ARTIST: Tokyo Police Club
When the boys of Tokyo Police Club dropped “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” in the form of a lyric video a few months ago, it was the seed of hope we all needed. The first new music they put out since their sophomore release “Champ” in 2010, the eight and a half minute long epic seemed to make up for the long time they’d been out of the radar. Immediately catchy and brimming with touches of a new poppy direction, it was like a glimmering promise of what we could hope for on the record to come. But instead of being the epic springboard for an inventive new sound for the band, it is one of the only beacons of light on their new record, Forcefield. It’s as if they lumped together all their ideas and energy in that one amazing track, which comprises almost a third of the runtime, that they didn’t have enough to spare for the rest of the record.
Their shift from first record to second saw the raw energy from their debut Elephant Shell transferred into a decidedly more poppy territory. Even though there was some fanhesitation towards that new poppy sound, as there is towards any kind of change, it worked for them because they played to their strengths in catchy yet emotionally poignant songwriting and stayed away from sounds that were too trend-driven. This recent jump from second to third, where we stand now, was a similar jump, but one that did not transfer well at all. Instead of being innovative in their pop endeavors, here on Forcefield, they’ve seemingly regressed into easy pop structures without any ingenuity or appeal. It’s a shame to see such strong musicians fall in to this trap, but it’s a trend that’s all too common. Something must have happened in this album gap that convinced them this was the way to go. For longtime fans of the band scared that this might be the album they drop off, this might be the moment you’ve been fearing.
We usually see bands mature as they change their sound—even if it’s not something every fan likes, at least there’s some growth in songwriting. It’s a trajectory that we hope for. However, their take on pop in this album doesn’t show much growth from the last record at all. It’s sure refined, but they seem to give into mediocre song structures that don’t play to their strengths as purveyors of catchy melodies and raw youthful energy. One of the big contributors to this trend of blandness is the overbearing production. This record is a lot glossier and well-polished than ever before, but it really takes a toll on the nuances that made their music fun. Details are so reverbed out and pitch corrected to oblivion that all the bits of life seem stripped away to nothingness. It’s a sad thing when most of the instrumental backing sounds like filler because all that’s left is a simple melody line that seems so lazily written. It’s even so with Dave Monk’s vocals. Even with his deadpan style, his voice can always a source of fun witticisms and clever wordplay, but here he falls to lyrical clichés so often that even he sounds downtrodden, drained of life that has provided a sense of continuity in records past. With his voice processed bunches, the pleasant sense of familiarity is nowhere to be found. They’ve achieved in trying to sound like contemporary pop rockers like Phoenix, but they lost their direction in the process.
It’s disheartening to see bands you never thought would fail put out a mediocre record. But there are some glimmers of hope in the last half of the record that reveal some potential that, while rudimentary, may prove to keep this record afloat in years future. Starting at track six, we start to hear them get their energy back. In the tracks following, we hear creative little flourishes that sound wonderful but misplaced on otherwise boring tracks. At the last one on the record, “Feel the Effect,” it almost feels like they’re reflecting on their stunted creative process on this record. The glitchy guitar solo right in the middle feels like something right off Elephant Shell, and the fact that it’s so glitched out that it sounds broken seems symbolic to bits of their old sound trying but ultimately failing to come through. Maybe this will be a grower; maybe it will sound better in the context of the summer months; maybe this will just be known as their junior slump. But either way, the last few tracks show promise of innovation and sincerity that will hopefully be applied to a greater degree in their future musical endeavors.
“When every other kid on the block has a shotgun/I've never known the difference between the toys and the real ones”