Release Date: Mar 22, 2011
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Click to listen to The Strokes' "Under Cover of Darkness" "Don't try to stop us/Get out of the way," Julian Casablancas sings with a snapping relish at the end of Angles, the Strokes' new album, in a song called "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight." That's a rich sign-off for five guys with peculiar ideas about momentum. The New York band's last record, the ambitious and wobbly First Impressions of Earth, came out five years ago. Angles took nearly two years to write and record, including one mostly scrapped set of sessions.
I never thought I’d be making this statement about a Strokes record, but the New York band’s fourth album is packed with surprises. Sure, the defining formal fundaments remain: the highly stylized, hermetic sound; the obsessively vacuum-packed rhythm tracks of drummer Fab Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture; the meticulous guitar interplay of Nick Valenzi and Albert Hammond Jr.; Julian Casablancas’ detached, vampire-nocturnal vocals. But atop this aural/stylistic architecture, the band proceeds to toss one lively curveball after another, resulting in an engagingly eclectic, improbably upbeat stack of tracks.
Review Summary: Angles was never meant to be Is This It? for a new decade. Instead, Angles is the sound of a band maturing.Generally, there are two ways to find success in our “non-classical” musical world (a general term I will use to describe the areas of music that websites such as Sputnikmusic might cover). The first is obvious -- make great music.
THE STROKES Angles (Sony) Rating: NNNN Ten years after they were supposed to save rock 'n' roll, and five years since their last album, the Strokes sound like a band trying to figure out who they've become. You can hear them stretching themselves in different directions, then occasionally retreating to archetypal Strokes formulas, and it's readily apparent that Julian Casablancas isn't dominating the songwriting any more. One minute they sound like the Cars, and the next they're paying tribute to Thin Lizzy while still dropping enough nods to contemporary trends to avert retro accusations.
Lackluster reviews for their last album. A five-year hiatus. Well-documented discord within the ranks. Ungodly expectations. Intense anticipation. This is what The Strokes were up against when they set out to record Angles. The result is mixed and at times strained, but a spark still lies within ….
It’d be nice to live as one of The Strokes. Just their mere existence seems enthralling. Although Julian Casablancas always looks two shades away from a drug addict – you know, disheveled, sleep deprived, and with hair in dire need of Pert Plus – he still shuffles around with this aura that sells him as the coolest fucking guy on the planet. The same applies to the four others, who all still look like they’re in their early 20s.
When the Strokes returned from their lengthy post-First Impressions of Earth hiatus with Angles, they’d been apart almost as long as they’d been together. While they were gone, they cast a long shadow: upstarts like the Postelles and Neon Trees borrowed more than a few pages from their stylebook, and even established acts like Phoenix used the band’s strummy guitar pop for their own devices. During that time, the members of the Strokes pursued side projects that were more or less engaging, but it felt like the band still had unfinished business; though First Impressions was ambitious, it didn’t feel like a final statement.
“I understand what people want,” [a]Julian Casablancas[/a] insisted in these very pages a little over a month ago. “But things have changed. ” Well, duh, Jules.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago about the Strokes that just stuck in my head. Asked what he expected from their fourth record, a friend answered “It will be great, yeah, it will. ” Really? How do you know that? My critical hackles rose in anticipation “I just don’t think they can make a bad record, you know, like Beethoven, I just don’t think they can!” Admittedly I’m not capable of commenting on the works of Beethoven, but pop bands throughout history have so often been proved fallible; in a world of deadlines, labels and publicity any band can be forced into releasing an undesirable product.
That Angles is released a decade after the Strokes’ landmark debut Is This It only invites and begs for comparisons and retrospectives, whether or not it’s fair to judge an album on the merits of another, especially one that’s been such a hard act to follow. But it’s like the band itself is resigned to acknowledge that reality, as Julian Casablancas identifies the lose-lose situation in which the Strokes find themselves, on the new record’s most Strokes-like track, the single “Under Cover of Darkness”. When Casablancas snarks, “Everybody’s singing the same song for ten years” on it, he might as well be speaking to the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t corner the iconic group is backed into on Angles, caught between doing what they’ve always been doing because they (and their fans) are nostalgic about their nostalgic rock or moving out of their comfort zone when, let’s face it, their strength has never been originality.
The Strokes aren’t the same band you fell in love with 10 years ago. Their fourth album, Angles, is incredibly restless, busy, and precise in a way the sets it miles away stylistically from their watershed Is This It. The band’s trademark dumb swagger has morphed into a kind of acute professionalism here, and that digitally processed production that producer Gordon Raphael reportedly worked against on the band’s debut EP, The Modern Age, has now taken center stage.
Review Summary: so long my friend.Let’s just look at this whole “angles” thing for a second. The big idea circling this record is its totally collaborative nature: this is the most boldly Julian Casablancas has stressed that he is not the Stroke but one of five. That's to the point where the album has even been named after its group mentality and the guy to explain that to us was Albert Hammond, Jr., who until now sort of felt like Casablanca’s second-in-command, I guess, because he was the second Stroke to get a writing credit with “Automatic Stop,” a track that slotted right into the band’s canon on Room on Fire, shuffling along unnoticed after “Reptillia” injected some venom into the aftermath of their debut.
The last time we saw the Strokes in a music video they were dead. In the visual for 2006's "You Only Live Once", the quintet wore all white while dark liquid filled the room, leaving them drowned and floating. And if that really had marked the end of the band, few would've been surprised. Their third album, First Impressions of Earth, had them limping, desperately trying to expand the signature sound that looked to be swallowing them up like so much black water.
Somewhere, a PR person is very mad at Julian Casablancas. There are many things a frontman should probably not do before his band's long-awaited fourth album is released, and "express serious doubts as to its quality" is pretty high up on that list. Especially when it turns out that those doubts make total sense. Most of Angles finds The Strokes trying as hard as possible not to sound like The Strokes.
Like the Allied invasion of Afghanistan, The Strokes more or less achieved everything they set out to in 2001, only to see the world they’d notionally saved turn increasingly hostile and indifferent. Fortunately there’s quite a big difference between an unpopular land war and being in an indie band - Is This It did quantifiably jump start a moribund alt.rock mainstream, and for that Julian Casablancas and co still enjoy considerably more goodwill than the average occupying Western power. But since quote-unquote saving us, there has, to a greater or lesser extent, been a tendency to wonder exactly what the point of The Strokes is now.
Afew weeks ago, a former NME editor was canvassed for his opinion on the Strokes. If his inquisitor had hoped for a measured response to the early highs and latter-day lows of their career, they had severely underestimated their interviewee. The Strokes, he announced, had irrevocably altered the course of popular culture, which apparently was "never the same again" after the release of their single Last Nite: "We had a new world." It was a bit hard to read without feeling your eyebrow involuntarily arching.
In a way, it all comes down to a voice. I can listen to Julian Casablancas sing anything. It wouldn’t matter if he were backed by The Strokes or the house band at Ark Music Factory. Maybe it’s that nasal quality, that slight sniveling buzz or burr that suggests not just coked-out bliss, but distance, detachment, a second-handedness.
Prepare to be smitten all over again, as the NYC outfit release a brilliant fourth album. Mike Diver 2011 Time isn’t kind to the cool. Disappear for too long, and nobody bats an eyelid when you return, fanfare conspicuous by its utter absence. Arriving over five years since their last LP, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, white-hot-back-when NYC combo The Strokes could have so easily found themselves beside the likes of Razorlight and Toploader in the pile of re-emerging artists probably without a place in 2011.
For a group whose fundamental artistic register has shifted so little in their 10 years, the Strokes really have come a long way. In fact, upon first listen to Angles, the Strokes’ fourth long-player (and first since 2006), a complete neophyte could be forgiven for outright refusing to believe that this band initially rode in on a much hyped wave of groups (the White Stripes, the Hives, the Vines) saddled with the lofty duty of “saving rock and roll”; to the contrary, many of the influences evident on Angles more directly recall styles of music that purists have hoped rock would be saved from—electronic pop, cheesy ’80s synth schlock, etc. And though bountiful pitfalls await less responsible artists who engage in flirtations of this ilk, the Strokes are rarely so careless—they tread into unknown territory one step at a time, and they know when to pull back.
Whatever happened to the likely lads from the beginning of the century? After the muddled, heavy rock of their last album, First Impressions of Earth, could we even have expected a fourth album from New York’s coolest band? Five years later with a myriad of solo projects, marriages, kids, drugs, and general loathing of each other, The Strokes return with Angles. It’s never a good sign when during the press for the album, the band mentions that they will never record in such a manner again. Or how the recording process was tortuous.
In 2001, The Strokes were heralded as rock and roll’s saviors. With retro-looking videos, carefully disheveled appearances, and a bona fide game-changer of an album in Is This It, the New York City band reclaimed cool to its rightful owners and reintroduced the world to the slacker anti-hero. Then – after a divisive third album that attempted to shake up the band’s garage rock formula – five years of nothing.