Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield
Tokyo Police Club go full pop and don't look back

Canadian group Tokyo Police Club likely had the best of intentions when they formed their garage-rock tinged indie rock band. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have chosen a worse time – the mid 2000s – to enter the scene. Every other garage-rock tinged indie rock band had their heyday by this point (think of all those bands with names fitting “The _____s”) and had moved onto new styles to stay relevant. Tokyo Police Club modestly entered in 2006 with their EP A Lesson In Crime, which featured frantic, Strokes-sounding guitars, a thumping bassline, and fuzzy vocals that went from sing-talking to shouting. Despite the market saturation, it was surprisingly very well received and started to give the band a following. They released their first full-length album Elephant Shell in 2008, which toned things down and seemed to take out all of the aforementioned distinguishing features their debut EP had. While this could have put them on the indie landfill, they instead picked things up again for 2010’s Champ. This album saw them becoming more distinguished and slightly more technical in their songwriting, even if frontman David Monks sang in the same nasal monotone and the same few chords seemed to dominate. For most other garage-rock tinged indie rock bands, this would seem par the course and you’d expect them to either release a similar sounding album a year or so later or go electronic, as is the trend these days.

Tokyo Police Club instead went full pop. That’s right, after four years of silence, a garage-rock tigned indie rock band ditched the repetitive chords and drony vocals in favor of catchy hooks and choruses. And Tokyo Police Club seemingly give zero fucks about what you think about this transition, since it’s one of the most unbashed indie pop-rock albums I’ve heard.

Right off the bat you can tell something is amiss with Forcefield, as first track “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” is eight and a half minutes long. While this may seem ambitious but not unusual for an indie band, you have to take into account that the EP A Lesson In Crime was all of 15 minutes long and the majority of their songs are less than three minutes. The song starts with intense power chords dotted with synthesizer notes, all while Monks begins to actually vary his tone and go for those higher notes. It ends up sounding a bit like The Kooks, and even before the song slows down for its second half (Parts II and III) you can tell you’re in for something a little more radio friendly with Forcefield. This isn’t to say that “Argentina” is bad or even simple though, as it goes through several tempo and dynamic changes that I wasn’t expecting from the band and in the end is an excellent song.

The main issue with frontloading Forcefield with a song like “Argentina” is that the rest of the album doesn’t hold up in comparison. Sure, there are moments that grab your attention throughout, but the “simple” label applied to pop influences starts to become more pertinent. Take second track “Hot Tonight.” It’s a three-minute long straightforward rock song with a few chords and enough “ooooh oooohs” to make The Wombats jealous. But oh God is it catchy. Its chorus of “I burn the house down at the end of the night/I didn’t need the money but the money was nice” is one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard all year, and it drew me in after one listen. Other times the catchiness isn’t such a good thing, like the song “Toy Guns.” Though memorable, have no idea what its chorus of “when every other kid on the block has a shotgun/I never know the difference between the toys and the real ones” is supposed to mean, and the way it’s sung over steel drums just makes it particularly corny. There’s also a degree of angst in a lot of the songs, which isn’t out of the norm for Tokyo Police Club, but now the angst has that added emo-pop flair. The song “Miserable” sounds it could have been a Taking Back Sunday outtake (I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing, but others may disagree) and “Feel The Effect” has the sincerity of 10 Marcus Mumfords (albeit with math-rock beats instead of banjos). Love it or hate it, a lot of Forcefield will get stuck in your head.

The songs of Forcefield are not musical game-changes in any way, nor did Tokyo Police Club intend for them to be. It’s almost refreshing to see a band observe all of the trends in the rapidly-shifting indie scene, not give a shit about them, and then name their album “Forcefield” to reflect this sentiment. There are some real bright spots on this album, and I can tell that I’m going to keep going back to “Argentina” and “Hot Tonight.” However, the “pop songs as a way of showing apathy” statement can get a little excessive and at some points you’re almost left thinking “alright, we get it.” It would have been nice to have more remnants of the earlier albums making their way onto Forcefield, since an album of nine pop songs is going to guarantee some over-repetition and filler where a monotonous chorus or Strokes-styled guitars would have been welcome.

Grade: B
Tags: tokyo police club, forcefield
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