In the past decade, an overwhelming number of bands have gone out of their way to prove that a rock band only requires two members. Yet the guitar and drum (or bass and drum) duos who have made the loudest and most dynamic music are part of a more exclusive clique that make the most of their limitations, which in some cases is none at all. Lightning Bolt, Death from Above 1979, No Age and, of course, The White Stripes have all pulled off the trick of playing the most immense music possible while sticking to their minimal lineup. And they’ve all managed to do so without sounding anything like one another, with the dynamic ranging from Lightning Bolt’s noise assault, to The Stripes’ classic rock, to DFA79’s dance punk and No Age’s own unique blend of shoegazer and punk rock styles.
Japandroids, comprising guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, carve out their own unique niche within the constraints of the simplified two-man rock lineup, opting instead for a spiky, caffeinated take on mid-90s indie rock a la Archers of Loaf or Superchunk. Debut album Post-Nothing is an emotional and invigorating energy blast, scruffy and scrappy but with a substantial number of jagged edges lurking beneath its blankets of fuzz. Yet what’s most inviting about Post-Nothing is how urgent it sounds. Each song manages to capture the intensity of a live show (full disclosure: I’ve never seen this band live) all while maintaining a solid melodic core. King’s guitars are massive and massively overdriven, enough to almost make one forget about the absence of a bass player, while Prowse provides the ever-racing pulse with his raging fills.
Though Japandroids may stick to a fairly simple setup and a lo-fi aesthetic, what makes them so appealing, and for that matter good, is that through all the layers of distortion, what comes through strongest are the songs and the melodies. Rather than turn their pedals up to an almost offensive level of noise a la Times New Viking, Japandroids maintain a great balance. This is evident early on in leadoff track “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” as King howls the song’s title and gut-wrenchingly asks the question “will we find our way back home?” over a soaring rush of power chords. The amazing standout “Young Hearts Spark Fire” recalls emo when it meant Jawbreaker and not Fall Out Boy. Over Prowse’s sugar rush beats, King furiously strums out a giddy rush of chords as he squeals a surprisingly downer couplet in “We used to dream/ now we worry about dying.” Don’t mistake it for a sad song, though; “Young Hearts” is curiously uplifting, which becomes solidified when King follows up his observation with “I only wanna worry about sunshine girls.”
“Wet Hair” is simple, almost absurdly so, but just so damn fun. It’s only three chords in any given part, and usually the same three chords, but the subtle changes and climaxes make it curiously invigorating, as do King’s lyrics about needing a ride to Bikini Island and going to France to French kiss some French girls. “Rockers East Vancouver” strips down the group’s sound even more, with King playing high on his frets, leaving no semblance of bass notes at all. “Heart Sweats” kicks in with a hearty swagger, recalling Queens of the Stone Age or Black Mountain more than anything circa 1994 Chapel Hill, and its “X-O-X-O” bridge is easily one of the album’s most glorious moments. “Crazy/Forever” is a similarly sludgy stoner romp, yet longer and slower. Ironically, it’s here where King sounds most emo, which sounds somewhat out of place, but the riffs groove regardless.
Japandroids close out their half-hour blast of peppy and fun noise pop with the album’s only true ballad, “I Quit Girls.” The song nicks the chords from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mayonaise” but the song ultimately comes off sounding more like a lo-fi version of My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes.” And neither of those is a bad thing. Brian King and David Prowse could have taken the easy way out and buried themselves in effects. While the fuzz is still pretty heavy on Post-Nothing it’s not the main attraction. Japandroids write some awfully good songs and, thankfully, they’re not afraid to show them off.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.