23 03 2011

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Angles
The Strokes

8 out of 10

 

The Strokes are back, and so are the 80′s

by Jericho Cerrona
March 23, 2011


Much has already been made of the fractious relationship between The Strokes singer Julian Casablancas and his bandmates while creating their latest LP, Angles. Apparently, the whole thing was recorded in bits and pieces, with Casablancas sending in his vocal tracks while the rest of the group fleshed out the songwriting process. This push and pull quality is certainly apparent on their first album in five years, and while it is at times a scattershot listen, the record also reveals itself as one of the band’s most interesting efforts to date.

When the New York-based band arrived on the music scene in the early 2000’s, amidst a flurry of UK-inspired New Wave/post-punk revivalists such as Interpol and Franz Ferdinand, they were instantly branded as the new saviors of rock and roll. Their debut, 2001’s Is This It?, was a commercial and critical smash, making numerous best album of the year lists and selling sold over 3 million copies to date. Their follow-up, 2003’s Room On Fire, though less commercially successful than its predecessor, was still a critical darling and further cemented the band’s reputation. But that all seemed to change with the release of 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, a more experimental and vastly under-appreciated bit of arena rock that had many fans and critics proclaiming this was the end of the band. In some ways they were right, as they disbanded shortly thereafter.

Casablancas would go on to release the superb solo album Phrazes for the Young in 2009, and in many ways the diversity of that record is present during much of Angles. Let’s face it; this is not the same band that came roaring out of the gate in 2001, so those pining for the good old days of melodic garage rock will likely be let down. In doing so, however, they will miss out on an eclectic collection of tunes that combine everything from futuristic electro, 80’s power pop, all the way to drone rock. Despite slight changes in direction though, there is still quite a bit here that will remind fans of the signature Strokes sound, with stripped down melodies and plenty of hooks.

Opener “Machu Picchu” starts things off with a bit of garage pop-gone-reggae, with strumming guitar jangle, shuffling drums/percussion and Casablanca’s voice reaching upper registers towards the song’s end. Lead single “Under Cover of Darkness” seems to be the most radio-friendly tune, with a catchy chorus and exuberant spirit that will remind fans of the band’s early work. But it’s the artier songs here that pay the most dividends, proving that The Strokes are not simply trying to rehash past glories. The electronic, beat-driven “You’re So Right” sounds like one of Radiohead’s more recent entries, while “Games” is an 80’s New Wave rocker that sounds a lot like Casablanca’s’ solo work.

But not all of the experimentation works. “Metabolism”, sure to be one of the more divisive tracks, sounds a little too much like a lo-fi version of Muse, with its proggy synths and operatic background voices, and “Call Me Back”, while a nice change of pace, is too inconsequential to leave much of an impression. But closer “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” brings The Stroke’s strengths back to the forefront, with its airy guitar and Casablancas’ singing the excellent line “There is no one I disapprove of or root for more than myself” over shimmering keyboards.

Angles may be panned by many critics for not being a signature Strokes album, but despite the New Wave/synth pop leanings, this is still a Strokes record in spirit. Though at times disjointed (the track sequencing makes it hard to get a handle on a proper flow at times), this is a real showcase for guitarists Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi, who play off each other brilliantly. Also, though Casablancas has been accused in the past for lacking range, he does some interesting things with his voice here, going from his typical monotone drawl to a higher pitched falsetto as well as a gentler kind of croon. Angles is the proof that despite the well documented band in-fighting, or perhaps because of it, The Strokes are still able to craft a solid and surprisingly diverse record.

“Games” by The Strokes

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