Minimalist traditionalists in an era of digital indulgence, Japandroids adhere to a very specific idea of rock & roll. The Canadian duo believe rock & roll is the music of youthful liberation, distilled freedom that retains the possibility of transcendence no matter how often the promise is repeated. Japandroids essayed this thesis on Celebration Rock, the 2012 album that turned them into something of a cause célèbre in certain quarters -- namely, any old rocker waiting for a new savior -- but instead of immediately exploiting their fame, the duo took an extended hiatus, taking five years to deliver Near to the Wild Heart of Life. If the band stockpiled songs during that half decade, it's impossible to tell from Near to the Wild Heart of Life because it lasts eight songs, just like the two other Japandroids albums and just like so many of the band's favorite records. Past is always present in their music, whether rose-colored memories of teenage rebellion or recycled components of classic rock and punk, which makes Near to the Wild Heart of Life an ideal soundtrack for those mourning their long-forgotten adolescence. That's intentional: Japandroids are nothing if not earnest, the kind of sincerity endemic to teenagers ready to break free of their small town. Such big-hearted rock means that Near to the Wild Heart of Life can sometimes seem overcooked lyrically, with Japandroids working furiously to puncture their purple prose through visceral anthems. Near to the Wild Heart of Life contains a few new production flourishes, particularly a hint of synthesizers, which means that it sounds even bigger than Celebration Rock, but that should've been expected, too, from these students of rock & roll. Bands usually swing for the fences on their third album and that's precisely what Japandroids do here. If they remain a little constrained by their formalism -- they're so determined to be part of a tradition they can often be swallowed by it -- it's nevertheless hard not to admire their ambition.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine