Friday, March 25, 2011

The Strokes - 'Angles' (RCA)

Upon hearing the news that The Strokes would be releasing an album this year, I felt, well, let’s just say nostalgic.  I had lived out my teenage years feeling a sense of superiority because I actually listened to a “cool” band in a world filled with 12 year olds that were listening to Avril Lavigne and Nickelback . Needless to say this sense of superiority ended when I was about sixteen, after The Strokes announced they would be taking an extended hiatus.  Fans and critics began to wonder, what’s going to happen to this band that had such a profound impact on the independent music scene of the early 2000’s?

Well, four years later the band is back, experiencing the expectations of both fans and critics alike. Despite pressure to redevelop their old sound, the band still managed to do what they wanted (and act like they still don’t care) with Angles. During those four years on hiatus, each member of the band found their own sound, their own niche so to speak.  Albert Hammond Jr. released two solo albums comparable in lyricism and guitar melody, however, the guitarist created a more refined sound, a less fuzzy and lo-fi indie sound than that of the band.  Lead singer Julian Casablancas dabbled in synth pop on his solo album Phrazes for The Young while maintaining the same lyricism and vocal sound that made him so popular.  The other members of the band also ventured into their own projects, each developing their own artistic style.

The four year hiatus seems to have prepared the band for their new release Angles. Although the first single “Undercover of Darkness” was met with critical acclaim and thoughts that the band was returning to the sound of their debut Is This It, critics soon found that the song is one of only a few on the new album that are comparable to the first album.  The rest of the songs are quite different, each being influenced by the sounds and songwriting ability that the band developed after 2006’s release First Impressions of Earth

Now on to the songs:
 The first track “Machu Pichu” is influenced with reggae-like rhythm and is one of the band’s most experimental songs.  The third track “Two Kinds of Happiness” sounds like a song from The Goonies soundtrack, showing how Casablancas has brought his own style and 80’s influences to this album. As a whole, Angles adds a more filtered and clean sound to the band’s repertoire.  Songs like “Taken for a Fool” and ““Life is Simple in the Moonlight” include the lead and rhythm guitar of Nick Valensi and Hammond Jr. that made them so famous, but in a less garage/underground rock infused way.  These two songs, as well as track four, “You’re So Right,” tie into the clean and crisp sound of Albert Hammond Jr.’s two solo works.  As a whole, the lyricism and vocals of singer Julian Casablancas are on point.  His voice sounds refreshed and more powerful than it did on the last album.  However, It seems as though the band is relying less on Casablancas’s vocals and songwriting ability than ever before. Songs like “Taken for A Fool”(Valensi) and the last track “Gratisfaction”(Moretti) show how the other members of the band have improved their composition and writing capabilities, contributing heavily to the songwriting credit of this album.  This is a contrast to the Casablancas dominated albums of the past. 

This may not be a return to form for the band, but it is definitely an album filled with growth. With more members contributing to the actual composition and lyrics of the album, fans and listeners get a more collaborative effort from the band.  Although fair-weather fans of The Strokes may be disappointed that the album is not like Is This It or Room on Fire, they can at least be happy with the fact that the band is together.  It may take them an album to shake off the cobwebs of a four-year hiatus, but at least they are back.  Another important aspect to look at is the fact that The Strokes are still relevant in today’s music industry.  Angles is an album from a band that people still expect great music from. They aren’t a bunch of fifty year olds trying to go on tour (U2), they are a band that is still in their prime.  Angles may not be what fans and critics expected, but like any other good band, The Strokes are trying something different. They are not catering to listeners and critics by trying to repeat the past.  They are developing a new style, and they succeed in doing that.  Angles may not be the band’s best effort, but it is definitely not their worst.  It is still a fine album that many fans will enjoy.  Take it or leave it, the main message presented is that The Strokes are back and, quite frankly, they probably do not care what you think.  

By Dan Davis