Tokyo Police Club – “Champ” Review

Champ album art.

When Tokyo Police Club released their debut LP Elephant Shell in 2008, it was hotly anticipated. And for good reason too, coming off a freshly-inked deal with Saddle Creek Records, and following up their buzz-explosion of an EP A Lesson In Crime.

As happens with lot of hyped bands, Elephant Shell wasn’t quite the victory lap everyone was expecting.  It may have sounded like a band rushed into the recording studio a little bit too soon, but I still thought it was a solid slab of power-pop that got some unfairly lukewarm reviews.

So I’m happy to say that Champ — their sophomore effort — has exactly what Elephant Shell was lacking. It finds TPC stretching their legs out and expanding their sound, quite far beyond what one comes to expect from them. I’m especially surprised with some of the textural quirks on display here; Champ trades the rather straightforward nature of its predecessor for a lot of interesting guitar tones and production techniques. This is made apparent right off the bat with some chopped up synth lines fading into acoustic guitar on “Favorite Food”.

“Bambi” specifically perked my ears up on first listen, because in my opinion it almost out-Minus-the-Bear’s the entire new Minus the Bear album, glitched-out guitars and everything. “Gone” opens with a punchy guitar riff and an amazingly catchy vocal melody, but pauses to bring some synth background flourishes seemingly ripped from Ratatat’s earlier work, but the bass work that we’ve come to associate with their choruses is still intact on songs like “Wait Up”.

I think it’d be easy for me (or anyone) to pick apart David Monks’ lyrics; he does rely a lot on clever but simplistic rhymes and wordplay. Despite that, I find his nostalgic lyrics about wasted youth and carefree childhood to be endearing. He’s got a knack for penning some ridiculously fun choruses, and as simple as his lyrics may be at times, they never fail to bring a clear visual to the listener. Lyrics like “At the movies / Drunk and young / Double-knots that came undone / But the big bad years are gone” — a line in any other hands might come off super cheesy — work on “Breakneck Speed”. You believe it — at least coming from David, anyway.

I’ve been saying that Champ might be the best pop album of the summer, and I don’t think that’s too far off. Tokyo Police Club do this stuff really well, softening the edge of post-punk guitar rock and mixing it with keyboard power-pop. I suppose I’m to be embarrassed to praise TPC — they’ve long graduated from “cool upcoming band” status to major “indie” band stardom, even in the US — but it’s hard not to imagine Champ flowing from the speakers of road-trip bound cars this summer, windows down.

–Dan Gorman

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