I remember the first time I saw Japandroids: The Canadian duo crushed a set at the now-defunct Siren Music Festival on Coney Island in 2009. The sound was sloppy, they looked confused, even amateurish. I loved it.
The band’s debut full-length, “Post-Nothing,” came out in the U.S. a little while after and I wrote this about it: “The emergence of Japandroids — along with No Age, Wavves, Titus Andronicus, Abe Vigoda and others — suggests that gritty music filled with heartfelt affirmations might soon find its way into the poster-clad bedrooms of high-schoolers from coast to coast for the first time since Nirvana’s reign.” A little lofty and grandiose, to be sure, but I couldn’t get over the group’s unbridled fervor and recklessness.
So, it has been with great wonder as I’ve watched the huge response to Japandroids new one, “Celebration Rock.” It’s been heralded from the expected (Pitchfork) to the unexpected (Grantland). And I’ve started to feel like this record is seeping into the cultural bloodstream in the way I thought the first one might. Still, I can’t help feeling bewildered. Why now?
In the music business, getting there first is everything. Labels want to sign the “next big thing,” critics want to discover them when they’re barely out of diapers and dudes want to impress chicks with cuts from the pre-buzz bin. And, oftentimes, I find myself playing into this game.
Maybe the reason the Japandroids response this time around is reaching a fever pitch is because “Celebration Rock” is a better record. It’s not worlds apart from “Post-Nothing,” but is more fleshed-out, the lyrics more mature. On “Younger Us,” singer-guitarist Brian King laments he and singer-drummer David Prowse’s age, unable to drink their way through sleepless nights like the good old days. It’s a learned situation that makes them more palatable to the masses than the relatively naive boys of yore. (Be warned, though: Japandroids will bring an ample amount of noise and fuzz to the Larimer Lounge on Tuesday.)
But, a better album doesn’t necessarily explain an emerging popularity. Take Beach House’s “Teen Dream,” from 2010, is a better album than this year’s “Bloom.” Yet, the Baltimore duo is living up to the latter’s title, playing larger rooms and, even, getting ripped off in a Volkswagen ad. To boot, there’s always the personal side of things: When “Post-Nothing” came out, my girlfriend of seven years and I had split up. Was it any wonder that songs like “I Quit Girls” hit home?
A band’s ascent comes down to some combination of luck, talent and timing. In the end, it doesn’t matter when someone likes something or, really, for what reason. I didn’t listen to the Beatles records when they were released (I was born in 1983), so is my appreciation of them less valid than my parents’ or Don Draper’s? (Mine might be more valid that Don’s, though: He really wasn’t digging “Tomorrow Never Knows.”) Music is too amorphous to get caught up in all the cutting edge noise. Especially today: Long gone are the days when everyone heard a record on the same day, for the first time. Not only are albums leaked — sometimes song-by-song — we are getting to the point where the whole of history’s recorded music is instantly accessible. Embrace it because what’s next is a giant question mark: Tomorrow never knows.