What’s always been impressive about the duo of Brian King and David Prowse is the sheer number of different genres and sounds they can produce as Japandroids—much more than what even some four or five-piece bands are capable of creating. Equipped with just a guitar, drums, and their voices, the pair have built themselves a loyal following over the years. 2012’s Celebration Rock is a personal darling in my music collection, so the news of Near To The Wild Heart Of Life has had me fired up for quite some time. Now that the record is here, I’m very happy to report that its varied sounds and musings on loving and the general pursuit of life make it a worthy companion to Japandroids’ earlier efforts.
The album is a mere eight tracks long, but each track packs a hell of a punch and gives at least one bit of wise insight. The first (and title) track, re-familiarizes us with the band, giving us the welcome sound of King’s driving and lively guitar riffing and Prowse reminding listeners he’s still on his own level when it comes to playing drums. As King sings of the thrill that comes with moving away from where you were born, the song naturally leads into the second track, “North East South West,” which contains a completely different sound. This time it’s an exploration of the joys of being on the road with an Americana vibe that wouldn’t sound out of place in an early aughts road trip movie.
Of course there’s also opining about that wonderfully delightful human emotion known as love. As the title implies, “No Known Drink Or Drug,” is a rollicking punk rock ode to the intoxicating power of affection. As King puts it in the song, it’s the classic tale of “a whirlwind, a woman, and a famous feeling.” The track also benefits from having all the verses laid out first before finishing on the chorus, a natural progression that mirrors love while allowing the instrumental to grow into a raucous celebration.
The duo can get tender as well, as proved on the soft, heavily distorted “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner).” It’s a simple ballad, with lyrics centered around variations of “I was looking for you all my life” serving as its backbone. What follows this, though, is what propels Near To The Wild Heart Of Life into the pantheon of great albums.
“Arc Of Bar” is brilliant. Clocking in at nearly seven and a half minutes, it shows off just about everything to love about Japandroids while representing a sound seemingly new to the band. It’s got a heavier synthetic underbelly than the pair have ever had before, and the instrumental crawls and slithers in a haze over the tale of booze, lust, and sin that King weaves. When he declares “And for her love, I would help the Devil to steal Christ right off the cross,” you believe him. It’ll be hard for anything to dethrone “Arc Of Bar” from my list of best songs of the year when 2017 comes to a close.
The album ends on a reflection of life and its inescapable truths and hardships we all endure, all culminating with “In A Body Like A Grave.” Strangely, the instrumental work contains a warm, optimistic bend to it. There’s something comforting to know that there are some struggles and some pains we all share (especially nowadays), and there’s value in being able to connect through these experiences, make the most out of life, and find happiness where you can.
Japandroids have proven they only improve with time, as each of their albums has been a step up on the foundation laid by the last. Whether it’s their musings on life and love, the instrumental contortions and variations throughout, or the whole damn package, with Near To The Wild Heart Of Life Japandroids have provided the first must-listen album of 2017.