This week, The Strokes release their new album, Angles, their first since going on an “indefinite hiatus” after touring for 2006’s First Impressions of Earth. That’s a long time for a band that burst onto the scene in 2001 with a huge, “we’re bringing in an entirely new era of rock music” buzz around them.
The band has said some not-so-cheery things about the recording sessions for Angles, even going so far as to say that it was an "awful" experience. That might make someone expect it to sound as fractured as the recording process that created it, but for the most part that isn't the case.
If the band’s hiatus was an attempt to take some time off and refresh their creative batteries, then it’s safe to say it was well-timed. First Impressions of Earth was decent, but at that point, as the band’s third album in 6 years, it was apparent that they were running out of ideas. The music on Angles is VERY different from the tried-and-true “Strokes sound”. The songs are not straightforward rock numbers with vocalist Julian Casablancas slurring his words over Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr.’s guitar riffery.
Instead, Angles is filled with much more abstractly arranged and structured songs, such as album opener Machu Picchu. Sounding like it was lifted from a Talking Heads album, it’s a great introduction to the odd vibes of this album. There’s no lack of groove on this one, accentuated with some echo-y guitar work and some sweet percussive touches. Casablancas snarls about putting your body to the test and trying to find a mountain I can climb before humming over the instruments toward the end. It seriously sounds like it could be a song made in 1986, and that statement is meant in the best way possible. After calmly singing most of the song, Julian yells a bit at the end until the whole thing comes to a raucous finish.
Under Cover of Darkness, the most Strokes-ian song on the record, finds Casablancas sounding younger than he did on Is This It way back ten years ago. It’s a bouncy, catchy song, primed for radio play, despite Julian’s claim that he won’t be a puppet on a string. Valensi’s guitar solo after the first chorus is pretty juicy, too.
Things start getting weird with Two Kinds of Happiness. Beginning with Julian’s low-register humming and building steadily with staccato guitars, the song is notable for its inability to really go anywhere yet still remain interesting. It builds and builds, bringing in some fast guitar noodling before going back to the downbeat vocal harmonies. It’s definitely an experimental song, and one that a lot of casual Strokes fans may find very confusing.
You’re So Right, written by bassist Nikolai Fraiture, ramps up the strangeness, with even more off-key vocal harmonies and Casablancas sounding as if he was making up his vocals on the spot. You’re So Right is not a crisp, tight song, but rather another attempt at being really unpredictable and experimental. Despite its bizarre elements, the song works thanks to the ominous tone and frantic drumming by Fabrizio Moretti.
The chorus of Taken for a Fool is reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which is admittedly a strange comparison to make when discussing the Strokes. Julian says things like You’re so gullible but I don’t mind/I don’t need any more women right now/ Monday, Tuesday is my weekend right before another great instrumental break driven by Moretti and his drum kit. This is one of the album’s strongest tracks, with every band member at his best.
Games brings back the 1980s again, synth and gentle guitars giving way to a strong chorus featuring Casablancas’ layered vocals. Its downbeat, low-key flourishes are similar to those found in You’re So Right, but this song will probably be easier to get into than the previous one, in part due to the synth and a pretty smooth instrumental part in the middle.
Call Me Back is the album’s mellowest moment, and is a bit more straightforward than the adventurous, all-over-the-map sound of the other songs. Because of that, the song is not as grabbing as the others. But hey, every album needs a slow jam, right?
Things pick up again with Gratisfaction, a song that sounds oddly familiar and yet new at the same time. Maybe the sound is “vintage”, maybe it’s “throwback”, but whatever it is it’s a good time. On Metabolism, Julian laments that I want to be outrageous/But inside I know I’m lame, which could either be some scathing self-criticism or just words that fit the verse. Whatever their intent, the song is a standout in the same way You’re So Right and Games were. The downbeat instrumentation gives the song a quiet intensity that fits Julian’s vocals perfectly.
The album closes out with Life Is Simple In The Moonlight, a tune that finds Julian mostly singing softly and often along with the guitar melody. Rather than end the album with a bland softer song, Life Is Simple wraps things up on a catchy and memorable note.
Angles is a much more challenging Strokes record than the previous three. Their hiatus and the markedly different approach with this record suggest that they were bored with their old sound. On this new one, there are also shades of Julian’s solo album Phrazes for the Young, which was also very 80s-tinged and synthed-out much in the same way Angles is.
These songs aren’t as immediately accessible as Last Nite, Reptilia or Someday, but they’re a solid representation of where the band is now. The album is the end result of a tumultuous, high-pressure experience in the studio, and has given the band the same kind of intensity and hostility that they had back in their early days.
Despite their current internal conflicts, Angles is the Strokes saying that they’re back and making new rules this time, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
See you at Coachella, dudes!