Saddle Creek | Tokyo Police Club | Reviews


Elephant Shell

Author: Andy Vietze
04/23/2008 | | | Album Review
Keyboardist Graham Wright says that his band's new release is the one you put on when the party's over. "It's the record that you listen to when you're driving around town in the dark, wondering if she likes you, wondering if you should have tried to flirt more or less." Tokyo Police Club's debut EP, he writes on the band's blog, was the record for Friday nights, the one everyone could dance to, that was "quick and immediate and to the point." Whatever happened to the old adage about letting the music do the talking?

Wright is right about A Lesson in Crime, the TPC's 16-minute, seven-song debut, which was something of a smash for the Canadian combo. It started parties all over the place, garnering the band smiles from the bloggerati (blognoscenti?) and even in the eminent pages of the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly, which gushed, "I can hardly wait for the full-length."

And therein lies the problem. Nobody could wait for TPC's second coming. Follow up records are difficult for any band, especially one so hyped and hosannahed. When your first release is as perfectly concise and rip-roaringly powerful as A Lesson in Crime, which borrowed from the likes of Bloc Party and the Strokes only to one-up each of those bands, you're going to have a difficult time following it up, no matter how profound your talents are. The expectations of all those bloggers and critics and fans are stratospheric. (It's a good thing the band isn't from Britain, where the critics love to inflate a band's balloon with tons of hyperbole only to delight in sticking it with a pin a year later.)

The backlash is already happening. All over the web people are casting opinions about Elephant Shell, suggesting it isn't quite as good as the band's previous efforts (the three-song Smith EP was released in late '07); that it sounds too similar to A Lesson in Crime; that they haven't grown enough. (Of course, they'd whine if it were too dissimilar.) "They did absolutely nothing different, and didn't evolve in any way. The album is very redundant, and I was quite disappointed all round," says one pundit on the uberhip, indie site Stereogum. "What's engaging about lacking progression or non-evolution?," asked another.

And the thing is, Elephant Shell is quite good. Is it a radical departure from A Lesson in Crime? No. Is it possible for a band on a second record to compensate for the excitement of discovery that people had upon hearing them for the first time? No. Elephant Shell is simply 11 new songs that are much in the same vein as the first seven. If you heard them prior to hearing "Cheer It On" and "Citizens of Tomorrow", you'd be just as excited. If you liked the spiky post-punk guitars, simple keyboard riffs, taut drumming, and lyrics with more poetry to them than a 20-something should be capable of that you heard on record one, you should be excited for record two.

Opener "Centennial", with its furious, chorused guitars and growling organ, is as good as anything they've done. The keyboards of "Graves" sound similar to the Killers in a very good way, and the guitar figure is Sleater Kinney-esque. The song will be banging around your cranium for days, along with "Tessellate." "In a Cave", with the Morrissey-like cadence of its vocals, is another one that will attach itself to the inside of your head.

The band certainly has grown. It isn't as easy to find the Strokesisms as it used to be. Many songs sound influenced by another great Canadian combo that traffics in literate post-punk—Winnipeg's Weakerthans. Whether that's the case, David Monks' vocal delivery is quite similar to John Samson's and the arrangements are reminiscent as well. (It'd be hard to find a better mentor.) The first record sounded strangely confident and sure of itself for such a young band, and that continues here. Bands need to evolve between their first couple of records if the first one isn't all that great and they don't seem to know what they're after. That isn't the case here. TPC co-produced Elephant Shell and they know exactly what they're about. Again, if you heard these 11 songs before hearing A Lesson in Crime, you'd say that EP was a disappointment—which is saying a lot.

We all just have to hope Graham Wright is wrong and that the party's not over.
Elephant Shell

Elephant Shell

LP / CD / MP3