The Strokes - Angles

If you asked me where the Strokes have been for the last five years, I'd offer the quaint answer that they've been costume shopping. After their long hiatus, the band returns with Angles, an album that appears to be a compilation of ways they could look at writing catchy, chameleon-esque music. The one-time garage rock revivalists now appear in a sort of multiple personality driven sonic variety show. They are one part '80s pop-punk revivalists, one part dance-rock junkies, one part solemn songwriters and all parts hook-driven wunderkinds. Angles doesn't pick a style or focus long enough to become any one type of record. There are moments that sounds like the Strokes are doing a Decemberists impression, others where it feels like late-period Cyndi Lauper, and others that offer flavors and mixes that smell distinctly like Cut Copy. In each case, though, we are tied to Julian Casablancas' iconic voice as the thing that reminds us that we're listening to the Strokes.

We only get 10 tracks, that's about two per year for the hibernating former cock-rockers, but each one is milled from different materials. If these were terrible songs, then the album would be marred by experimentation, as if a painter decided one day to just sculpt something, but had no concept of working in three dimensions. Instead, this album is sadly short. One trip through the track list will barely fill an episode of Popular Television Comedy X. But, a lot happens across the 34+ minutes to be proud of and enjoy because it's not just familial pride here, it's the real thing. The Strokes play with production, adding fuzz, electronics, broad instrumentation that exceeds their trademark guitars/bass/drums. The sound is lush, occasionally melodramatic and exceedingly haunting. But it continues to be fun. The only problem with the record is that a few of the tracks border on epic in scale, but end well before they even reach episodic. Still, I'd say something similar about the bulk of Elvis Costello's work, so this album holds good company.

The raucous fun opener "Machu Picchu" employs a funky, nearly UB40 reggae style that ensures the audience knows this isn't the Strokes of 10 years ago. The song build brilliantly and it's only then that we remember what Julian sounds like. Many of the vocals are buried in overdubbing and tricks. This is re-invention. "Under Cover of Darkness" is more traditional in the Strokes hook brand, but plays with a little rockabilly jangle. "Two Kinds of Happiness" seems to heart Cut Copy and Crystal Castles with its opening echo, but plays with conventional rock more and more as it goes on with decadent guitar solos. The next song, "You're So Right" does great work with production and utilizes the stereo speakers to move the sound back and forth, but also feels unfinished. It is a good song that they slathered with bright paint hoping it would be a great song. But that's only a temporary lull because "Taken For A Fool" hops back into a pop-punk vibe that is enjoyable, if slightly less than perfect. But then my favorite back to back happens with the electro-pop-dreaminess of "Games" and "Call Me Back." In both cases, the experimentation, the costumes the Strokes put on for these tracks just fit better. When they fail it's like they're wearing another band's clothes, but here, they got the new outfits tailored. Especially the transition of "Call Me Back"'s sad riff into the rest of the song.

"Gratisfaction" is excellent too, bouncy and familiar with a catchy chorus. The last two tracks, "Metabolism" and "Life is Simple in the Moonlight" are a bit of a toss up. The energy in the former and the gutsy riffs, combined with the theatrical echo make it beautiful, but also leave it in a place where it could easily a Bond movie credit song back in 1986. For the latter, it feels like a ballad that the Police would have done. And the piled up vocals are brilliant. This year seems to be a one for diversity in albums, and strong closing songs. Perhaps this is the umbrella these bands are putting up against the falling anvil that is the collapsing record industry. Either way, it's kind of nice not knowing what to expect from a band. I had feared that the Strokes would try to trick that old pony one more time, but instead they bought a completely different animal to ride. Maybe it's a llama, but I'm more comfortable saying it's something mythical like a Kelpie.

Check out the free stream here (via Some Kind of Awesome) and then go buy a copy.

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