Review Summary: Tokyo Police Club produce half an hour of indie pop goodness with their first full length, 'Elephant Shell', but a sense of familiarity stops it from reaching greatness.
It’s tough to keep up with music today. I think I just about manage it, but when the new saviours of music are being hurled towards you, left, right and centre, it figures that you’ll be clutching thin air occasionally. When Tokyo Police Club were catapulted onto the scene, my hands must have been tied, because up until now, they’d flown right over my head. It was only when the entire blogosphere was in mutual exaltation over the announcement of their debut LP - ‘Elephant Shell’ - that I thought about checking them out. I have to be honest here, though, and say I didn't go in search of their earlier works, I just dived headfirst straight into Elephant Shell. It wasn’t what I expected. I thought they were a hardcore band.
They’re not, for the record. They are actually a plucky foursome from Ontario, Canada that creates infectious and energetic, segment-sized indie pop songs, as far as ‘Elephant Shell’ goes anyway. It is immediately clear from the opening track “Centennial” that this isn’t one of those indie bands whose aim is to ‘set fire to the ambience of your surroundings with a scorching sense of sentiment’, they just want to give you a good time, cheer you up, get you to sing-along with them. Jaunty indie guitars wrap themselves cosily around disinterested vocal pop melodies spurting cute lyrics, but, miraculously, it doesn’t make you want to vomit. It does make you feel a bit guilty for smiling like a little school girl, but hey, we’ve all been there before. “Tesselate” is a track which utilizes handclaps, pianos and xylophones to winning effect, and will have you singing those killer one-liners in no time. “Nursery Academy” and “Juno” are tracks that exploit the surprisingly fearful power of lead singer (and bassist) Dave Monk’s happy-go-lucky-Ben-Gibbard/bored Forrest Kline vocals to great effect, authoritatively sending their lyrics off for a long weekend camping in your head.
Despite chanting "give us your vote, if you know what’s good for you!" in the delightful ‘Your English is Good’, the band is wonderfully lacking in overzealous vehemence, and the album never demands your attention. A refreshingly different approach to the many vociferous indie bands of today. They boys want to show us these new songs they’ve made, and if we like them, result. If not, bummer. This listen-if-you-want approach is part of what makes them so irresistible. I also really like the experimental use of soaring, post rock guitars in many of the songs, particularly “Sixties Remake”, “Listen to the Math” and “The Baskervilles”. A humbly heroic feeling is shaped beneath the uplifting riffs, and it does indeed feel as if these guys could be mini heroes of the current blander-than-bland indie scene, with a little more time and effort. To be honest, there isn’t a weak track on the album, they all know what they’re doing right, and they all know when to stop.
Unfortunately, all of the songs sound incredibly similar, and it’s hard to see any purposeful experimentation happening within their sound, other than the minimal use of those guitars. It’s all far too safe right now, too relaxed. The album is less than 30 minutes long, and the songs are perfect at the length they are (all bar one are under 3 minutes), but you can’t help but feel that the band just ran out of ideas (and good ideas at that) extremely quickly, and had to recycle the same good ideas into blank songs with new titles. It’s as if they set out with real purpose, they knew where they were going, then some idiot spilt coffee on the map and, instead of taking a risk and doing a little guesswork, they just went back to where they started. So yeah, this is a good album, very good, but if the band decides to nurture their currently homogenous creativity, the next one could be a really great one, and a fair few strides ahead of the current indie-pop scene. Give you my vote? I’d love to, but maybe next time.