Japandroids’ third album Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a massive one, but packed into eight tracks. It’s at once a sprawling and cohesive listen, while each song still feels a bit different from the next. As sonically pleasing as the album is, it’s also boasts witty lyricism I found myself revisiting and reflecting on out of pure nostalgia. It’s an album that truly is accessible to fans of all genres. “A red ammo romance in the summer heat / in parks, on patios, and in the streets / Our mission: making moments into memories” is a line that simply demands old memories to bubble to the surface for listeners of any background.
On their third album, Japandroids have left behind their faster paced, lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll identity heard on 2012’s Celebration Rock for a more refined sound that reflects on natural songwriting progression. For a band consisting of only two individuals, Japandroids have impressively layered together sounds on tracks fit for full band performances.
As much as I hate to make the comparison, Japandroids’ progression as artists almost seems to mirror that of other alternative duo Twenty One Pilots — except Twenty One Pilots took a turn for a refined, faux-artsy aesthetic on their most recent release, while Japandroids decided to throw away their rules and continue to play to their strengths. Their songs are still about pursuing happiness and existing in contentment, while revamping and refining the way they put their sounds together into a work of art.
Contextually, Near to the Wild Heart of Life feels essential in today’s social climate. The chorus of the track is a rollicking shout for expression, with David Prowse singing: “And it got me all fired up / to go far away / and make some music from the sound of my singing, baby.” It feels like an album that not only matters, but entirely understands its audience. Much of the lyricism on the album falls under this theme — just existing in the world and having a right to existing how you want to.
The album’s little tweaks to individual songs make for a fresh, dynamic listen. “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” is a track that sounds big, pulling from the indie acoustics similar to Noah and the Whale, and it expertly feeds into the unexpectedly shoegazey “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner).” The album is distinctly, very much Japandroids, while utilizing genre influences that add a lot of depth to the entirety of its run. In an interview with Pitchfork, drummer/vocalist Brian King said: "We’re removing all the self-imposed rules that led to the songs and the sound of our whole career up until now,” and Japandroids showcase their fine-tuned changes within their unique tone throughout the album.
The seven minute centerpiece of the album, “Arc of Bar,” recognizes Japandroids’ penchant for writing melodies that exude belonging, becoming perfectly catchy tunes for singing along with friends. You know that scene in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” where “Heroes” by David Bowie is playing, and Sam is standing up in the back of the pickup truck while they’re driving through a highway tunnel? “Arc of Bar” flawlessly recreates the contentment of that scene. Like the rest of the album, it just feels so right.
Throughout the album, most of the melody is dependent on vocals, interspersed with funky synth lines that, again, add to the refined changes Japandroids weave into the album. Gang vocals on choruses add to the accessibility of the album, bringing the spotlight to the formidability of their songwriting capabilities. In the Pitchfork interview, King also said they’re “trying to figure out how to be intense in different ways,” a sentiment which perfectly manifests itself in the album. Japandroids have toned down their in-your-face, fast tempo rock tracks while keeping their emotional intensity. They've found subtle ways to continue to make music that demands attention in their evolving style, one that isn’t overtly positive or loud, but always hints at hope.
The final track, “In a Body Like a Grave,” opens with this insane gut punch of a line: “Christ will call you out / school will deepen doubt / work will sap the soul / hometown haunts what’s left.” In a beautiful list of common human experiences — from religion to moving away from home — Japandroids effectively encapsulate the heart and soul of their new album. It’s wonderfully human to the core, a sentiment that might seem corny, but in practice, makes for music that is desirable to listen to. It’s human to need belonging, and Japandroids extrapolate this need into an album that is almost entirely enjoyable from front to back.