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To-the-point Tokyo Police Club Will Never Play "free Bird"

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You're not the only one who thinks Tokyo Police Club's debut album, Elephant Shell, is too short. Keyboardist Graham Wright has heard that complaint about a zillion times since the record came out last April. And he agrees with you - it is a brief album, clocking in at less than half an hour. But in an era when Guns N' Roses ruin a perfectly good Chinese Democracy by tacking on an extra four or five songs and Lil Wayne fills every single second of a CD's capacity with rhymes about his breakfast, maybe we shouldn't complain.

Tokyo Police Club's songs take just as long as they need to make their points - no more, no less, says Wright. "We don't time the songs when we write them," he says. "They feel long. We'll write a song and think, 'Oh man, that one's gotta be four minutes.' Then we'll time it and it's two-and-a-half."

Plus, there's this: The band regards its 2006 EP, A Lesson in Crime (which had the indie-rock community drooling upon its release), as its debut statement - even though it ran only 16 minutes. "We toured on it so much and we supported it so heavily [that] for all intents and purposes, other than length, it was more than just a taster," says Wright. "I really consider it our first record."

Clearly, the guys in Tokyo Police Club (Wright, singer-bassist David Monks, guitarist Josh Hook and drummer Greg Alsop) don't pay much attention to industry convention. If they want to call their EP an album, fine - it's an album. And if they claim their 28-minute record is just the right length, no problem. They never looked at anyone else's career as a guidepost anyway.

The group formed in 2005 in Newmarket, Ontario. It's close to Toronto. But Wright, the band's very prolific blogger ("There's a lot of spare time when you're on tour," he laughs), says it's ridiculous to slot Tokyo Police Club in with other Canadian bands just because, you know, they're from Canada. "It's a huge piece of land," he says. "The music made in Toronto is going to be very different from the music made in Vancouver, which is going to be different from the music made in Halifax. Still, people want to lump it into one big Canadian Rock category."

Hanging out in local clubs, the four members absorbed the sounds they heard: a little bit of garage, some post-punk, a whole lotta all-encompassing indie-rock. "We've always excelled at being rip-off artists," says Wright. "We listen to a lot of music but nothing really leftfield. Nobody's into crazy jazz or bizarre electronic music."

Within a year, the guys (all just out of their teens) released A Lesson in Crime, which swept the Internet like an Arcade Fire. They played the massive Coachella and Glastonbury music festivals. And they waited for the inevitable backlash from the fickle hipsters who originally embraced them. "When our album came out, I read the reviews," says Wright. "But it got to a point where I stopped caring. It doesn't matter to me. I made the record and I like it."

Elephant Shell's 11 songs range from over-caffeinated pop-punk ("Your English Is Good") to Decemberists-like word-twisters ("Tessellate"). Only one cut stretches beyond the three-minute mark. Opener "Centennial" doesn't even make it to two minutes. And it all rushes past before you even have time to notice if there's anything wrong with it.

The buzz - plus a connected pal - took the guys all the way to Desperate Housewives in November, when they portrayed a group called Cold Splash in an episode featuring a battle of the bands (they performed Elephant Shell's "In a Cave"). Unfortunately, the prime-time exposure didn't result in a No. 1 album the following week. "We weren't fooling ourselves into thinking we were going to suddenly crack the 30-to-50-year-old-woman demographic," says Wright. "We knew we weren't going to be the next Josh Groban."

After a short break, Tokyo Police Club is on the road again. The guys pretty much have been there since A Lesson in Crime came out three years ago. They really haven't had time to work on any new material, so their sets consist mostly of some combination of the 22 songs they've recorded so far (there's also a four-song EP from 2007). That gives them about, oh, 53 minutes onstage. "Some nights we play faster than others," says Wright. "But we've played shows that hit the 60-minute mark. It is technically possible for us to play for an hour."

More by Michael Gallucci

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