For critics who keep an ear to the rock n’ roll underground, it seems inevitable that 2009’s year-end accolades will coalesce around a trio of art-rock albums by Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and the Dirty Projectors. But as this hot summer wears on, there’s no denying whose tunes have been stuck in my head most frequently, and my hipper sensibilities are wanting for an argument against the mathematical evidence of my Last.fm play count. Maybe its sunstroke, but I feel compelled to suggest that two young Canucks trading in sludgy punk-pop tunes may have crafted a rock album that gets closer to perfection than any other album this year so far.
Nothing about Post-Nothing suggests that Japandroids—consisting of singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer/backup singer David Prowse—are pop auteurs, but while most indie messiahs tend to wear out their halos once the hype dies down, this duo’s brilliant debut seems engineered for maximum replays. And though it’s often said that the high-concept experimental stuff rewards multiple spins, Post-Nothing positively compels repeat listens—the type of start-over-from-track-one obsession that would’ve burnt holes in LPs and cassettes back in the analog days. The eight-minute run of “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair” alone makes getting to the album’s second half a feat of self-denial.
Indeed, it’s easier to describe the physical rush of listening to Post-Nothing than it is to explain its power in musical terms. There’s no gimmick that, laid out in qualitative terms, separates Japandroids neatly from either the better second-gen emo acts of the late ‘90s (Christie Front Drive, Hot Water Music, Get-Up Kids) or the cohort of no-frills noise-rockers that have recently come into critical acclaim (No Age, Wavves, Times New Viking). About the best I can venture is a suggestion that you blast the album from the opening track, “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” and marvel at how the righteous noise of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth has been streamlined into a straight-ahead ode to adolescent yearning, then brace yourself for “Young Hearts,” which shows the same fuzzy density fused to a propulsive shout-along that transcends its garage-rock production with arena-ready force. Japandroids like to rock with their ambitions scaled low and their hooks set toweringly high, all of it drowned in fuzzy riffs, stampeding drum fills, and some of the best off-key caterwauls to grace any recent punk release.
Though aesthetic simplicity is a huge part of Post-Nothing‘s appeal, it would be wrong to suggest that Japandroids is a one-trick act. Before the album taps out at the 35-minute mark, King and Prowse throw a few curveballs: “Heart Sweats” alternates a stunner of a chorus with funky, groove-driven verses (they don’t even need a bassist to lock the rhythm down), while “Crazy/Forever” runs through an extended instrumental session that uses its freight-train chug to wash down the first half’s keening vocals. Moves like this temper King’s emoting with gritty, hard-rock swagger; Japandroids always keep their nervy, heart-on-sleeve earnestness in check, ably splitting the difference between the purely melodramatic and the irresistibly anthemic. “I Quit Girls” stretches a simple but eerily resonant lyrical refrain over a five-minute slow-burn—a sighing comedown after an album fraught with hedonistic jams.
Those set pieces aside, Japandroids sound surest when they don’t try to be interesting. “Sovereignty” catches them at their best, with King and Prowse wailing over each other in a track whose inarticulate paeans to fuck-it-all immediacy perfectly encapsulate the urgency central to Post-Nothing‘s aesthetic. To cap off a tune about—what else?—driving around and singing along to the radio, King urges the listener to forget all his or her friends back home, then shouts, “It’s raining in Vancouver/But I don’t give a fuck/Because I’m far from home tonight!” That’s Japandroids: No guilt, all pleasure, and all the better for it.