Tag Archives: the strokes

Top Five Deep Cuts: The Strokes Edition

14 Oct

By now, the Strokes’ trajectory is well-known: an impossibly perfect debut album; overnight global success; and the subsequent chase for a repeat of all that. Amidst personality clashes and competing side-projects, the latter half of the Strokes’ history is murky; and by then, a slew of Strokes-inspired bands (see: Arctic Monkeys, The Killers) began stealing the limelight from the OG. No wonder, then, that the Strokes’ best-known songs are still the ones they released in the first five years of their career.

But nestled deep in the Strokes’ catalog are some truly underrated gems. With rumors of a sixth album releasing very soon – gaining more and more credibility with the just-released 2020 gig dates – we figured it’s time for a closer look at some deep cuts: The Strokes edition.

5. “Razorblade” from First Impressions of Earth

As we mentioned above, the Strokes’ biggest obstacle to their career was their own debut album. Is This It (2001) was an instant classic, and answered its own question almost immediately – yes, this was it. This was the album that saved rock music from the tepid irrelevancy offered by the likes of Linkin Park and Nickelback (don’t @ us). The Strokes’ sophomore album, Room on Fire (2003), successfully stuck to the script.

It was with the third album, First Impressions of Earth (2006), that things started unravelling. The Strokes shtick was a little overdone after two albums nearly identical in tone and style; besides, by then, copycats were a dime a dozen. The third album did produce a few famous songs – “You Only Live Once” and “Juicebox” most notably – but the rest of the album was deemed too weird and cynical by many.

Understandable, then, that a gem like “Razorblade” often gets overlooked. Anchored by a pleasant pop-rock riff, Casablancas’ lyrics cynically review a relationship gone sour. He derisively mimics the girl (“You’ve got to take me out, at least once a week / Whether I’m in your arms, or I’m at your feet”); and he just doesn’t care any longer (“Oh, drop dead, I don’t care, I won’t worry / There you go”). Listen also for the excellent sync between drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s beats and the dual guitars.

4. “Games” from Angles

First Impressions of Earth lost a chunk of casual Strokes fans with its experimentation, but not nearly as much as the fourth album Angles (2011). The Strokes took a five-year break to sort out their struggles, and the resultant album was spiky as the name suggested. By then, the kids who’d obsessed over the debut in high school were fully-functioning adults, and Angles didn’t have the raw energy to attract a legion of new fans (unlike what Arctic Monkeys did with their fifth album AM). Consequently, there are some great tracks on this album that just never got the airplay they deserve.

One of those tracks is “Games”, a synth-pop ode to the 80s. The song starts off interestingly enough – bouncy keyboards contrasted against Casablancas’ whiny croon – but eventually segues into an even more interesting one-two punch of a solo from Hammond Jr. (keyboards) and Moretti (drums). Our favorite version of this song is their live performance on Conan – check it out here.

3. “Chances” from Comedown Machine

Comedown Machine (2013), over six years ago, was the last full-length album from the Strokes. The album dropped with no advance notice and the band didn’t even bother going on a press tour afterward. It was highly suggested that they released it only to get out of their five-album contract with RCA (a contract that the label had won twelve years prior in a hard-fought bidding war).

Comedown Machine barely had any radio play, and all but the most hard-core Strokes fans pretty much ignored it at the time of release. But the album has since become something of a sleeper hit; a low-key mix of 80s synth pop with a level of experimentation that the Strokes – at the end of their RCA leash – could finally afford to indulge.

“Chances”, the ninth track on the album, is a hauntingly beautiful love song. “I waited for ya, I waited on ya / but now, I don’t,” sings Casablancas, in a new-found falsetto, no less, before sadly accepting his fate: “I’ll take my chances alone”. “Chances” could easily soundtrack a scene of heartbreak in an 80s teen-romance flick; in that and in many other ways, it is truly unique among the Strokes’ repertoire.

2. “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” from Angles

As you might guess if you read this far, it’s no wonder that most of the Strokes’ underrated tracks come from their last two albums – when few folks were paying attention and the band members themselves were going through some serious issues.

“Life is Simple in the Moonlight”, the album closer on Angles, is unlikely to have enchanted the casual Strokes fan, but there’s no reason to keep it that way. By that point, the band was so fractured that they physically couldn’t get themselves together: Julian Casablancas apparently emailed his recorded vocals for the sound engineer to stitch together with the rest of the band’s recordings. “So we talk about ourselves and how / To forget the love we never felt,” he wistfully notes, before confessing, perhaps too late: “I didn’t wanna tell you I was jealous, jealous, jealous, what’s the point?” (He writes the lyrics as though it was about a girl, but he’s been happily married since 2005 – who else could it be about?)

Introspective lyrics aside, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” has some remarkable experimental patches from the other members. Lead guitarist Nick Valensi whips out an almost jazzy guitar solo supported by Moretti’s perfect drum time. Albert Hammond Jr. shines with rhythmic strums and Nikolai Fraiture’s bass is, as usual, the oft-overlooked Strokes secret sauce. Check out their performance of the song on SNL here.

1. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” from Comedown Machine

As the very last song on the Strokes’ very last album, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is the definition of a deep cut. Even some hardcore Strokes fans no doubt forget this song exists. A pity – for this is a true beauty unlike anything else in their entire catalog.

From the fuzzy guitars to Julian’s especially gauzy vocals, the entire song has the aura of a classic black-and-white movie – perhaps in Parisian speakeasy, perhaps in the 1930s. The chorus is just out of this world – a light, waltzy dream that somehow seems to reach more senses than just your ears. Put it this way: “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” sounds like something that inspired the Amelie soundtrack.

“Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is a miraculous transplant from another place and another era that was created, somehow, by a then-dying New York City garage rock band. If there’s only one song you hear from this list, make it this one – and be prepared to see the Strokes in a brand-new light.

So that’s the end of this list, but happily, it looks like it’s not yet the end for the Strokes. If you’re as excited as we are for the rumored Album #6, let us know below! We’ll count down the days together.

The Voidz – Virtue

20 Dec

Over the years, there have been numerous side projects of The Strokes’ members. Lead singer Julian Casablancas had a short-lived solo act, while lead guitarist Albert Hammond Jr has had a string of well-received albums (including one that we loved this year). However, the most intriguing project has consistently been the New York group known as The Voidz.

Consisting of six musicians (and led by Casablancas), The Voidz are perhaps an alternate-reality version of The Strokes: one where the immense mainstream success of the latter’s debut Is This It did not stop them from fully exploring their musical capabilities. Quirky, eclectic, and mind-numbingly creative, Virtue is perhaps Casablancas’ most inspired music since the matchless Is This It.

What stands out the most on Virtue is the vast number of musical styles that it manages to touch. The band has mentioned in interviews that their creative push comes from the members’ wide-ranging tastes – and it’s easy to see that here.

QYURRUS” can perhaps be described as Arabic Autotune, with Casablancas’ literally unintelligible vocals often sounding like a foreign language (and / or a cult leader). Strangely, though, the song’s freakishly morphed melody gets stuck in your head; sort of like musical Stockholm Syndrome. On the immediate next song, The Voidz swerve with “Pyramid of Bones”, featuring hard rock verses that devolve frequently into a full-on death metal chorus.

Pink Ocean” is something else altogether: a slinky, vaguely pessimistic number that relies on Casablancas’ famous falsetto (see: “Instant Crush”). Toward the end of the album, “We’re Where We Are” frazzles the soul with its barked-out political commentary (“New holocaust happening / What, are you blind? / You’re in Germany now, 1939”) and hell-raising anger.

Not to say that all of Virtue is crazy stuff, either: Casablancas thankfully dips into Strokes-y brilliance once in a while. Album opener “Leave It in My Dreams” is an instantly nostalgic tune with clean guitars, sharp drums and some of Casablancas’ most emotive vocals. “ALieNNatioN” is more sinuous and mysterious, but has many of the same broadly pleasant elements. There may be a lot of strange sounds on “All Wordz Are Made Up” (cowbell, anyone?), but the classic dance-pop beats push the marker from weird to fun. “Wink” and its cousin “Lazy Boy” could make frequent rotations on your favorite pop station, with lush rhythm guitars, laconic vocals and beautiful melodies.

There are fifteen songs on Virtue, and frankly, each of them deserve their own page-length homage. This is an album that rewards you with something new on every single listen. Highly recommended, no matter what your tastes are.

Best songs: “Leave It in My Dreams”, “QYURRYUS”, “All Wordz Are Made Up”

P.S. The album has generated many great music videos, but perhaps the best is the one for “All Wordz Are Made Up”. If it’s this interesting while sober, we can only imagine…

Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble

14 Dec

Albert Hammond Jr. is perhaps best known for being the Strokes’ lead guitarist, and later for three decently-received solo albums. On his fourth album, Francis Trouble, Hammond Jr. knocks it out of the park with a record that rivals the his best output with Julian and the boys.

The story behind Francis Trouble is fascinating, and perhaps hints why Hammond’s fourth outing is, so far, his best. According to Rolling Stone, Francis was Hammond’s twin, but died in utero while Albert survived. In a way, Francis Trouble is a posthumous rendition of this long-lost, never-found twin’s personality: boisterous, spirited, and not bogged down by the baggage (positive and negative) that might plague his more-famous sibling.

In between the frenetic drums on “Muted Beatings”, we hear Francis’ hesitant but passionate claims of not caring about his lover (“Like awaitress, too good to forget”), if he had the chance to be around for that sort of thing. “Screamer”, with boastful snarks and heady solo, is practically a rambunctious theme song for the hell-raising Francis “Trouble” Hammond.

However, the best songs on here are – no surprise – the ones where Hammond meshes this newfound inspiration with his Strokes-esque sensibility of structure and rhythm. On album opener “DVSL”, he affects a punk rock scowl that Julian Casablancas would envy, over an almost trademarked perfect-fit between drums and guitars. The intro on “Tea for Two” even fits the famous Strokes formula: one guitar hits downstrokes, another guitar explores a melody, and the vocals form a third, complementary layer. He mixes it up enough, though: the bittersweet chorus reminds the listener of the Police, and the jazzy interludes are a true touch of genius.

But none of these songs come close to “Set to Attack”, a gem that falls squarely between jangly early Beatles and Room on Fire-era Strokes. Hammond alternates between old-timey verses, sung through what seems to be a 1940s radio broadcaster’s microphone,and an impossibly catchy chorus, with a signature, neat solo at the end.

What makes the Strokes so enduring is their ability to structure tight, upbeat music as a foil to Casablancas’ tone – sometimes remorseful, sometimes angry, always passionate. On Francis Trouble, Albert Hammond Jr. takes all of that and makes it much more, in a dramatic re-discovery of his enormous talent. 

Best songs: “Set to Attack”, “Muted Beatings”, “Tea for Two”

The Strokes: Future Present Past

10 Jun

The Strokes

Success came too early for the Strokes. The band’s first studio album, Is This It, is widely considered to be one of the most quintessential indie rock records of all time. Musical kingmakers like NME heralded the leather-clad quintet as the saviors of the entire rock genre. In an era marred by Linkin Park and Nickelback, the Strokes provided the soundtrack for the drunken heydey of an entire generation of now-nostalgic twentysomethings. What more could they achieve?

The threat of great expectations colored their next few albums. Sophomore record Room on Fire certainly had a handful of gems in the Strokes’ signature style; First Impressions of Earth had fewer. Disagreements often cropped up between the members, particularly against lead singer Julian Casablancas. In 2009, Casablancas noted to British daily The Sun that “a band is a great way to break up a friendship”. Demise seemed certain.

However, the band still owed two records to RCA, the label that won them in a bidding war during their prodigal days. The Strokes halfheartedly released Angles in 2011 and Comedown Machine in 2013, both to lukewarm reviews (at best). Their early days – immortalized in the carefree exuberance of Is This It – seemed to be gone forever.

Future Present Past

It is into this complex atmosphere that the band released the Future Present Past EP. Over a media-heavy two days in late May – uncharacteristic for the infamously aloof band – the Strokes released the four songs that make up the band’s first EP since January 2001. Finally unburdened from RCA’s stifling contract, the Strokes have breathed fresh air into their stagnant career.

“Drag Queen” is a dense piece driven by Nikolai Fraiture’s sludge-like bass line, almost reminiscent of mid-career Killers. The lyrics, oblique as with most Strokes songs, seem to hint at an anti-capitalist stance (“I don’t understand your fucked-up system, messing up the city/Try to sell the water, try to sell the air”). Could it be a message to RCA and the music industry?

“OBLIVIUS” hits closer to the band itself. “Untame me, it’s not my midnight yet” sings Casablancas on the opening line, speaking to the band’s fresh start after the five-record albatross. Musically, the song would fit right in on Room on Fire: not as crisp as their first songs, but certainly as driven by a clean click track. The song also features two enmeshed guitar pieces – one soaring, one pulsating – bedded under Casablancas’ condenser croon: all vintage Strokes. The EP also includes drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s remix of “OBLIVIUS”, wherein an electronic version of the bass line and guitar riffs are brought to the fore, atop a flattened version of Casablancas’ vocals.

However, “Threat of Joy” is the song that completely revives the Strokes. Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr trade simple, crunchy guitar riffs over Moretti’s clean drums – straight out of Is This It. Casablancas opens the song with a Lou Reed-esque drawl but moves into an early 2001-version of himself, his voice filled with more joy than we’ve heard in years. “Place your bets this time/Just has to let it ride,” he ventures, perhaps talking of their newfound freedom. If you loved Is This It, you will love this song: it’s right up there with “Someday” or “Hard to Explain”.

In a way, Future Present Past is perfectly named. The three songs present a condensed version of the Strokes’ repertoire: from the unadulterated, old-school perfection of “Threat of Joy” to the soaring complexity of “OBLIVIUS” and finally to the more arcane “Drag Queen”. Unencumbered by record companies and with absolutely nothing to prove, the Strokes have all the choice in the world. We’re excited no matter what they do from here.

The Strokes: “All the Time”

22 Feb

All the Time

In 2011, an impeccable ensemble of talented musicians contributed to a Strokes tribute album, entitled Stroked, to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Is This It?. Also in 2011, the Strokes released their fourth studio album. Wrap your head around that for a second: the Strokes elicited this voluntary, collective homage despite being a band that is young enough to add fresh material to its own discography. There are very few bands as iconic, as beloved, and as representative of a time and place in music history – while being fully functional – as the Strokes are. So how do you react when a vintage-yet-active band releases new music? Well, it depends on what kind of Strokes fan you are.

Type 1: The Uber Fan

Cooler than you'll ever be.

Cooler than you’ll ever be.

In 2001, the Strokes released an album that changed the face of music. Is This It? was and continues to be a flawless record, pushing thousands of kids into their garages to create bands that would never be as cool as Julian and the boys. But in a way, the very kids that played the Strokes’ debut all day every day made it rather difficult for the Strokes to move on as a band. Any deviation from ‘the quintessential Strokes sound’ was denounced; any song with more effort than ‘effortless’ was deplored.  Synths? Forget about it. (I’m looking at you, Angles.) “All the Time” is definitely no “Hard to Explain”, “Reptilia” or even “You Only Live Once”, but it has that undeniable, wholly inimitable Strokes vibe that’s sure to satisfy the most ardent of fans. In fact, it almost sounds like it could be wedged right into Is This It?, and that’s always a good thing.

Type 2: The Casual Fan

The Strokes perform on Ellen

If you didn’t spend the better part of your musically formative years analyzing every trough and peak of the Strokes’ debut, then you are going to like this song. Why? Because even if you’ve only heard a few of their songs, even on a bad day, even on a weak track, the Strokes are effortlessly cooler than anything you’re going to hear all day. On “All the Time” , the uber fan might think that the outro is too long, or that Julian’s voice isn’t crisp enough, or that the guitar solo lacks the sheen of the old days. All you’re going to notice, though, is how great this song is. Enjoy!

Type 3: The Non-Fan

Watch the following videos, and please let us know if you don’t convert to Type 2 or even Type 1.

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… we could go on.

Five long years passed between their third and fourth albums; just over two years will transpire between the fourth and the fifth. “All the time that I need is never quite enough/ All the time that I have is all that’s necessary,” sings Julian on “All the Time”, and we couldn’t be happier about that. Long story short, drop whatever you’re doing and listen, because the Strokes have released a new track. “All the Time” is the first single from the Strokes’ fifth studio album Comedown Machine, releasing on March 26th, 2013. You can listen to the song (with lyrics!) here.

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