By Andrew Lopez
After releasing their least acclaimed and most scrutinized album, “First Impressions of Earth” in 2006, members of The Strokes decided to take a long break from one another. During their time apart, lead singer Julian Casablancas and guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr. both released solo albums as it looked like the Strokes might fall by the wayside. With their newest release, “Angles,” it seems as though a little time off might have been exactly what was needed.
According to an interview with Pitchfork though, the process of making the album was less than organized or unified. Casablancas, reportedly tired of being the creative decision maker, and distanced himself from the band by sending in his vocals electronically and communicating with the band largely by email. Valensi, also a guitar player for the band, described the process as “awful.” Nevertheless, any strain exhibited in making “Angles” isn’t obvious when listening to the album.
Right out of the gates, “Machu Pichu” opens with classic Strokes guitar picking, pairing it with a new wave groove that is new to the band’s sound. A few things are clearly different from past albums almost immediately: Casablancas’ vocal range has expanded, experimentation with layering guitars adds depth to songs and there is a definite feel of collaboration not previously felt before. The opening track is filled with fuzzy guitar riffing and an ever so subtle addition of hand percussion mixed low in the background. The Strokes seem reinvigorated, with new ideas ready to share with listeners.
The album’s first single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” is more reminiscent of jingly, ‘60s style pop music as a coating of guitars call and respond to one another, intricately weaving to create undeniably catchy, seemingly effortless verses and chorus. The bridge features a clean, precise, standard guitar solo reminiscent of their first two classic albums, “Is This It” and “Room on Fire.” It’s an excellent choice for their first single in five years.
“Games,” the album’s sixth track slows the pace down considerably, reducing the energy to moody, guitar-led balladry. Casablancas uses this platform to show off the versatility in his voice, offering up a much broader range than ever before heard on a Strokes album. The drawback of this new discovery is of course the absence of challenging guitar work that makes it possible to focus solely on vocals. The song interests, but doesn’t excite like The Strokes are normally capable of doing.
For those hoping The Strokes would make a drastic change (which probably wasn’t many), they will have to look elsewhere. For fans hoping to see the band return to the sound established on their first two albums before misfiring with “First Impressions,” there will be signs of encouragement as “Angles” sounds more like it should be their third album and not their fourth.
It’s clear still that after years apart and tension in learning how to collaborate with each other, if The Strokes can figure things out, they’ll produce an even better album than “Angles.”
3.5 stars out of 5