The Strokes have, after several delays, released the two-years-in-the making Angles, a blend of electronica and rock and roll reminiscent of ’70s guitar rock (what we have come to expect from The Strokes) and ’80s synth pop (the new). Angles jumps between these two centuries, combining elements of both and creating an album that is at best described as eccentric, at worst disjointed.
The guitar-driven garage-rock of The Strokes is taken in Angles as a guide rather than a definite plan. What was formerly their distinctive sound is lost to the ’80s synth that singer Julian Casablancas has incorporated into the work. Angles breaks away from their previous success to transcend the expectation of garage-rock and move into an era of synth-revival, in the vein of LCD Soundsystem and Iron and Wine, along with dozens of up-and-coming bands all inspired by this movement – it’s the popular thing to do.
The Strokes have stepped away from their former style in a big way, so those of you expecting to hear grungy Is This It? or guitar-heavy First Impressions of Earth hits will be sorely disappointed. Personally, my first run-through with the album left me confused. My high school soundtrack consisted of “Last Night” covers from Is This It? and “Reptilia” replays on Rock Band; hearing this new electronic based rock was an affront to the warm memories I had of the band. I dismissed the album almost immediately. However, after reading a scathing Pitchfork review – apparently if you’re not Kanye or Arcade Fire they don’t take to your music – I decided to give it another go. Needless to say, the album proved to be a diamond in the rough, beautiful in its own strange way.
“I’m putting your patience to the test,” sings Julian Casablancas, lead singer, which he really does in this album. “Machu Picchu,” the opening song, is a taste of the album, a combination of synth-electronica and guitar, with solid bass beats and drumming forming its foundation. At some point they introduce the bongos amidst a storm of guitar riffs in the chorus – a testament to their unchanging nature. This song stands amongst the rest as the turning point from the past. The bass, which once played a crucial part in earlier albums, is put to the aside in favor of electronic noise. The drums are solid and tempered relative to the wild style of Fabrizio Moretti in the past, indicative of a more mature musical creation moving away from the unrestrained garage-rock we had become so accustomed to. “Under the Cover of Darkness” follows similarly, though it is more reminiscent of the guitar-based songs of former albums. “Two Kinds of Happiness” opens with a synth keyboard introducing the song, sounding more like The Cure than anything The Strokes have done. At times the synth is overdone, and the introduction of this new theme in music is disruptive in relation to the songs that had come before.
“Taken for a Fool” and “Gratisfaction” are, along with “Under the Cover of Darkness” and “Machu Picchu,” the most solid tracks of the album. Acknowledging and incorporating a new style of music into something that is already almost perfect is difficult, and these tracks show how The Strokes have best incorporated their former guitar-rock roots with the synth-revival style that they have aimed for. While some tracks like “Two Kinds of Happiness,” “Games” and “Life Is Simple” embellish on the new style, they are tied down by the balanced songs mentioned above. In putting these two radically different styles together, The Strokes create the disruptive feeling mentioned above, making the album difficult to appreciate initially.
Stylistically, Julian Casablancas, the mastermind of the previous three albums, has stepped aside, allowing the other band members to take more control of the content of the album. Whereas Casablancas would once write guitar and bass lines as well as lyrics, he has now taken material written by each member in creating the album concept – perhaps leading to the disjointed overall feel. The multiple creative opinions coming together on the album lead to a more wholesome musical experience, though the sounds do not always fit together seamlessly. One can only hope that their next album, which has already been confirmed by the band, will emphasize collaboration over innovation.
This article is the first in a new column of the Arts section, “Fresh off the Airwaves,” which is written in collaboration with WCFM. The column will appear regularly in the Record and will include an album review and a rating out of five stars.