So, I’ve got a couple of questions for you.
Question #1: Have you ever heard a song and thought, “That sounds like something I would’ve liked in high school?”
Question #2: If your answer to question #1 is “yes,” then tell me this: is that a good thing or a bad thing?
There is, of course, no universal answer here. For instance, there was this thing going around social media a couple of weeks ago where people were posting the albums they listened to in high school, and I found it fascinating to see how people framed the music from that time in their lives. Some people still listen to a lot of the same stuff, while some regard their former tastes in roughly the same way you might think about a long-ago meal that gave you food poisoning.
It’s a wide-ranging spectrum of feeling, is what I’m saying.
Which leads me back to my two questions. For many of us, the implication that a given song has something (or many things) in common with our high school music tastes would be an automatic mark against it. If we see our taste as something that’s evolved for the better (which, of course we do; we’re arrogant that way), then the version of our self that would’ve found something (or many things) to love about the song in question has, by definition, less developed (and therefore inferior) tastes.
I get why we sometimes cringe at the memory of our high school selves, but isn’t there something about the music that spoke to us when (A) our minds were uncluttered with concerns about what was Good with a capital “G,” and (B) we didn’t have the entire weight of our own musical experience to stack against every new release?
After more than a decade in the dismissive, boy-what-an-idiot-I-was-back-then camp, I’m ready to answer that question in the affirmative. What cued the reversal? Nothing much – a few power chords, an earnest lyric or two and my favorite album of 2017 so far: Japandroids’ Near to the Wild Heart of Life.
Check out these lyrics from “In a Body Like a Grave,” the album’s final track:
Christ will call you out / School will deepen debt / Work will sap the soul / Hometown haunts what’s left / Love will scar the heart / Sun will burn the skin / Just the way it is / And way it’s always been
If those aren’t high school lyrics, then I don’t know what are. And in no way do I mean that as an insult. There’s enough specificity there – oppressive small-town religious conservatism, the specter of burdensome college loans, the boredom of your shift at the local fast food joint – to make the song feel personal to the artist. But the lines are also vague enough to allow for the intense emotional projection that made, say, Dashboard Confessional, feel so essential when I was 16.
From the opening track, Japandroids manages this balancing act deftly, all while drenching the proceedings in deliciously catchy riffs and sha-la-la backing vocals. The result is a batch of songs that make you want to roll down your windows and reenact your own personal scene from an imaginary Cameron Crowe movie as you peel out of the school parking lot on a sunny afternoon.
That’s how this Japandroids record makes me feel, anyway. Like I’m half a lifetime away, eager and impatient and convinced that the world is my oyster. And If the kind of music that makes me feel that way is wrong, then I don’t want to be right, age be damned.