Tokyo Police Club

A Lesson in Crime

(Paper Bag; 2006)

By Conrad Amenta | 29 February 2008

Trying to find background info about “wacky” Toronto band Tokyo Police Club is a real pain in the ass. Their lyrics, liner notes, Myspace page and website all point to an underlying belief that they are, in fact, hilarious. So much so that they regularly evoke, in the name of hilarity, over-packed boats of squid parts, the Yakuza, robot overlords, “The President of the World” and Japan (the funny, fictional country built on cultural breakdown rather than, y’know, the actual place where real people live). Though they’ve yet to stoop to the semi-racist level of Gwen Stefani’s Harijuku fetish, the band’s approach seems to insist that they not betray a hint of pretension, even to the extent of replacing with sophomoric cartoonisms all legitimate information about the band’s history and influences, their music, why they play their music and why we should care. Speaking as a curmudgeonly seventy-six year old man trapped in a twenty-six year old’s body, it’s a good thing Tokyo Police Club’s debut EP is as solid and intuitively melodic as it is, otherwise they might have completely pigeonholed themselves into the uber-ephemeral territory of comedy-rock.

Like fellow Paper Bag Records acts Controller.Controller, Magneta Lane and Stars, Tokyo Police Club positively smack of what’s current at the expense of what’s lasting. Like similarly “wacky” band Thunderbirds are Now!, they play jittery, spazzy dance-punk that sacrifices subtlety and song craft for turns at being dramatic and melodic in a way that is immediately likable, but ultimately forgettable. Where they differ from the above-mentioned bands is that they try so desperately to be funny, which (as anyone who has owned a Tenacious D album might tell you) can make music almost entirely unlistenable once the joke has worn off. The humor suggests the band as a means and an end unto themselves (“When you’re standing there: Tokyo Police Club / When you’re standing next to me: Tokyo Police Club”), and it’s not a horrible thing: the band, like their humor, is a self-legitimizing thing. With each of these seven songs coming in at under three minutes, A Lesson in Crime’s tone and pace is less than surprising – these songs are funny because the band is funny, and the band is funny because they play funny songs (and repeat). This EP is an aural Happy Meal.

AND YET, behold floating above us a solid 68% - meaning, according to our diplomatic CMG legend, “good” with only “detracting problems.” Far from this seventy-six year old man learning to hand the reigns to his (inner) inner child, this rating is fair, despite the obvious challenges of their genre and slapstick; TPC are simply better at playing this kind of music than their label-mates. I’ve noted that the music is likeable, but not yet that it’s very, very much so. The band’s up to something, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the eyebrow wiggle that the band might be up to something (mischievous music cues in the background).

TPC rightly call their guitarist (rule #1 of being a funny band: code names) their “secret weapon.” It’s his double-time, delay-heavy guitar strumming that gives the music its epic quality, even when the stupidity of the lyrics aim for Weird Al. The simplicity of those guitar parts steals nothing from their ability to take what are fundamentally pop-punk songs to another level. On “The Nature of the Experiment,” this guitar dominates the foreground mix, washing root-note bass and solid drumming with texture and rawness. “Citizens of Tomorrow” may contain some of the EP’s greatest lyrical sins, but the Q and Not U clapping / chanting and elemental melody anchor the song.

A Lesson In Crime does fine by the band by doing as a debut EP is meant to: their promise is documented in a way that is less than fully satisfying, nonetheless/subsequently whetting the appetite for more. “The Nature of the Experiment” alone testifies to the band’s ability to construct a song with more than one catchy hook. If Tokyo Police Club can locate some kind of purpose or drive to match the enthusiasm of their songwriting in time for the full length, maybe this particular seventy-six year old will shed a few decades off his attitude.