For four guys in their 20s, Tokyo Police Club sure lays the nostalgia on thick. Champ‘s lead single, “Breakneck Speed,” makes it easy to imagine singer David Monk hovering over his high school yearbook as he reminisces: “I remember when our voices used to sound the same/Now we just translate,” he croons, later detouring through “super fun at the movies drunk and young” and “pictures so bright and loud, better off than now.” The rest of the band sounds nostalgic too, borrowing from emo mainstays like Jimmy Eat World and Cursive and once-trendy post-punk acts like Interpol and the Strokes to create their own spazzy update on the sound of the early-aughts indie-rock scene, presumably the soundtrack to whatever youthful hijinks Monk is looking back on.
Since they emphasize playful literacy over lust or self-loathing (see the rollicking opening pair of “Favourite Food” and “Favourite Colour”), Tokyo Police Club sometimes comes off like a more earnest Vampire Weekend. And just like them, Tokyo Police Club is comprised of smart guys with ambitions to be more than another forgotten blog band. But where Vampire Weekend’s Contra showed a band taking intuitive steps forward from their debut’s sound, Champ sometimes sounds like the product of a band attempting to evolve by force of will. The second half of the disc in particular gets weighted down with self-consciously mature tracks. “End of a Spark” finds the band experimenting with a longer composition (for sprinters like Monk and company, 3:37 is a marathon), but one that fails to satisfy since the band decides to forgo their typical soft/loud shtick for soft/less-soft, which is not nearly as fun. “Gone” is pretty much straight-ahead synth-rock, and while not a bad tune per se, it lacks the charming punch of the guitar-driven numbers that are the band’s real forte.
Fortunately, Champ begins with a superb five-track demonstration of just how much Tokyo Police Club has improved in that area. “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” is a better Ted Leo song than Ted Leo has written in at least half a decade (good luck getting its cheery, wordless refrain out of your head). And though it doesn’t come out of the gates strong, “Favourite Food” builds with perfect pacing toward its big finish, which couples syncopated handclaps with a blaring, siren-like guitar solo. It’s such an accomplished number that you won’t notice as it creeps just up to the four-minute mark, making it the longest Tokyo Police Club track to date. Turns out that the foursome does a fine job of pushing their sound forward when they play to their strengths. Give them a couple more albums, and this thoughtful young band might become a touchstone for the next generation of prematurely nostalgic indie-rock upstarts.