Elephant Shell

Author: Tracy Moore
04/03/2008 | Nashville Scene | | Album Review
Less is more, and such is the case with Tokyo Police Club, whose first EP, 2006's A Lesson in Crime, was really a lesson in economy. In just over 16 minutes, the EP muscled through a gloriously fat-free (and refreshingly angst-free) burst of tightly wound post-punk that never came up for air. Next the band offered even less, with a four-track teaser EP Smith and the digital-only release "Your English Is Good," both of which ratcheted up album anticipation from these fresh-faced Canadians. Since signing with indie Saddle Creek in July of the last year, the band has finally released a full-length, Elephant Shell—and it's all of 28 minutes.

Luckily, it delivers. Expanding on the foolproof formula of previous releases with ringing guitars, spastic beats, handclaps and gang vocals, Elephant Shell shows the band both perfecting the tried-and-true and stretching its legs. It's a subtle shift. Though Tokyo Police Club still inhabit the same boy-tastic world of robot invasions and awkward, coming-of-age croons, here the handclaps and gang vocals are more accent than conceit. And while a number of songs slow it down and turn it down, this is still a batch of giddily bouncy post-punk. Anyone looking for that same kick of gleeful sing-alongs won't be disappointed.

Such tracks are undoubtedly when the band is at its best—numbers where their affection for boisterous, pinball rock shines, such as the aforementioned "Your English Is Good," which reappears here in a newly recorded version. It's a slaphappy number with unflagging buoyancy, and its shouted gang-vocal intro, plucky keyboard line and rubbery bassline wouldn't have been out of place on Crime. Likewise, the album's first single "In a Cave" stomps through a similarly rubbery bassline and a sparkling guitar riff that would make The Strokes proud. "Elephant shell / You're my cave and I've been hiding out," singer and bassist Dave Monks yearns in a wistful croon over a shuffled beat. Want more rubbery bass, ringing guitars and snappy beats? See tracks 1, 3, 4, 8 and 11.

Indeed, if it sounds like there's an overwhelming sameness here, it's because there is—but it's not a weakness. Tokyo Police Club may not be prolific, but they're impressively consistent for such a young band. And speaking of young, they even sound like young pop, not just because, at 21, Monks still has the nasally uncertainty of a teenager and sings about love with the kind of respectfully chaste distance of someone who probably hasn't had a lot of girlfriends yet. It's also the adolescent-obsessed sci-fi/apocalyptic subject matter and, of course, that dogged loyalty to formula. They may trot out the same tropes over and over again—elastic bass, sonorous riffs, relentless drums—but it still manages to sound freshly re-imagined at each turn.

As a result, since forming in 2005 in Newmarket, Ontario, TPC—who have already played Letterman—have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive and feverish attention. Not only has each release been anticipated with the can't-hardly-wait eagerness of a fan club, but the band, perhaps a result of that Canadian congeniality, is consistently characterized as intensely likable. When TPC played Nashville's Mercy Lounge in March of last year, we spent a half-hour backstage chatting with them on subjects ranging from socialized medicine (good) and Canada's generous funding of the arts (good), to illegal drug use (bad). They were baby-faced and damn affable, even as they played a set without their drummer, who had taken ill. (Members of Cold War Kids and Delta Spirit joined the band onstage for what amounted to an amorphous drum circle.)

Still, for all the band's predictable consistency, half of Elephant Shell shows evidence of branching out, even if that largely means adding a little space into those typically densely packed gems. Tracks such as "Tessellate" add a moody depth with piano, and "Sixties Remake" kicks off with a wash of shoegazer fuzz. Elsewhere, "The Harrowing Adventure" takes an even more minimalist approach with acoustic guitar, a soft military-march beat and twinkling keys.

But after touring for nearly two years on less than an hour's worth of material, it's time they expanded their palette. Still, it may mean that this soft release—the record's official issue date is April 22, but it was released digitally (and quietly) on March 25—just triggers more feverish anticipation for what's next.
Elephant Shell

Elephant Shell

LP / CD / MP3