There’s something about the word “sophomore” that is distinctly unpleasant: from somewhere deep within, it oozes dread and foreboding. Mediocrity and yet another fifteen pounds become looming possibilities with the mention of the “sophomore slump.” But besides referring to the second of a four year-long ordeal called school, “sophomore” can also mark the beginning of a much more tragic phenomenon: that of an innocent band’s rapid downward spiral from “amazing rising stars” to “sort of okay” to “why are you still here?”
(Really, why do the Strokes still exist?)
But Canadian indie rockers Tokyo Police Club present a unique situation: what could be easily considered the band’s sophomore album is actually the only full length CD they’ve ever released. Paradox? Not really. “Elephant Shell,” released by Saddle Creek Records, is in fact the band’s first studio album. But after the enormous splashes that their first two EPs made, anticipation of TPC’s first full-length has mounted to the point where alterations in the band’s sound are bound to be scrutinized as meticulously—and critically—as those on any sophomore album.
And change their sound they did. Whereas EPs “A Lesson in Crime” and “Smith” were brimming with blasts of fast-punching energy that keyboardist Graham Wright once described as a “very quick, quick, quick, one, two, three,” “Elephant Shell” features a more subdued Tokyo Police Club. Having apparently grown into a slightly jaded maturity, youth and childhood are frequently mentioned throughout the album with an air of longing and nostalgia. On the second track of the album, “In a Cave,” singer and bassist Dave Monks’s reedy voice pines for the restoration of some long-lost youth: “I walked west to the setting sun / Every single step I grow another second young / All my hair grows in / Wrinkles leave my skin.”
Admittedly, it is sorely tempting to scoff at a twenty-something lamenting wrinkles and hair loss — but what is most remarkable about “Elephant Shell” is that, in the end, the boys of TPC pull off the transition from EP to LP quite well. Though few songs retain the level of energy that defined the band’s EPs, the familiar, rapid hand claps and garage rock brazenness have not gone entirely missing. Instead, Tokyo Police Club successfully creates a graceful blend of indie, garage and pop rock that easily avoids being tossed away into the ever-growing pile of sophomore slump screw-ups.
If only it was so easy for the rest of us.