03 May, 2008

Album Review: "Elephant Shell" by Tokyo Police Club

Release Date: April 22, 2008
Label: Saddle Creek Records
No. of Tracks: 11

In 2006, four precocious teenagers from the most unlikely of places, Newmarket, Ontario, recorded 16 minutes of music that shook the North American indie rock world. A Lesson in Crime was a frenetically paced EP filled with anthemic songs and tightly woven punk-influenced arangements.

Almost a year and a half later, after a long spell of touring that saw the band play everywhere from ski lodges to dive bars to Coachella and a slew of expectations, Tokyo Police Club is back with their first full-length album Elephant Shell. Now all in their early 20's, the boys have settled in to a more controlled sound, albeit still fast paced (only one song cracks the three minute mark). And the lyrical content has matured as well, moving from songs about the alienation of youth and the pending robot revolution to more traditional themes of love, personal discovery, and commentary on modern society.

As you might expect from a band that plays at such a quick pace, the rhythm section of this band proves the most essential and talented. Lead singer and bassist Dave Monks sings and plays with a confidence far beyond his years. Although a bit on the nasally side, his voice is crisp and his articulation clear which is a growing rarity in this particular subgenre. Drummer Greg Alsop has to rate as one of the best young drummers out there with his ability to quickly transition beats within a song as well as slow the tempo without being superfluous. Guitarist Josh Hook is the most improved band member over the past two years. His style is less abrasive and much more focused on creating a soaring, ambient experience to compliment the complex rhythms. Keyboardist Graham Wright rounds out the lineup and also contributes to the all-around "fullness" of the band's sound. There simply is no deadspace in a Tokyo Police Club song.

The album begins with "Centennial", a two minute statement of purpose for the album. "In a Cave" is a love song of sorts with undertones of managing ones urge to withdraw from a flawed society as age brings more wisdom and therefore more frustration. "Tessellate" is the first anthemic offering of the release, highlighting a lively piano, inobtrusive handclaps, and lyrics commenting on the growing divide between social classes. "The Harrowing Adventures Of..." is the slowest song on the album and the band's first foray into the world of balladry. "Nursery, Academy" best exemplifies Greg Alsop's technical ability and range as he makes full use of the ride cymbal and an alternating beat before sending the song out with a crash-snare-crash pattern. "Your English Is Good", the first single, is as close as the band gets to their EP roots with a steady punk drum and bass beat and background chants. The song is a scathing indictment of electoral politics with lines like "Give us your vote if you know what's good for you...Cause you don't need to change, your future's with us". "The Baskervilles" ends the compilation with a sad portrait of the lethargy thus far exhibited by Generation Y but a hopeful wish that art and culture can once again revitalize the youth.

This album is an encouraging sign of greater things yet to come from Tokyo Police Club. The growth in maturity exemplified is nothing short of breathtaking. In many ways, TPC is North America's answer to the UK's Arctic Monkeys, a very high compliment not given without reason. They may not have attained quite the same level of success or quality in their music, but at such a young age there are no limits for this band except the ones they choose to place upon themselves. The band has already begun another tour of Canada and the Northern US before heading over to the UK and Europe to play a multitude of summer festivals. And if history teaches us anything, you can expect the band to play many more North American dates in the coming year and beyond.

To find out more on Tokyo Police Club, check out their official website at http://tokyopoliceclub.com/, or their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/tokyopoliceclub.

Essential Tracks: "Centennial", "Tessellate", "Nursery, Academy", and "Your English Is Good"

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 3.5

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