Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell

★★★★★ Tracks:
Your English is Good

I suppose Tokyo Police Club couldn’t continue writing science fiction songs indefinitely, it would have eventually gotten silly -- everyone knows the Matrix sequels sucked after all. And if signing to the same label as Cursive and Bright Eyes was indicative of their intentions, they would move further away from their garage rock leanings on the first two EPs and adopt a more straight up emo sound. But the gameplan for Elephant Shell takes a lot of the excitement out of TPC’s music. Although on their earlier recordings the late 70's punk/new wave sound didn't scream complete originality, they had a fresh take on the genre and approached their influences with precision. The group still sounds cohesive, but the refreshing qualities are missing. This form of post-hardcore and power-pop was exhausted less than a decade ago, and there's nothing here on Elephant Shell to shake up the formula. There are plenty of lamentably sentimental (read: emo) lyrics, often focusing on the loss of childhood and the accounting of immature love:

“Meet me where your mother lies
We'll dig graves on both her sides
And lay ourselves in side”

“Dead lovers salivate
Broken hearts tessellate"

"I've put down my middle name
In the back of her book
And signed it just in case
Our walk was over love”

Combined with the decision to take the distortion out of the vocals, Dave Monks’ nasally delivery can be unbearable during some versus.

I can often ignore subpar lyricism as long as the instrumentation can pick up the slack, but for an album built more on melodicism and songwriting than its predecessors, Elephant Shell is surprisingly lacking in hooks. Tracks like “Juno” and “Listen to the Math” are monotonous even with their less than three minute run times. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum songs “Centennial,” “Sixties Remake,” and “Nursery Academy” make it obvious they were trying to fit too many ideas in to two minute windows, sacrificing efficient song structure in the process. If they wanted to forego more of the same basic verse/chorus/verse arrangements, I would have liked to hear more instrumental interludes and breakdowns, which are all but absent on Elephant Shell.

All that being said there are a few bright moments here. “In a Cave” is one of the catchier tracks, with keyboardist Graham Wright’s high pitched melody and guitarist Josh Hook’s distorted tremolo picking blending gorgeously during the song’s closing verse and outro. “The Harrowing Adventures of...” features TPC at their lightest, and the slow building arrangement shows their potential as skilled songwriters. But Elephant Shell’s highlight is “Your English is Good,” where the band lets go of their over-earnestness and sentimentality to re-embrace their punk influences -- it’s the song that sounds the least calculated of the bunch, and in turn the most fun.

("Your English is Good" is a bit of an outlier so I'll post "In a Cave," which matches the overall tone of the album more.)

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