Japandroids | photo by Camilo Christen | courtesy of the artist

It’s been more than four years since we last heard from Japandroids, and a lot can happen in that span of time. I was in high school when Celebration Rock came out, and like me, Brian King and David Prowse have done some growing up in the interim. Where their sophomore record was all brute-force hooks and balls on walls, Near To The Wild Heart Of Life takes a more nuanced approach. It doesn’t stop it from being any less exhilarating, though, and you can stream it now over at NPR.

The band explores quite a bit of new territory here, but before they do, they kick things off with a familiar banger in the title track. It’s got all the righteous energy of Celebration Rock, but with an overall cleaner mix throughout, the hooks are stickier than ever before. Then, on “North East South West”, they hit you with something almost unheard for Japandroids–an acoustic guitar. They pop up all over the record, and just in time to add some sonic variety to their well-worn fuzz rock sound.

If that’s already shocking enough for you, then find a place to sit down, because the next two tracks are straight-up ballads. Ballads with keyboards, no less, and the song that follows, the sprawling, synth-driven “Arc of Bar,” clocks in at over seven minutes long. (NOTE: “Arc of Bar” is my freaking JAM. -ed.) These new elements are certainly a welcome addition, but the duo never loses sight of what got them where they were in the first place. When they want to be, as they are on tracks like “Midnight To Morning”, “No Known Drink Or Drug,” and the title track, they’re still loud as hell. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life isn’t a total overhaul by any means, but it’s a big step forward in maturity. That’s the kind of progress that Japandroids is all about.

If you want to catch Japandroids live, they’re coming to Union Transfer February 24th and 25th. The first date is already sold out, but you can still get tickets for the second, so head over to XPN’s Concert Calendar and grab them before it’s too late.