Music Reviews

Tokyo Police Club Forcefield

(Mom + Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

The concept of a force field can be applied in different forms, all of them equally impenetrable to the casual observer. It’s simple to understand in a general sense, though. And instead of delving into its scientific complexities songwriter Dave Monks reduces it to a single applicable thought - he wants to shield himself from the hurt of a past relationship to safeguard himself against those emotions that are too hard to bear. That Tokyo Police Club thought of this first only solidifies their status as sensitive outsiders with an interest in understanding the male ego in our current age. Which, in a sense, was what made them so appealing in the first place - though deliberately uncool, their verbose charm actually caught the attention of girls who are willing to give nice guys a chance and boys who could comfortably have a conversation with them about transporting traversable wormholes.

Quite some time has passed since Tokyo Police Club tempered the angularity of the mid-2000's post-punk revival by giving it a nervy, yet amiable punk affinity. The landscape has changed considerably, and as such, the band were left confused over which course to take when the playing field is saturated with retrograde pastiche. So they decided to compute a simple formula - undertake the challenge of writing simple, effective pop songs with guitars. A statement that could be considered a red herring to justify an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Except that their unexpected return came in the form of Argentina, an explosive eight and a half-minutes of histrionic hooks and spaced-out synths that perfectly exemplified what they’re capable of achieving of if they’d only stretched their songs past the three-minute mark. Monks’ bruised ego is in full display, questioning sentimentally pessimistic existential thoughts like, "how many people are there in the world for me?"

It’s hard to measure Argentina against the rest of Forecefield, which doesn’t make an effort to top it and instead focuses on three minute pop songs that are so seamless in execution that they fly by in quick succession. Except that there’s a different a noticeable difference this time around - they dismiss their high-velocity flair in favor of embracing more of a modern pop gloss that counters their mission on making steadfast guitar rock. Hot Tonight is an inescapable earworm, an unabashedly ebullient number that fits the Mom + Pop roster adequately to suit its friendly, commercial indie template. It takes a good, hard gulp to swallow the insufferable Toy Guns, which somehow manages to blend the jaunty bounce of Matt & Kim with an awkward dubstep-like chorus while reminiscing about Breakfast Club-era Simple Minds. It’s the band hitting all pleasure points simultaneously, which wouldn’t be an issue if they’re succeeding at writing great melodies.

And to an extent, Tokyo Police Club have enough smarts to know better than coating an entire album with an overproduced, candy-coated sheen. A live wire Monks is mostly convincing in Gonna Be Ready, releasing a scathing riff that alternates with the frantic rhythm section as he gently wails with cathartic release; he freaks out when he seems to glance at his ex ("Upset/incredible headache/how bad?/I am calling a medic"), later proceeding to have an Elizabeth Kubler-Ross moment ("Upset/I’ve never been better"). Are they channeling AFI more than the Strokes? Most definitely. But it doesn’t last long, as the cheerfully snotty Tunnel Vision has a raucous, riff-heavy lead that consequently sweetens into a rollicking chorus in which Monks tries to focus in the present. Surely the adorable miserabilist in Monks is alive and well, his squeaky sing-speak pulsing with anxious patience in the tuneful Through the Wire ("I’m killing time until I see her/So many days until I see her/I’m sleeping alone/ even the warm night’s cold").

Forcefield chiefly sounds more relaxed and natural, fully letting go of the stilted verses and swift tempos they’ve been gradually forgoing ever since A Lesson in Crime made such an immediate splash. Those gummy bass chords and antic dynamic shifts are a thing of the past now, though seeing as virtually every act from that era that’s still active has done the same it comes as no surprise, even though it seemed for a moment that Tokyo Police Club would never completely discard it. But the band is just as playful and exuberant, though their design is now a slightly more tailored fit, and as long as they throw out the occasional witty exploits then there’s still a good reason to pay attention. There is, however, a reticence to remain thematically hung up in the past even when they’ve decided to outgrow their early sound; the fact that they’re still referencing high school girls and dorky affectations can be off-putting, as if flipping the channel into Teen Nick and realizing they’re still playing the same reruns since the last time you tuned in years ago. If there’s a need to play zestful pop songs with more confidence, there’s no good reason to drag along their boyish insecurities, too.