“Relaxed” has never been a word to describe Tokyo Police Club. Over the last eight years or so, nearly every song the band has written has buzzed with a kind of nervy energy, bursting into existence long enough to get stuck in your head before dissipating like smoke. But on Forcefield, the band’s first album in nearly four years, Tokyo Police Club has smoothed out its sound and seem to be breathing a little easier. That’s not to say that the band has sold out and padded its album with stock filler – Forcefield roars through nine songs in a little over 33 minutes, and those songs are unquestionably some of the band’s catchiest and most immediately enjoyable to date. But there’s also no question that, in the group’s steady move away from the berserk punk energy of their early singles and into more heavily produced pop territory, they’ve also lost their edge a bit. With the exception of “Gonna Be Ready,” which slides between a slick, grooving verse and an escalating, unhinged chorus, nothing here lets loose as thrillingly as “Your English Is Good” or “Favourite Food,” and David Monks’ lyrics – which, at their best in the past, have felt like transcripts of word association games – are frustratingly toothless here (“I’m killing time until I see her/So many days but I don’t care.” Yawn?). This isn’t going to please anyone hoping for the band to get back to basics, but who cares when the songs are this catchy? The eight-minute masterpiece that opens the album, “Argentina,” is a snapshot of the band at their very best, guitars and keyboards and riffs and rhythms all locking together in the same magical, effortless way as 2010’s nearly-flawless Champ. David Monks has only gotten better at writing melodies, and cuts like “Hot Tonight” and “Miserable” are instant earworms. And Forcefield demonstrates that the band is still willing to experiment – the aforementioned “Argentina” sews three songs together into a seamless suite, and the mercilessly catchy “Toy Guns” hops back and forth between a propulsive, driving rhythm and a swinging, unhurried hip-hop beat. How you feel about Forcefield is largely going to depend on how you feel about the evolution of the band and their decreased ferocity. But Tokyo Police Club is still writing great songs. And for the first time, it sounds like they’re having fun doing it.
Track picks: “Argentina,” “Gonna Be Ready,” “Toy Guns”