Newmarket's Tokyo Police Club (above left) has great pop band potential. They have that rare sense of restraint, vital for popularity. Their debut album, Elephant Shell (2008), came after a prolonged period of hype, but thankfully didn’t try to reinvent the quick, punchy songs the band had become known for.
No one should confuse brevity with a lack of ambition, but Elephant Shell cut the line at 27 minutes, a cautious first step to say the least. Overall, a positive move. Even haters couldn’t accuse them of overstaying their welcome. Champ is only slightly longer, but even eight minutes - partitioned equally over each song, it seems - can make a difference.
“Breakneck Speed” doesn’t approach the promise of its title, and no more than a few years ago, the Club might have shaken up the sound. Alas, Champ sticks with a pretty generic, mid-tempo formula, sonic murder for a band already struggling to define what exactly it is they do. Only “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Big Difference” approximate the mature post-punk sound I thought they would have arrived at by album No. 2. Revealing their roots, the record sure sounds like a '90s Can-rock throwback, when slacking was hip and a song like “Hands Reversed” didn’t need to go anyplace to earn airplay.
Frontman Dave Monks isn’t sprucing things up with his dry, anecdotal lyrics and delivery (see “Favourite Colour” and “Bambi”). He isn’t the most charismatic guy in the world - with a voice somewhere between novelty folk singer Wally Pleasant and The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy - and you’d think he’d make up for it with some clever wordplay, but falling back on being the everyman just doesn’t work.
Where a lot of other groups are getting worked up or generally fighting for their piece of the indie-rock pie, unfortunately boring records like Champ are easy to ignore. We’ll see if the fans agree.
By contrast, Brooklyn’s The Drums (above right) make songs that are immediately likable, if hopelessly uncool. In other words, modern pop classics. You’ll try and fail to hate them as much as you’ll try to dig Tokyo Police Club. The reasons are obvious: they’re one of a gazillion hyped acts to come out of that borough, they write impossibly cheery tunes about surfing - which while fun to imagine, is a huge pain in the ass - and singer Jonathan Pierce dresses like a Gap flyer cut-out.
But while TPC are hobbled by being a bunch of everyday joes, The Drums have a very defined style and purpose. Even if their “summer vacation” image is goofy and artificial, it’s something. That’s the reason the gimmicky guys get laid more than the self-conscious “dudes”, or in this case, write better music. It’s easier to get what you want out of someone - conquest or listener - when you’ve figured out your own shit first.
“Let’s Go Surfing” packs a dozen earworms into three minutes, each one - some whistling, a bass line, a soaring chorus - a great idea. It’s almost impossible to write a song this perfectly sequenced from scratch. The production is almost like hip hop in its clarity, and the fact that it’s about nothing more or less than casting off your worries on the waves only clenches it. “Skippin’ Town” and “Down by the Water” try for slightly deeper sentiment, but with airtight melodies and sense of humour intact.
Something like Joy Division on the beach grooving to The Human League, while tightening every element with the benefit of 21st-century production, The Drums might not be the most progressive record of the year, but it’s probably the easiest on the ears, waiting for yours after your hometown heroes disappoint with another wipeout.
Artist: Tokyo Police Club
Album: Champ (Mom and Pop, 35 minutes)
Key Tracks: “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)”, “End of a Spark”
Artist: The Drums
Album: S/T (Island, 43 minutes)
Key Tracks: “Let’s Go Surfing”, “Down by the Water”, “Best Friend”