in Compare/Contrast

“The future’s under fire. / The past is gaining ground. / A continuous cold war between my home and my hometown.”

Yes, this is the opening lyric to the Japandroids’ new album, and yes, I suppose it does feel appropriate for the disparity that exists between rural and urban America in 2017. But then again, Japandroids are Canadian, so maybe it’s not as topical as it sounds. And it becomes even less topical when you think about the fact that its a lyric that could’ve been on any Japandroids album, since these guys tend to paint with big broad strokes designed to speak to whatever personal anguish you seem to be going through, no matter what year it is.

Run The Jewels, on the other hand, are usually a bit more specific when choosing their battles against the powers-that-be. Though on their third album (unsurprisingly titled RJT3) they still leave a considerable bit of room for universality, as they don’t ever make any specific mentions to our current administration, though there are a few not-so-subtle allusions to the “orange devil”, but perhaps that’s because much like Japandroids, this hip-hop duo has their eyes on the bigger picture.

I know, it may feel a little strange to be comparing these two artists and their new(-ish) albums, considering they don’t really sound anything like each other. But on the surface, they’re both third albums from duos that typically revel in loudness, so I don’t know, doesn’t seem like the most ridiculous thing in the world to compare Japandroids’ Near To The Wild Heart Of Life and Run The Jewels’ RTJ3. Especially considering they’ve been the two albums I’ve been listening to the most in this for-the-most-part terrible new year.

But I think the thing that’s most prominent in these albums is a kind of weariness. As I recently documented, Japandroids made the most awesomely maximalist 21st century rock album I could’ve ever asked for with their last release, Celebration Rock. So I think after reaching higher and higher towards the heavens, really the only place they could turn next was inward. And sonically, this is a more introspective album for sure. There are acoustic guitars (gasp!) and synthesizers (double gasp!), and overall just a more measured sound, that in its own way still feels just as big and anthemic as the band’s previous two albums.

And the fact that this band is able to make this transition and still feel fresh this deep into their career is kind of remarkable. These guys have professed themselves that they’re not really songwriters per se, while their two instrument set-up has always made Japandroids seem like a band that should’ve been pretty limited in what they could do. And yet, somehow they keep figuring out a way. This time around it appears this was due to the Japandroids’ willingness to break their own self-imposed rules, which is exemplified in the album’s artwork that’s a little different from the first two albums, but not too different.

Hey, that reminds me of another similarity between RTJ and Japandroids – their affinity for visually consistent album artwork! Anyhoo, I wouldn’t say RTJ3 is quite as much of a tempered down album, just because it feels like these guys can’t help but always be at least relatively pissed off. But if you want to label this as the “mature” Run The Jewels album, I suppose you could. There’s certainly a fearful paranoia that seeps its way in this release, and this may be due to the political climate of the last couple months, or considering it was probably in production for a while (it was released on Christmas Eve 2016), it might not.

But I guess that gets back to what I was talking about earlier. In these strange times we’re living in, we can assign some sort of meaning to the art we love, or we can just accept it at face value for what it is. It’s what’s great about old music as well – songs that didn’t seem to have much meaning a year ago (I’m thinking of most of the Rage Against The Machine catalogue) all of the sudden seem relevant and important. It’s just all a matter of making those connections.

Note: In the spirit of making connections… I don’t think I was planning on it when I started writing this post, but I think I’ll turn this into a recurring feature when we compare two differing (but also similar) pieces of pop culture, since you could argue I’ve done it before in the past