A college friend of mine was fond of saying that any album he found boring, underperforming, or straight-up bland – music that failed to move him to even the mildest active like or dislike – was “really mediocre.” Discs that merit this special kiss of death are usually just not very good. Sometimes they’re over-hyped, so-hot-right-now sophomore efforts, or ambitious projects that fell short of achieving the kind of transcendent finished product of which their creators seemed so capable when the first press release hit. You want a wrecking ball, this music barely leaves a mark. Two dozen roses are called for; this is the aural equivalent of a battered pink carnation.
I hereby bestow this designation upon Tokyo Police club’s first full-length album, Elephant Shell. The Toronto-based indie rockers kicked up a lot of hype on just two EPs in two years; at only twenty-eight minutes, their first full-length is barely that. Nothing’s wrong with brevity, but combined with the flat, contained production, irritatingly emo-esque vocals from front man Dave Monks, and formulaic song structures, the Elephant Shell listening experience is like swatting at a cloud of gnats for half an hour.
Tokyo Police Club’s music is fast-paced and catchy enough to be more energetic than it is, but each tune takes verse-chorus-verse to new depths of lifelessness. Here’s the vaguely dancey guitar hook, here’s the tinny but tight drums, there’s the four-note organ figure. And now it’s Monks, our tour guide through this disc of rock music Monet prints, with references to books on tape (“Centennial”), chessboards (“Your English Is Good”), the Arctic Circle (“Juno”). Any momentary bursts of life appear as a carefully mangled lick of guitar feedback, burning out quickly and disappearing as if they’d never been. It’s a shame, because on paper, their songs are solid enough to deserve better.