I’m walking out the door for a run I’m unprepared for. It’s one of my first workouts since a substantial injury this spring and I’m nervous. I try to tell myself it’s low key and any music will be fine, but I hesitate in the doorway and stare at my laptop. I feel uneasy leaving without my most powerful weapon, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock. An easy run is one thing, but workouts…workouts are scary. I decide to take the extra five minutes to load the eight MP3s onto my newly resurrected iPod Shuffle, even if it costs me precious daylight. I feel relaxed now.
Post-collegiate running can be excruciatingly lonely, with the lack of structured practice, teammates, coaches, and collective goals. Every day is a test of your dedication. Getting into racing shape or recovering from an injury feels less urgent when no one is holding you accountable. It’s no secret that running sucks, so when you find a trick that works, you can’t ignore it. When I need to get after it, I need Celebration Rock.
As with a successful run, a successful rock record paces itself and finishes strong. Celebration Rock’s superior back half recalls similarly-structured albums like Funeral and Purple Rain, both of which also start hot and soar to inconceivable heights by raising the emotional stakes on Side B. But just because it finishes strong doesn’t mean the early songs on Celebration Rock aren’t total barn burners too. Most bands would record the bombastic “Fire’s Highway” and reserve it as the encore song for the rest of their careers; for Japandroids, it’s just a warm-up. The consistent intensity throughout the album is key for locking into the tenacious mindset needed for a workout; if the music doesn’t ease up, you’re less likely to ease up.
It should be noted here that Celebration Rock is NOT warm-up music. Its pedal-to-the-metal spirit will likely just induce stress if deployed too early. For maximum effect, press play right before starting the “on” portion of the workout. Assuming I skip the glaring misstep of the “For The Love of Ivy” cover, my typical 25-minute workout will end just before the slow burn of closer “Continuous Thunder,” the album’s sole ballad.
The album begins ceremoniously with fireworks. The gradual build of opener “The Night of Wine and Roses” allows a little time to shake out the junk as the distant drums come into focus, but the charging guitar is close behind. Much like the mentality required for an endurance workout, Celebration Rock gets out of the gate quickly and doesn’t relent, building upon its own intensity, pushing harder even when it doesn’t feel possible.
You’ll never convince me that there’s a harder sport than distance running. The mental battles don’t disappear even with years of experience. Workouts aren’t complete without a self-loathing inner dialogue, as you question life choices and fantasize about twisting an ankle in order to quit for the day. It’s a sport of constant push and pull; the humbling failures make the positive—a PR, an exploratory run in a new city, a fast last rep—all the more gratifying.
For me, Celebration Rock rises above my other music options because of its uplifting nature. It’s wide-eyed excitement blown up to colossal proportions; there’s not an ounce of anger to be found. When I’m alone on the trail, it’s comforting to have music that so adamantly believes in itself; it’s infectious. When negativity knocks, it’s beaten down with extreme earnestness and killer riffs. The melodic and catchy writing is easy on the body when it’s not in a place to handle anything abrasive. Even when I’m going at full speed with my face contorted in pain, my reflexes take over to smash imaginary cymbals and silently yell along during the record’s biggest “WHOA”s.
Yes, I probably look very weird.
During a recent outing, I finished my planned workout during “Younger Us,” but I couldn’t call it a day because I knew what was coming next. I was totally ready to start my cool-down; my body was spent and it would welcome the pathetic crawl home. But “The House That Heaven Built” was calling and it felt blasphemous to even consider going less than 150%. I mustered up the drive to get through a handful of 30-second sprints behind the pounding epic unfolding in my earbuds; Brian King sounded like he was exerting as much as I was. Even during my final rep, when everything in my body was begging me to stop, I was animatedly mouthing “AND THEY WILL” during the chorus. To me, it was as if King was singing “When he finishes, AND HE WILL” and I was screaming back that yes, I will.
I understand why the hyperbolic approach of Celebration Rock might prompt eyerolls. These are guys whose grand romantic statement is “If I had all of the answers/And you had the body you wanted/Would we love like a legendary fire?” You could practically write your own Japandroids song using a word bank of drink, hell, yeah, love, and fire. But if you go in ready to believe, you will be carried along for an exhilarating ride.
The emotional heaviness of Celebration Rock arises from the effort put forth by the band. Statements like “Give me younger us” and “You’re not mine to die for anymore/So I must live” carry weight beyond their words when Brian King is singing as if he’ll never speak again. A similar relationship can be applied to running; the highs and lows of the sport are amplified by the deovtion, both mental and physical, that goes into the Miles of Trials.
Sadly, I’m writing this as I await surgery next month to repair an injured hip that has sidelined me for most of 2017. The multi-month recovery period with no running means that it will be a long time without Celebration Rock. Ever since realizing its divine calling as a workout companion, throwing the record on casually isn’t an option. If I can’t commit myself to the music appropriately, it feels wrong to listen at all. Celebration Rock has cemented its importance in my life because of the extremes I’ve experienced with it by my side.
I’m trying to stay positive and focus on the long-term, all of the pain-free running waiting for me in 2018. Being able to chase PRs and challenge my limits.
I can’t wait to hear those fireworks again.