album review: the strokes, angles
Breaking news! The Strokes’ new album Angles literally just came out: March 18, 2011 in Australia and March 22, 2011 in the US.
When there were even rumors of this album dropping last month, The Strokes became a trending topic on Twitter faster than anything I’ve ever seen. And for good reason – the band is perhaps the largest cornerstone of the “The” bands revival of the aughts. Along with bands like The Vines and The Hives, The Strokes pioneered the “good” music of early 2000s that made kids like me realize how lame pop was getting. Personally, I like The Strokes and will listen on a fairly regular basis, but they don’t hold the same place in my fangirl heart as The Black Keys or even Gaga. I forget how old I was or which magazine it was in, but I read an interview with The Strokes’ videographer a long time ago in which she explained that she dropped everything she was doing to become a loyal Strokes fan because she had never seen anything like what they were doing before. And while that does sound a little like Penny Lane from Almost Famous, it’s coming from a good place. Before bands like The Strokes made it big with the release of Is This It in 2001, there weren’t any Beatles or Rolling Stones of the music of our generation. Sure, we had *NSYNC and, I don’t know, Ja Rule maybe, but no rock supergroup that was able to reach such heights of mainstream success was really around until The Strokes showed up to the party. With names like Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr. and Fabrizio Moretti, how can these guys not absolutely rule?
Somehow modernizing a sound that mixes Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty and The Ramones, The Strokes’ brand of guitar-driven, loud, lazy and hazy vocals rock and roll has come to shape the indie music scene since their first LP, 2001’s This Modern Age. Suddenly people remembered how awesome rock music was and lead single “Last Nite” was everywhere from iPod commercials to the mall to dive bars in every dirty city you can think of all over the world. I have never met anyone I thought was interesting that didn’t like The Strokes.
Their influence is widespread, both musically and culturally. They were the Lower East Side hipsters who were disinterested, unabashedly good-looking and somehow able to make being poor cool long before skinny jeans were easy to find. That’s all well and good, but the fact of the matter is, their music backs it all up – the feeling, the production, the image, it’s all so key to a facet of our generation that The Strokes are absolutely impossible to ignore.
The band rode their initial wave of success right into their second album, releasing Room on Fire in early 2003, which yielded perhaps one of my top five favorite songs ever, “Reptilia”. In January 2006, they released First Impressions of Earth, an album full of songs like “You Only Live Once” and “Juicebox” that showcased Casablancas’s stripped down lead vocals, without the layered vocal production that had helped define the band’s early sound. The album got mixed reviews, but The Strokes were still able to use their gravitational pull to remain relevant in the still then-emerging indie music scene. It was after First Impressions of Earth that the band took a break for a few years. Solo projects were pursued, batteries were charged, rehabilitations were finally received, etc. The Strokes grew up and were quiet to the world while so doing.
Their introspective three to five years was well spent. While I can’t be honest in writing that Angles is the kind of monumental comeback I think the general music world was expecting and will probably project onto the release, the band’s growth on the album is amazing. I always like to see any band succeed who tries to think outside of the lines their own sound has kind of drawn. On Angles, The Strokes do this, and do it well.
There is a new vocal depth in “Games” and “Call Me Back” that adds electronic production to a Strokes-ed out own version of harmonization to Casablancas’ usually dominant howls. “Under the Cover of Darkness” is the album’s lead single and a sufficient good representation of the band’s matured yet stylistic sound. If you watch the video, you can see The Strokes have cleaned up a bit and can hear the band creatively challenging its own sound. Beyond the rounded out production techniques and new vocal depths, Angles has its references to different older music, too. Gone are the expected punk and rock influenced that made their earlier albums so astounding. Instead, we hear “Two Kinds of Happiness” reminiscent of everything I love about 80s music, while “Gratisfaction” sounds like Steeley Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” and features a loud, harmonious chorus that the Beatles might be proud of. It’s surely refreshing to see a band who has so clearly defined their sound as “garage-punk revival” tap into new creative spaces. These parts of Angles where the band pushes itself are where the album succeeds most. I must admit that I’m curious to see how the world reacts when Angles hits the shelves here in the US. Even I was skeptical of how different the album was at first. Until I had listened to it a few hundred times through these past two days, this review might’ve sounded a lot different. But bottom line is: good job boys, I’m sure I’m not the only one ecstatic to see you again.