Album Review: Japandroids – Heavenward Grand Prix

Following the release of their compilation album, No Singles, this past May, noise/garage rock-duo Japandroids have been issuing 7″ singles to tide fans over until their second full-length drops at some point next year. “Heavenward Grand Prix”, the third entry in a series that began with “Art Czars” and continued with “Younger Us”, arrives just before we all can say, “Happy Holidays”, and lounge out on the couch at the family home. But, before we digress any further, let’s step back and focus on their recent compilation for a moment. If you recall, No Singles consists solely of material recorded prior to the group’s debut LP, Post-Nothing, and their subsequent signing to Polyvinyl Records. Because of this, it serves as a benchmark by which to gauge just how far the duo from Vancouver have come since their early days playing dingy clubs in their hometown. While certainly not bad per se, the songs on No Singles ended up sounding unpolished and unworked, even by Japandroids’ rough, discordant standards.

With that in mind, “Heavenward Grand Prix” is fairly fantastic. Indeed, if the 7″‘s two tracks are any indication of what the group’s sophomore effort will sound like, members of the band’s fanbase are in luck. Opening on a muffled shout, “Heavenward Grand Prix” takes the mid-tempo route with singer/guitarist Brian King speaking over a wash of his fuzzy guitar and a steady beat from one-man-rhythm-section David Prouse. The song picks up tempo about a minute in with an urgency that’s very apparent in King’s shouts of “on a Heavenward Grand Prix!” which, along with the instrumentation, grows more and more frantic until the song’s noisy, cavalcade of a finale. All in all, it’s certainly one of Japandroids’ most memorable tracks to date and a great choice for a first listen to the upcoming LP.

The EP’s B-side is a cover of PJ Harvey’s “Shame”, taken off her 2004 album, Uh Huh Her. It’s an interesting choice for a cover. (One would guess that the noise-pop duo would select the Pixies or Sonic Youth as cover fodder, but apparently not.) They tweak it somewhat, too, replacing Harvey’s lurid yells and the original’s slow-burning, more climactic guitar/drums mix with their standard fuzzy approach to music-making. In the transition, however, they lose much of the rawness and emotion of the original. Still, it’s a fairly solid version of a song written by perhaps one of the most difficult musicians to follow in the footsteps of.

As it always seems with rock duos, one of the first things you’ll notice is the amount of noise King and Prouse manage to muster up. For now, the “Heavenward Grand Prix” 7″ makes for a great short listen and is certain to get fans and non-fans all riled up for the eventual release of their second album.

Hat tip to Phil Cosores.


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