Captured Tracks’s latest batch of neo-Nuggets has been mining more and more material from overseas. Hanoi Janes of Germany comes up and over the top of the rest of the field of just pretty good singles from similar bands, albeit in the most lackadaisical fashion possible. Let’s not make too big a deal of it, though, or start talking about some kind of Brooklyn Invasion. “Fun music” is hardly something that can be pinned down to a specific geography or starting point, much less defined with any seriousness. The Beets are more or less the standard-bearers for the house party/house recording vibe, but they’re just the latest in a long line. Cloud Nothings have heeded the call in the historically weird clime of Cleveland, while So Cow’s been representing the Irish party pop contingent. So you can try to make the case that the Hanoi Janes are making the too-uncool-for-school kids in Germany relevant, but that’s missing the point. Year of Panic is really just another pertinent exhibit in the case for chilling the fuck out.
Love songs, beach blanket songs, going out songs: these are all just variations on a theme of being young and doing stupid stuff. An ancient theme, at that, and maybe the best for this kind of music. Songs like “Our Lives” are selfishly of the moment. There’s nothing to get. You’re either at the party, or on your way. If this is not your state of mind, you are doing something wrong. It’s all mischief and lightheartedness, as outlined on “Bad Attitude.” Whereas Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” was equal parts triumphant boast and a warning to hide your daughters, “The Boys Are Out” is more closely aligned with Cyndi Lauper’s sentiments on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Even love stories are approached with this puckishness, starting with “Can I Walk You Home?” and quickly progressing to “Good Bone” before resolving itself with album ender “Past Lovers.” There’s an equal mix of boyish arrogance and naïveté that shows broken hearts can still be a good time.
Few songs demand your complete attention. In this case, the general noisiness surrounding the pop racket not only makes sense, but benefits these songs. It’s all about a party atmosphere and instant gratification, not deep listening and guitar calisthenics. It’s the same no bullshit approach to simple absurdity that works so well for the Beets. The idealized guitar and three-chord approach still has some legs. Especially with the charmingly odd toy synth that tags along from time to time, and elevates the ordinariness of “Beach Kids” to a whimsical level.
So why the panic? The album isn’t entirely a misnomer. Ultimately, Hanoi Janes possesses the same post-adolescent excitement for digging on grown bodies without any responsibility. But, as is true for any first-timer, there’s also a tremendous amount of anxiety for immediacy. Just because these songs are fleeting and ephemeral in sentiment doesn’t mean they aren’t burdened with a lasting self-awareness. It’s how completely they come to terms with mortality in both message and form that makes them last. When you take a look at the total here and now of “Our Lives,” it becomes clear that this is a form of anti-nostalgia. The song is focused with being right here, not rushing off somewhere unknown. The case being made here is that youth isn’t always wasted on the young. Or if it is, old fogies are in no position to make that call.