Here I am, sitting in my basement, eyes locked on my laptop and headphones plugged in – shut off from the rest of the world. I’m listening to Japandroids’ newest album and I have the sudden urge to say: “fuck it”. I want to hop in my car and drive to wherever the road takes me, throwing caution to the wind and doing whatever the hell I please. The Vancouver duo has provided the world with a record composed entirely of wanderlust and adventure, mixed with the integral element of trouble making. The album was highly anticipated after 2012’s Celebration Rock and brings forth the duo’s notorious energetic sound coupled with transitory notes of secured rebellion. They have reached a point in their musical career where they are able to take more calculated risks and venture into new territories, thus Near To The Wild Heart Of Life was born.
The lyricism of each track sounds as if it was ripped out of a page of Brian King or David Prowse’s diary. The title track strikes a familiar chord with the war between “my heart and my home-town”. When I was 18 I thought I knew everything, so I packed my bags and left my home, claiming that I’d never come back. I eventually realized that adventure exists in your heart and that we should be more influenced by the people we surround ourselves with than the ground we plant our feet on. Japandroids simply want to share their music, singing, “It got me all fired up to go far away and make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby”. This track sets the tone for the album as a departure from comfort zones, familiarity, and expectations, all summed up with “I used to be good, but now I’m bad”, and I’m definitely digging the bad side. This is an album about living a life full of bad decisions, drinking, and girls, with lyrics preaching “I got no plans at all except to drink as soon as possible,” And that’s okay, because that’s life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this album – it gets me excited about music and more importantly, it gets me stoked on life. However, I wish it was messier. I want to feel like I’m sitting in the back seat of the car with my pals Brian and David and feeling the Vancouver sun gleam onto my face, home behind me and the world ahead. There are glimpses of this in many tracks, but in many cases it fails to come to fruition.
“North East South West” opens with a simple guitar strum, reminiscent of something you’d hear on stage in a divey bar. The track initially gives the impression of another song about traveling but soon turns into a love-song, perhaps about a girl and perhaps about O’Canada herself, “And no matter how much I fan the flames Canada always answers when I call her name”
“True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” is a standout track for its lyricism and ability to refrain from going all the way, all the time. The guitar riffs are on the verge of taking over, the drums are on the verge of exploding, the vocals are teetering right on the edge of it all. Instead of a boisterous proclamation, the track sounds like a modest confessional. It’s less about drinking and girls and more about the true substance behind a free life. The more muted approach allows for the contemplative tone to shine through. This track places the album in context of the whole journey that is being established. There are times of pure, unrivaled noise and excitement, but there are also times of humble recognition of the pure bliss that comes from this free spirited life.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is an album that will change every time you listen to it. It’s heavily influenced by your surroundings and atmosphere because in itself, it’s an album of experiences. It’s been designed to give you the feeling of doing something with your life – see things, feel things, be things. If you were to put this album on while driving down to work on a sunny summer day, I’d bargain that you might end up someplace else because of the true intimacy and emotion that is instilled in the values of the album’s framework. It has been artfully crafted to make us – the listeners – a part of the journey.
I won’t go any further without acknowledging the true, genuine elements of rock ‘n roll that have become a staple of Japandroids. “Arc Of Bar” is the 5th track on the album, standing at a proud 7 minutes 25 seconds, and honestly – it could be longer and I wouldn’t mind at all. The lyricism is typical of the album, but in between choruses there’s a spacey “yeah yeah yeah” that sends me into another world. It’s a velvety hum that transports me to my favourite moment at any concert. There are times during every performance where the crowd gets inexplicably rowdy and shout the lyrics back at the band; however, there’s also a moment when someone, somewhere in the audience is closing their eyes and quietly singing to themselves, and I truly believe that’s the most beautiful sight in the world. Hearing the “yeah yeah yeah” allows me to imagine myself standing amidst a sea of people, closing my eyes and singing to myself, completely absorbing the music. It’s a simple hook, but it evokes a very powerful meaning.
Closing the album in a slightly sadistic manner, the final track is entitled “In a Body Like a Grave” in which the duo call out religion, education, work, love, and everything in between. All of these expectations in our lives are reduced to singular moments, and Japandroids are challenging this notion. It’s a polite way of saying, “who fucking cares” and opting to actually live instead. Money doesn’t matter if you never spend it on things that make you happy, love doesn’t matter unless it consumes you, friends don’t matter unless they become a band of troubled outcasts that you consider your family, life doesn’t matter unless you make it matter. This track is the farewell to the album, possibly the farewell to the journey of life, and it leaves the listeners feeling purged of emotion.
Near To The Wild Heart of Life has peaks and valleys, just like we do in our lives. It will leave you feeling breathlessly emotional and in definite need of adventure. Maybe I wouldn’t love it so much if I wasn’t a clueless 22 year old trying to find my way in this world, but I am, and I really do love this album. I felt different after listening to it and that’s how I know it’s worth something. Maybe it is just about drinking and loving and hanging out with your friends, but maybe that’s not such a bad way to live.
Listen to the album here: