For a band that came to prominence on the back of two raucous and in-your-face albums, Japandroids have always had a knack for self-reflection. After playing over 200 shows in support of 2012’s Celebration Rock, Brian King and David Prowse’s three-year hiatus and almost total radio silence seemed to signal that they might not return at all. Instead, Near to the Wild Heart of Life presents Japandroids reborn — a little older, a little wiser, but still ready and willing to tear your shit up.
The titular track ensures their message is clear from the outset: “The future is under fire / The past is gaining ground / A continuous cold war between my home and my hometown.” A tendency to tour endlessly has often left Japandroids far from home, an experience they love and lament seemingly in equal measure. The dichotomy has been made more real with King and Prowse having settled down and gotten on with “real life” in the time between “Celebration Rock” and their newest release, with the former splitting his time between homes in Toronto and Mexico City, as well as trips to Vancouver to record and rehearse.
It’s fitting, then, that so much of Near to the Wild Heart of Life is spent ruminating on travel and relationships (while still saving some space to discuss the ever-important topic of getting fall-down drunk). Songs like “North East South West” and “Morning to Midnight” continue the theme set by the album’s opening track, with King and Prowse taking turns singing about the push-pull of sojourning throughout the USA and Canada, as well as driving countless kilometers to be back with the ones they love.
Sonically, Near to the Wild Heart of Life is an album that feels apart from the rest of Japandroids’ canon thus far. Their much-lauded DIY and punk sensibilities still shine through, but old favourites like “Younger Us” and “Adrenaline Nightshift”, which portray the duo as reckless college boys lamenting their loss of youth, aren’t apparent here. King and Prowse have worked hard to come into their own, acceptant of adulthood and the beds they’ve made while still itching to sleep on as many floors and cots as they can find around the world.
There’s no denying that some of the edge of the group’s previous work has been rounded on Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Those looking for the classic Japandroids experience will still find it—complete with “Woah!”s, “Yeah!”s, and endless reasons to crowd surf—but they certainly won’t find as much of it. The songs sound more produced this time around, if not exactly more polished, which will no doubt have an adverse effect on listeners who have a penchant for tracking a band’s “authenticity”. That said, all you have to do is look at a title like “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”, or listen to their unapologetic reverie for gambling and drinking on “The Arc of Bar” to see that King and Prowse are as bombastic, wide-eyed, and hopelessly romantic as ever.
by Elijah Teed