Tokyo Police Club is a band that really got their legs thanks to the proliferation of music blogs around the mid-00s. Their fast-paced and hook-filled indie pop with a punk edge was particularly easy to like, as were the couple of EPs they released prior to their debut album, 2008’s “Elephant Shell”. That debut full length record showed a remarkable progression for a band whose lighthearted and speedy melodies earned them a fairly rabid fan base early on. The songs may have still clocked in at under 3 minutes apiece for the most part, but the lyrics took on heavier topics and the tempos slowed a bit to accomodate that. There were also more intricate and carefully crafted melodies, which still had enough hooks in them to keep old fans satisfied while bringing in new ones. Still, pieces of “Elephant Shell” felt too restrained or coldly calculated, whereas their earlier EPs seemed to hold a “live fast and die young” mentality to them. That Tokyo Police Club are still around and making relevant music when you halfway expected them to be burned out or relegated to the pile of “formerly hyped” artists is something of a testament to their continued evolution and drive to prove their worth. Their second album “Champ” came out last week, and it’s something of a course correction from their last effort.
The first track on “Champ” is “Favourite Food”, and initially the most noticeable thing about it is that it’s almost 4 minutes long. That’s almost double the length of many of their older songs, and the slowed down tempo is a little different as well. Singer David Monks also seems to have gotten more emotionally gritty in his vocal performance. He sounds like the world has put him through lots of tragedy and now he’s singing tales about his experiences. Despite that initial impression, one of the better things about this new album is that TPC are loosening up again and removing some of that completely serious vibe that was all over much of “Elephant Shell”. Songs like “Favourite Colour” and “Breakneck Speed” wax nostalgic over the best (and worst) memories of earlier years, when you’d mess around, get into trouble and ask the most trivial of things to your friends. While none of the new songs have that raw punk energy that was so omnipresent on their earliest material, many of them are have a faster tempo than the stuff on the last album. There’s also hooks galore that’ll stick with you long after the record is over. First single “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” is a fun little number that features a chorus of “Wooo”s that makes it understandably easy to sing along with. And while a song like “Not Sick” is actually a little slow for these guys, what it lacks in tempo it more than makes up for in Monks’ upbeat lyrics and vocal performance, taking the track and it’s bouncy synth melody from simply nice to heartfelt and joyous. It’s that sort of sheer moxy that separates Tokyo Police Club from their similar indie pop counterparts – with a turn of a phrase and a simiple vocal performance or harmony, a song can go from good to great.
While the ultimate success or failure of Tokyo Police Club’s debut “Elephant Shell” was largely based on heightened expectations from the band’s early EPs, “Champ” no longer has such pressure to deal with. With nobody exactly sure where the band would go on their new album, what they delivered on was a continued evolution of their sound. Such a move was absolutely necessary, and it keeps the band relevant amid a large collection of other bands looking to capitalize on something similar. For a group that makes music this compelling, it still begs the question as to why they’ve not yet achieved a larger scale, more mainstream success by this point in time. Tokyo Police Club have proven they’re up to the challenge, and though they may not be the most inventive or original band out there, that their songs stand out due to smaller things like vocal performances or lyrics or simple hooks. “Champ” is one of their best arguments in favor of that, and it’s definitely worth listening to if intelligent indie pop is something you actively enjoy. It’s certainly good enough to keep your interest in this band for at least another couple years, just to see what they’ll pull out of their collective sleeves next.