Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
James McDonald 27/05/2008
Tokyo Police Club had an album out a week or so ago, didn't you hear? Well no, neither did I, which is most odd considering that the band were tipped by many (myself included) as would-be conquerors of 2008. Big label backing, accessible listening, but not a poster nor advert to boot. Indeed Elephant Shell has slipped silently under our radars, but having finally had the chance to absorb it, I think I know the reason why. To put it simply, this album isn't very good at all.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rather rash conclusion; In A Cave, although largely unimaginative, sounds bullish and bitter in pleasurable measures as one of the album's flagship offerings, whilst the latter half of Graves does enough to raise the hairs on my neck, albeit for no more than a minute. New single Tessellate also demonstrates brief moments of intrigue, but it, along with the majority of Elephant Shell, is one of those tracks that fades from memory when you finish hearing it.
Worryingly, barely a fortnight old, the album already plays tired; Listen To The Math, to it's credit, holds an enviable chorus, but little else as it trips along, and having heard Nursery, Academy a dozen times, i'd still be hard pressed to identify it in a crowd. Even the band's trademark 'heys!' sound contrived, (the best evidence of which being Sixties Remake) to the point where you begin to question their inclusion altogether. And the same can be said of Juno, which is, to be fair, four-chourd monotony at it's most ruthless. Yawn.
However, regardless of how disappointing I found Elephant Shell, on first glance it would appear that TPC had been keeping an ace up their sleeves the whole time, namely last summer's anthem, Your English is Good . The track compiled, by and large, the entire soundtrack to my summer, so I was reassured that it's inclusion would save what had been, up until it's point, a very weak offering indeed. However, even this gem let me down. On hearing the drum count in, my smile stretched uncomfortably wide, pre-empting the joy which would surely follow, before returning to my characteristic grimace 8 seconds later. The re-recording has, regrettably, lost the vast majority of the energy and charm the single version boasted, which is largely accredited to a weaker vocal track and a more polished finish overall. What started as teenage angst in a basement in Ontario, now seems a whole lot less appealing, a comment which can be made of the album as a whole.
So, with the blueprints drawn from debut A Lesson In Crime failing fast, it is, musically at least, the more adventurous 'The Harrowing Adventures Of..' which pulls the ship back on course. The inclusion of violins and xylophones (two instruments which have suddenly become 'cool' again) offer a maturity we've not previously seen from the band, which gives the track an extra edge over it's peers. Dave Monks' vocal delivery of the line, 'two wrongs making it right', admittedly pulls a few heart strings, reinforced by the stop-start booming of the tom drums in a well mapped harmony. A personal highlight in an otherwise bleak outlook.
So, given that the album is short enough (a full listen will set you back a modest 28 minutes), ironically it appears Tokyo Police Club would've been better off submitting another 7 track, as there are at least 5 songs included on Elephant Shell which are B-sides at best, fillers in context. All this has left me rather sad; I have been waiting for this release with baited breath since I heard they were back in the studio last fall. It's not that this is a poor album, (although in places you'd be forgiven for using that exact wording), it's mainly that Tokyo Police Club promised so much with their debut long-player, and have consequently offered so little. Believe me, this isn't easy to digest. I'd quite happily report on how the album has changed thinking, is solid and flawless, a bench-mark for all the DIY indie acts which are sure to follow, but this just isn't the case. That said, the album won't be leaving my stereo for some time, and i've every faith that'll be the case when you hurry your copy into yours. However, I'll bitterly concede that all the while Elephant Shell will continue to be decaffeinated, when all we really wanted was a strong brew.