Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield

Three albums in, the Ontario-based quartet falls prey to bland pop structures with a few glimmers of potential buried deep within.

Additional Info

6.9

ALBUM: Forcefield

ARTIST: Tokyo Police Club

2014

Alternative

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”

1. Argentina (Parts I, II, III)
At a staggering eight and a half minutes long, this opener immediately stands as an outlier. Recalling the best of pop punk right from the get-go, the melodic guitar jaunts sound pleasantly familiar as a welcome return from the band’s time off. Polished pop prevails as Dave Monks dives into the idiosyncratic deadpan he’s known for, albeit a little bit more subdued than before. However, it provides for a nice build to his yelps of “Oh, Argentina!” at the end of each verse. As the title suggest, this song is like three excellent songs mashed into one, the energy ebbing and flowing as it smoothly transitions between each movement. Unfortunately, it all starts to drop off from here. You’d think such an epic would serve to prepare you for the best to come, but this is one of the few wholly redeeming parts of this record.8.5
2. Hot Tonight
Coming right at the heels of the epic before is perhaps the blandest and most cliché song on the record, which happens to be the new single. They take prototypical pop structures but seem to drain them of the quirky energy they do best. The melody of the chorus is perhaps the worst offender, lifted from a barrage of cheesy pop rock songs. However, there are a couple bits of promise. The verse, crafted by layering Monk’s coy whispers, is a nice touch, and the “Ooooh” line at the end of the chorus is reminiscent of the Tokyo Police Club of albums prior.5.5
3. Miserable
Right at the start, Monks states, “I want to travel to the future again,” a testament of his silly but smart wordplay. But right when you’re ready for another witty philosophical lyric, the chorus breaks into a croon of the line, “I wanna live in the Bahamas with you.” Such a lyrical changeup, from mildly thought provoking to oddly superficial, seems, even for them, just a bit weird. Musically, its staccato beats with glam keyboard flourishes is pretty fun, but the overblown production holds it back.6.5
4. Gonna Be Ready
There’s this amazing guitar lick right at the beginning, gleefully channeling early Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party, that just pulls you right in. It’s a shame that this bit of a jam doesn’t really build to anything. The rest of the track is pretty minimal, with only a simple bass line under the vocals and the occasional guitar. At the chorus, the effect used on the vocals sounds reminiscent of that one ‘mega-phone’ effect done to death in pop punk, though it’s sort of amusing. It attempts to pave some darker territory for the record, but it’s just boring overall.6.5
5. Beaches
The reverbed out atmosphere gives this one a nice glam vibe, but by the time the vocal line hits, the reverb has gone almost too far. Not afraid to show their penchant for pop punk, they employ vocal callbacks that are pretty entertaining but so laughably Green Day. It’s pretty sounding filler, but filler nonetheless.6.0
6. Toy Guns
At this point in the record, after seeing a menagerie of bland pop, hearing Dave Monks sing, “Liberated, I’m liberated enough,” seems ironically hilarious. But as the song advances, we see that it might not be so ironic. This is where the album starts to turn around for the better even though it doesn’t quite get there. A repetitive guitar line chugs on under the verse, and then everything completely changes, funny enough after the line, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking of?” A dreamy half-speed chug manifests as Monks delivers his most poignant lyrics on the record, couched in a nice haze of production. It sounds very similar to the current pop hits on popular alt radio (Bleachers and American Authors come to mind), but as it stands, it’s the most interesting cut on the record since Argentina.7.5
7. Tunnel Vision
Like before in “Gonna Be Ready,” this one starts with a pretty cool metal riff taken out of the 90s stadium rock book. In fact, it sounds remarkably similar to the opening riff in the Foo Fighter’s “Times Like These.” To make it fit with the rest of the album, they add some synthy glam bits that give it a polished sheen. Vocally, the verse is kind of a one-note jaunt, but he holds it down well. The stand-out line, “I just wanna make it through one more night, tonight,” is one that would probably sound silly coming from anyone else, but Monks has the sort of quirky lyrical track record that makes the line seem quite endearing.7.0
8. Through the Wire
On this one, they take a break from the burgeoning energy to evoke some beachy vibes. The gently strummed acoustic guitar and accompanying marimba-esque keyboard sound like you’re on a lazy retro resort. The vocals even match this AM radio effect until the keyboard cuts through the fuzz and snaps the song back into contemporary pop. It’s a really neat transition, but we can only wonder if the song would be any better if they explored the original idea for its entirety.7.0
9. Feel the Effect
This track immediately feels wistful. Dreamy synth and guitar with the familiar punctuated beats are the undercurrent of this ballad. Monks show a lot of emotional honesty in his reminiscing, “I made a lot of bad decisions, I feel the effect.” We can only wonder if this has to do with writing the album. A glitch guitar solo cuts in for a quick interlude before it turns into a dancy synth number. Monks talk of his friend with a mohawk in a way only he could, dropping the “quick quips” alliterative probably lifted from the Harlem Shakes song he covered a few years back. The cadence feels like we’ve come full circle from Argentina, but it’s on a bittersweet note. We’re seeing the potential this album could have had, but it’s already over.8.0
Written by Hailey Simpson
Now attending college at UC Berkeley, Hailey's main passions in life are attending every concert she possibly can while keeping up with her studies, drinking copious amounts of Philz Coffee, and spinning tunes on her college radio station KALX.



comments powered by Disqus
Tagged under

News

Watch!

Listen