By Barry Walters
April 25, 2017 at 07:54 AM EDT
Camilo Christen

Wielding churning guitars and righteous party anthems, Japandroids came across on earlier albums as a shambolic punk band that clearly cranked a Springsteen album or two on their tour van. With their third, the Vancouver duo sounds positively born to run. Near to the Wild Heart of Life marks a huge leap forward in studio craft, stylistic diversity, and lyrical scope as it crosses the gap between punk and classic rock like the Clash’s London Calling or Green Day’s American Idiot. Noisy but built on articulate songwriting, Near radiates a sincerity often missing from bands this brash. At a time of doubt and fear, it’s screamingly optimistic.

The newfound refinement of their trademark rawness is immediate: The opening title track ignites a wave of processed feedback before exploding in charging distorted guitars and rampaging drums, which suggest a restless herd of punk rock buffalo. Their stampeding blare is dense, but fittingly expansive for a song about making your life as gutsy and as far-ranging as your dreams. “So I left my home and all I had,” wails guitarist Brian King in the first of the album’s several shout-along choruses. “I used to be good, but now I’m bad.” And with that, the band’s ravaging vitality reaches another peak before climaxing even higher as the overdubs and mixing board trickery cascade in rabble-rousing glory. For decades, pop punk has been over-exposed and economically exploited, but here, it feels bracingly fresh once again.

A two-part concept album of poetic exuberance, Near’s first half revels in the gospel-spreading glory of touring – a subject the perpetually performing pair clearly know well – while the second part deals with the toll their transience takes. But rather than succumbing to loneliness, addiction, illness, and existential sorrows, they flip the usual rock-star script and celebrate love with the same contagious, all-encompassing enthusiasm they bring to their music. Don’t even try to resist.

Key Tracks
“North South East West”
Japandroids at their most jubilant, this unabashed arena-rocker induces the pumping of beer-clenched fists like John Mellencamp backed by the Replacements.

“Arc of Bar”
Uncharacteristically psychedelic and synth-bolstered, the album’s halftime opus grinds out a dirty rock groove fit for boozy booty-shaking.

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