Release Date: Oct 28, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There’s still something warm and fuzzy about ‘New Skin’, despite CRX chief protagonist Nick Valensi’s attempts to make it anything but. It’s not the sounds themselves - they’re a curious mishmash between his famed Strokes noodling and a darker tinge not a million miles away from producer Josh Homme’s best-loved work - but the reassuring familiarity of it all. While we’ve not heard Nick’s vocals out front before, those frantic fretwork and well-trodden chord changes work like an aural comfort blanket.
It's been 15 years since the Strokes' classic debut Is This It, and at this point every member of the band has been involved in a side project or solo outing of one sort or another. Guitarist Nick Valensi is the last Stroke to try out his own, and he opens his first record fronting CRX with a likably self-effacing joke: "I got ways to fake it/You'll never know," the guitarist sings, perhaps hinting at some of his apprehensions about stepping up as lead vocalist for the first time. He needn't have worried.
Considering that Nick Valensi was the last member of the Strokes to pursue a side project, it wouldn't have been surprising if he had stuck to collaborations with artists like Devendra Banhart, Regina Spektor, and Sia. With CRX, however, he takes his turn as a frontman, surrounding himself with members of Guards, the Dose, and the Reflections. On New Skin, the band borrows the shiniest and crunchiest parts of power pop and metal from the '70s and '80s -- styles the Strokes flirted with on albums like Angles and songs such as "Juicebox," but CRX trades that band's New York cool for California chill with the help of producer Josh Homme.
The unbounded freedom of a debut album can certainly be overwhelming for a songwriter. An emerging band can go in any direction, and the first album lays the groundwork for their music going forward. Luckily for Nick Valensi, he had a strong foundation to fall back on when he set out to make New Skin with the other members of CRX: a decade of experience with one of the most well-known rock bands of the 21st century.
History may remember the Strokes as a band who could never repeat the brilliance of their debut, but there’s plenty to enjoy in some of the spin-off records that followed: Julian Casablancas’s caustic electro, Fab Moretti’s bossa nova-tinged pop. Guitarist Nick Valensi’s latest project doesn’t extend that list. Fronted by Valensi and produced by Josh Homme, CRX have excellent credentials, but echoes of their better-known bands – the Strokesy riffs of Anything, the sludgy stoner-rock intro of Broken Bones – only serve to emphasise the ordinariness of the songwriting here.
‘New Skin’ was recorded with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme in the producer’s chair and there are rumbles of his bone-shaking style throughout.‘Unnatural’ is full of sexy, snarling swagger and ‘Walls’ zips by on a wave of thundering riffs. Elsewhere there are hints of industrial (‘Money Machine’) and even reggae (‘Slow Down’), all proving that Nick Valensi has plenty of ideas and invention to offer outside of The Strokes. .
A weekly round-up of must-hear music from The Times staffers. This week’s picks include the latest from politically aware hip-hop star Common as well as a solo debut from a member of the Strokes. CRX, ‘New Skin’ (Columbia) This is a modal window. Has any rock band ever spun off as many side projects as the Strokes? Joining a long list of acts that includes singer Julian Casablancas’ Voidz and bassist Nikolai Fraiture’s Summer Moon, Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi just released his debut album as the frontman of CRX, a Los Angeles-based combo that also features Richie Follin of Guards and the Willowz.