Halftime Leisure

Critical Voices: Tokyo Police Club, Forcefield

April 3, 2014

For Tokyo Police Club, the release of their third studio album, Forcefield, seems to mark their arrival as a truly established indie rock band. Though, by “truly established,” I mean, mainly, that people have finally stopped mistaking their band for a bunch of Japanese cops.

Nevertheless, it’s the kind of place you reach artistically where you can say eff it, we’re opening our next album with an eight-and-a-half-minute, three-part song – let the haters hate.

Despite its length, this leadoff track, “Argentina (Parts I, II, III),” may actually be the highlight of the entire album. It’s a well-paced display of everything Tokyo Police Club does well, chock full of girl-crush musings (“How many kinds of people do you think there really are for me…Enough to fill a mall?”) and intimate observations (“When you smile, you smile with all your teeth at once”). Through the ebbs and flows, the song never loses its momentum, and goes to show that verses can be just as catchy and satisfying as the chorus when they’re done right.

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Unfortunately, after “Argentina,” the album quickly gives way to a more mainstream sound, a brand of neat pop-rock that’s pleasant to listen to but doesn’t offer much in the way of emotional substance. “Hot Tonight,” among others, is quick to please with flashy guitar hooks, but ends still leaving the listener vaguely unsatisfied; the sugary-sweet, refined pop riffs that drive the melody aren’t enough to obscure the song’s lack of lyrical gravity and originality.

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Indeed, the “hell, burn it to the ground!” sentiment that pervades the song (“I’ll burn the house down/And I’ll leave it behind”) definitely seems like something we’ve seen before.

We do see some efforts to create an edgier, more genuine sound in “Tunnel Vision” and “Gonna Be Ready.” But the rough edges that would provide character are studio-polished to such an extent that the tracks inevitably turn out like a clean-cut version of System Of A Down. The guitar riffs sound a bit too playful and neat, and the emotions remain superficial, expressed only in muddled formulations such as, “upset incredible headache.” Ultimately, the attempts by Tokyo Police Club at “rocking” result only in “pop-rocking”: a style, like the candy, that’s fun and fizzy, but not particularly satisfying.

Still, despite the tendency towards one-dimensionality in the lyrics, Forcefield’s hooks and rhythms are occasionally, in themselves, enough to make you want to stick around. In “Toy Guns,” each chorus rolls into a veritably cool slow-beat rhythm – you can almost picture yourself cruising down the street, nodding your head along as lead singer Monks chants, “when every other kid on the block has a shotgu-un.”

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Outside the feat of “Argentina,” and the few prize riffs scattered throughout the record, however, it’s clear that this third LP, for Tokyo Police Club, was not quite the charm. Forcefield may ultimately be an apt title for an album in which the shimmering, polished exterior distracts from the emotion and genuine stylistic potential of the band within.

Voice’s Choices: “Argentina (Parts I, II, III),” “Toy Guns”

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