Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Strokes - Angles (2011)

The year was 2001. If you were a music fan at this time, there wasn’t a lot to choose from quality wise on mainstream radio. Boy bands and pop starlets ruled the charts, rap was heading full-steam towards its bling obsessed phase, and rock was fully entrenched in nu-metal. Sure, some great albums were being released at this time, such as Radiohead’s Kid A, but a combination of no singles released from the album, along with the challenging nature of the music, kept it hidden from the masses (We should remember; when Kid A was released, it was very polarizing among critics and fans).  If you wanted good music, and not just from Radiohead, you had to look for it. Every once in a while though, good music bubbles to the surface, and the mainstream can’t ignore it. Such was the story of The Strokes.

 Consisting of 5 NYU students who played rock music inspired by The Velvet Underground & The Stooges, The Strokes caught the attention of record companies after their first EP, The Modern Age became popular among critics in the UK. The bidding war for the band was one of the largest for a band at the time. They eventually signed with RCA, and recorded their debut Is This It. The album was very successful, leading to the garage rock revival of the early 2000’s, which had a two-fold effect; it rid the charts of nu-metal for good, and labels began raiding the underground, signing every raw sounding band they could find. Some of these bands were awful (The Vines), but others went on to find great success (The White Stripes, though they were around a couple of years before The Strokes).

As is the case with any band that has a successful debut album, following it up was a process. While Room on Fire was acclaimed for sticking close to their original sound, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth was not well-received for attempting to move beyond that sound, adding more overt pop rock elements. The band went on hiatus for 4 years, each member working on solo projects. The band re-appeared at Lollapalooza in 2010, and announced after that show that they were working on a new album, which is what I am reviewing today.

Angles is the first Strokes album in 5 years. Musically, the album is a cross between the rawness of their first two albums and a strong influence from 1980’s new wave bands. Keyboards are very prominent on several tracks, such as album opener “Maccu Piccu” which is based around a reggae style guitar groove and “Two kinds of Happiness,” which would not be out of place on a Duran Duran album. The band, despite their skill as pop song writers, also remembers that they were leaders of the garage rock movement, and thankfully, don’t forget how to rock. Tracks such as “Taken for a Fool” and album highlight “Under Cover of Darkness” should satisfy fans of that particular style.

Julian Casablancas performing at Lollapalooza 2010
The band all deserve props individually for their efforts on the album, but special attention should be paid to both Albert Hammond Jr. and Julian Casablancas. Hammond is still a great guitarist, working with co-guitarist Nick Valensi to craft strong guitar parts and his soloing is still precise and top notch. Casablancas recorded his vocals separately from the band, which could have turned out disastrously. But, his Lou Reed inspired voice fits in perfectly, and you forget that he didn’t record with the band much on this album.

2011 is already shaping up to be a good year musically, with quality releases from Radiohead, Cut Copy, Les Jupes, & The Decemberists. Now you can add The Strokes to that list. Angles is a cohesive album that not only plays to the strengths of the Strokes, but adds some new influences that allow them to grow their sound. I’d rank it second to Is This It, and if they decide to come to my area of the world, I’ll be first in line for a ticket.