With determination, you can accomplish quite a lot in under three minutes. In terms of Newmarket’s Tokyo Police Club, entire stories can be told in under three minutes and melodies can bob and weave through the confines of indie rock and post-punk revival without being hasty. On Elephant Shell, the Ontario group’s first LP, that’s just what they do.
With only one song clocking in over three minutes and a total runtime a smidgen under 28 minutes, Elephant Shell is one of the most succinct albums of the year and matches with REM’s Accelerate for depth through concision. The music is intricate and yet carries an unfussiness that creates melodies that are utterly hummable and alluring.
The bar was set pretty high after the critically-acclaimed Lesson in Crime EP, as its quick introduction to the band tore through 16-minutes of blazing guitar-riff heaven. In danger of perhaps being too to the point, Tokyo Police Club waited a year and a half before finally dropping Elephant Shell last month. The wait was worth it.
One of the things instantly apparent is how frontman David Monks has expanded on the themes in Lesson in Crime and tears a slightly Decemberists-quality swath through Elephant Shell. The lyrics are strong, painting elegant word pictures that sail over the band’s pensive pop surroundings with ease. Monks’ lyrics are genuine, yet filled with a sense of gloom and desolation at times. Always eloquent, one can get a deep sense of insight with his simple phrases.
Songs begin suddenly and end just as abruptly, such as the album’s first track, “Centennial.” As though setting the bar for short, effective anthems, “Centennial” works as an overture and as a sign of things to come.
Other songs pour brilliantly into small spaces, like the graceful “Tessellate” with its spirited lyrics and clap-along tempo. Monks’ description of “all the kids who cut their knees on that old schoolyard fence” calls upon grey-skied memories and tickles of rebellion.
Monks and Co. deliver songs with mental clarity, unfolding pictures and dusty memories with a simple swoop of phraseology or an elegant flourish of guitar and keyboard. Songs like “Sixties Remake” and the bouncy “Your English is Good” showcase the group’s conciseness, as tight bass lines play with sharp rhythm and background vocals to create immediate poppy sticks of musical dynamite.
Always sharp and never tedious, Elephant Shell is a phenomenal follow-up to Lesson in Crime and serves as a beautiful collection of lyrics and quick songs that get to the point and linger long after the closing notes melt away.