Tokyo Police Club
(Mom & Pop; 2010)
By Calum Marsh | 21 June 2010
I reckon it must be quite difficult to be an indie rock band in 2010. In 2006, at least, one had opportunities: you might pick up a guitar (or xylophone), find a friend or two (or, should you feel particularly social, thirteen), and within weeks your newly formed supergroup might bloom. In the post-Funeral (2004) world, upstart bands flourished overnight. And we savored the little fruits of their basement labors. We became their Myspace friends. We saw them crowd stages at nightclubs they would have been otherwise too young to enter, and we said, not tweeted, “these guys are gonna make it.” We blogged about their demos and downloaded their EPs. There was one band you just had to check out, because basically they were amazing, but their name now eludes me; I don’t know if they’re still around.
It’s a scene from which Tokyo Police Club, the kids from Newmarket Ontario whose sixteen minute debut made them minor celebrities and a modest fortune, were borne. In any other year, going from the suburbs of Toronto to cameo appearances on mainstream stuff like Desperate Housewives on the strength of a single blog-buzzed release would be feat reserved only for the unprecedentedly lucky or Drake, but this was pretty much the name of the indie rock game in ’06: it happened to Voxtrot, Beirut, Malajube, Klaxons, Annuals, Cold War Kids, comrades-in-arms Born Ruffians. I mean, jeez, remember Tapes N Tapes? Tokyo Police Club formed, wrote eight minute-and-a-half songs, got serious blog buzz, and became known to hipsters nationally within the span of, like, a month. And as indie’s Class Of ’04 can attest—I’m looking at you, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah—there’s no way to deliver on hype of that magnitude. It 2006, indie rock bands were popular; longevity and posterity never much factored in.
These days indie rock is pretty much the worst, right? It’s boring and vacuous. It’s unselfconsciously cosmopolitan. Too many handclaps. Blogs stopped blogging about the post-Funeral bands around the time most bloggers stopped blogging altogether, which was after the inevitable fall anyway. It’s not that in 2010 those same indie rock groups that we loved in 2006 are returning and failing to follow through on the hype—that already happened, in some cases the very next year, and we’re way past it. The bands whose careers had been built on the promise of a debut record consistently disappointed later. Tokyo Police Club are a prime example: A Lesson In Crime was youthful and brimming with energy. Their LP Elephant Shell, by contrast, was tiresome, vapid, stretched too thin. It still had too many handclaps. Whether it was the bands who had worsened or our tastes which had moved on is at this point irrelevant, because the majority of those bands have since disappeared, taking failure in round two as a sign that they should never have made it to begin with.
All of which is to say: welcome back, Tokyo Police Club! Just by showing up to the party with a new record—in the middle of 2010, indie rock’s desolate recession—these guys are showing commendable dedication. Indie rock will persevere, declares the surprisingly good Champ, though not quite in the way one might think. Because what’s kind of odd about Champ, beyond the fact that, hey, it’s a new, good Tokyo Police Club album, is that it positions them as an entirely different sort of band than the one that made waves four years ago. I think at some point since Elephant Shell, this band realized what most Arcade Fire fans did after Neon Bible (2007): all of the things that make the post-_Funeral_ brand of indie rock immediately appealing and instantly gratifying—exuberance, aesthetic maximalism, affected wonder and whimsy, handclaps—are also the things that make it disposable. That kind of indie rock had an energy often likened to a sugar-rush, and it’s funny that the comparison was never fully drawn out. Because soon after you’ve devoured and enjoyed something like A Lesson In Crime, you feel the pixie-stick crash: the pleasures are just fleeting and so in time you want something more substantial. Funeral itself endures because it’s built on more than just its superficial tics and quirks, but there’s a maturity at play there that its imitators collectively lacked.
And so to remedy the situation, Tokyo Police Club have readjusted their approach—a much leaner, Strokes-ier brand of indie rock, which allows them to continue to play to their strengths while conveniently avoiding the missteps that held them back before. For some listeners, particularly those expecting more whimsical glee-rock in the vein of Elephant Shell‘s lead single “Your English is Good,” Champ‘s comparatively toned-down aesthetic may seem a little boring. Which is fair, at least in so far as nothing on Champ hits as hard or as fast as anything on A Lesson in Crime. But in settling down and giving their material some space to breathe, Tokyo Police Club have finally recorded an album that actually benefits, rather than suffers, from repeated listens. I didn’t think they had it in them, but with Champ they’ve dropped a “grower.”
Which isn’t to say that they’ve sacrificed that youthful vigor, exactly—the stuttering chorus of “Favourite Colour” is hugely entertaining, as is jittery electro jam “Bambi” —they’ve just gotten to the point where turning the rock to 11 on every track is no longer necessary to satisfy and engage their audience. A sweetly simple song like “Hands Reversed” would never have found a home on Elephant Shell, but on Champ a ballad feels earned. By the end, the band doesn’t sound worn out, and most importantly, we aren’t either. We can even tolerate a sing-along chorus here and there, because, mercifully, that kind of gimmick doesn’t clog up every chorus (and let’s admit it: “Wait Up [Boots Of Danger]” has an awesome sing-along chorus). This is the perfect way for a 2006 indie rock upstart to make a successful comeback in 2010: by tempering the indulgences which ultimately hampered their earlier material, Tokyo Police Club have liberated themselves from their over-hyped beginnings, and in the process they’ve come up with a pretty good record.