good to be back" and tying the request to a watery synth riff worthy of Phoenix. It all comes together so smoothly, you'd think it was too easy to be so good, but I doubt it.

Now all of this is well and good, but like I said, this album is not some grand statement, it's just a good rock record. All of this generational business is put in the service of some deft hooks and cool choruses. It's interesting, but it's straightforward enough that the sound will particularly appeal to high schoolers learning there's such a thing as good rock, but aren't yet looking for Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire. For some kid born in 1995 or 97, he might pick Champ up today and come back to it in 5 or 10 years and think, "This was the first really good CD I ever got," the same way I think of Green Day's Dookie or Offspring's Smash (note: I had older brothers, so this age is shifted way down for me.) It's good music to be a teenager to, or to feel a bit more like one. You could just lie on your bed with your girlfriend and listen to a song like "Hands Reversed," and wonder where you're headed.

Buy this album from iTunes now!

1 comment:

  1. This CD was my jam for about a solid month when it was released. Because sometimes, yeah, I just want something that just hits me square in the pleasure center, without noodling around in the deeper folds of my mind first.

    And yeah, man, what a one-two punch at the beginning with Favourite Food and Favourite Colour. I think it was a great little announcement of "Hey, we're back!"

    (This is why I don't critique music.)