Monday, April 14, 2008

Gold Sounds: Tokyo Police Club's new album "Elephant Shell" reviewed

Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell

The third in a series of reviews of albums by bands whose prior releases have solely consisted of EPs and singles. Tokyo Police Club's song repertoire before this album consisted of, at most, 30 minutes of music: a 7 song EP, a 3 song EP, and the Your English Is Good single. Despite the meager portions Tokyo Police Club has served the world in the past, the band has been subjected to great praise since releasing the 7 song A Lesson In Crime EP in 2006. Each song packed insanely catchy guitar rock melodies (think "Is This It?") into songs no longer than three minutes. This brevity has served Tokyo Police Club well; perhaps the melodies would grow tired and repetitive to the listener if they were to extend past the three minute mark, but the band instead chooses to ride out the melody until it gets old, then they stop the song altogether.

Keeping this in mind, it's no surprise that Tokyo Police Club's first full length album follows the same formula for the most part. All 11 songs have catchy hooks and short lengths (the album runs for 28 minutes). Last year's single "Your English Is Good" (which makes an appearance on this album) is the exception, clocking in at a lengthy 3 minutes and 12 seconds! By now, you get the point: Tokyo Police Club make short songs with a sense of immediacy about them, and this album is no exception. However, while this new batch of songs is still decent and catchy, it's very hard not to think that the band is somewhat of a one-trick pony. Even more unfortunate is the fact that there aren't as many good songs here as there are on A Lesson in Crime, which is a real problem considering the music world has waited for this full length for over a year now.

That's not to say that the album doesn't have some attention grabbing songs. Seriously, some tracks are catchy as hell; the opening "Centennial" and "Nursery, Academy" have driving, get-off-your-ass drum beats, "Graves" starts off with a sweet keyboard hook (the catchiest of the album), and yeah, the album has 2007 standout "Your English Is Good", which would probably still sound amazing had I not played it to death last year.

Unfortunately, most of the other songs aren't as memorable as anything on A Lesson In Crime. The worst offender, "The Harrowing Adventures Of..." finds the band trying to incorporate glockenspiels and strings into their hand claps and guitars (here, acoustic) sound. However, the song fails to sound anything but schmaltzy. This failure is more alarming because it shows that the band fails when they do something different than what they normally do (and what they normally do is not as exciting on Elephant Shell as it has been in the past). What does a band do when they can't squeeze as much life out of their previously successful formula and can't be successful when they deviate from that formula? Speaking of schmaltz, I really enjoy the vocal melodies of "Listen to the Math," but lyrics about people gasping about babies being born are somewhat ridiculous and take away from the enjoyment.

Aside from the schmaltz issue, my main gripe with Elephant Shell is how homogeneous it sounds. In most cases, it's really hard to differentiate one song from another. Even though most songs on the album aren't bad, this is a little disappointing; each song on A Lesson In Crime had its own distinct feel to it, whereas these songs do not. The three songs after "Graves" are catchy, yes, but it's really really hard to tell the difference between the three because they sound so similar to each other. Homogeneity leads to filler, and an 11 song, 28 minute album really can't afford to suffer from such a thing. Unfortunately, Elephant Shell does suffer from the filler problem, ultimately resulting in less memorable songs than the much shorter A Lesson In Crime EP. I look forward to seeing if the band can remedy this in their future releases.

Rating: 5/11

Key Tracks: "Graves", "Centennial"

The album comes out in the U.S. on April 22nd via Saddle Creek Records

Listen: Myspace

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