Forcefield, the new album from Ontario’s Tokyo Police Club, explodes out of the gate with the sprawling, stunning “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)”. Over a breathless eight-and-a-half minutes, TPC chart the course of a doomed weekend fling with several tempo and key changes. While it sounds more ambitious than it actually is, the track is a departure from the band’s usual modus operandi of sub-three minute, wham-bam pop nuggets. The scope of “Argentina” sets an interesting, slightly more experimental tone for the remaining duration of the LP. Band members Dave Monks, Graham Wright, Josh Hook, and Greg Alsop wear their poppy, post-punk influences brazenly on their sleeves, entwining driving drums, muscular overdriven guitars, and angular melodies into a dense but accessible record. With Forcefield, Tokyo Police Club has basically become what the Strokes could be, if only Julian Casablancas hadn’t entirely checked out of the proceedings for the past few albums.
Musically, the band has never sounded tighter or brighter. On one hand, this is a little disappointing. Previous releases established TPC firmly in the realm of ramshackle garage rock; each song threatened to fall apart at any given moment, buoyed by aggressive bass and Monks’ distinctive, raspy drawl. It was exhilarating and magnetic. Now (and granted, this was a trend that started with 2010’s equally excellent Champ), the bass is toned down, and lead singer Dave Monks’ voice, no doubt aided by technology, is smoother than ever. Everything seems slightly more measured and less spontaneous. It’s not a bad change, per se, but it’s a slight letdown seeing as the raw energy infused in Elephant Shell and especially A Lesson In Crime EP was one of the things that spurred my initial attraction to the group.
On the other hand, it’s hard to fault them for pushing themselves – in a recent AMA on Reddit the band said they “think it was nesecarry [sic] for us to get away from the frenetic herky-jerky stuff in order to continue writing.” In that light, Forcefield comes across as surprisingly mature and reserved, especially on slow-burner “Beaches”, the muted, hip hop-lite chorus “Toy Guns”, and pensive album closer “Feel the Effect”. Rest assured, though, that TPC can still bring the energy when it’s needed. “Hot Tonight” simmers in the verses with lilting vocals and spacy guitar before bursting into the chorus with a razor-sharp guitar riff. Previously-released single “Tunnel Vision” kicks off with a driving bassline and morphs into a grungy, sinister romp. Album highlight “Miserable” sounds anything but, as buoyant synth lines and shining guitar chords compete for attention with Monks darkly lamenting that he “feels I’m the only one who gets this way sometimes…my body is fallin’ apart”.
Speaking of lyrics, the brunt of Forcefield’s subject matter traffics in the special brand of creeping existential dread that comes with being a listless twenty-something. The record is steeped in ennui and malaise, as Monks laments about love, depression, alcohol, and arson. And yeah, these are all pretty common musical tropes (okay, maybe not that last one), but TPC has a way with words that mixes blunt honesty and clever lyricism to elevate the material. On “Argentina,” the simple phrase “I don’t want to want you like I want you” becomes a mantra, murmured over and over in one of the record’s most sublime moments. “Hot Tonight” perfectly captures the feelings of insignificance only a clear summer night can evoke, as the narrator finds himself “staring at the stars like a satellite dish/ I had a good time/ And I’m ready to die”.
Similarly, when Monks intones “Living in the minds of girls/ Who would never say this shit to me now/ As pretty as they were in high school/ I wonder if I’ll ever see them around” on whiplash rocker “Gonna Be Ready”, it hits you in the gut; frankly, who didn’t grow into themselves in college and think, if only for a moment, “what if that girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day before could see me now”? At a relatively brief thirty-three minutes, Forcefield is overwhelmingly economic, direct both musically and lyrically – nothing overstays its welcome. Luckily, the same can be said for the band themselves, considering their oeuvre; after 4 studio albums and 2 EP’s, Tokyo Police Club sound as fresh and vital as they ever have. Their mid-twenties might be a drag in song, but the band seems to be making the most of them in real life.
Forcefield is available in stores and on iTunes on March 25th.