Our Take - 9.2
I've always wondered if there is any merit or justification in reviewing or rating an album by its play count on my Itunes. In 2010, in the case of my two favorite albums-- Spoon's Transference and LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening-- there seemed to be a direct correlation. I listened to those two albums much more often than any other albums in my discography and they also happened to be the two albums I rated the highest that year. The opposite is sometimes true-- still looking at 2010, one album I rated exceptionally high was Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me. Unlike the other two, I listened to this album through and through but have largely left it alone since my initial excitement with the album (I should really give it another spin, it's great).
Why this is important to think about for this review of The Strokes first full-length in 5 years, Angles, is that I have listened to Angles front to back at least twice as many times as any other album released this year, and I have also given the record a higher rating than any other album to this point. This probably has a lot to do with how excited I was for this album after such a lengthy span of time without any new Strokes material, but I think it also has a lot to do with how good the individual songs are on the record.
By now, many people have heard about the tremendous difficulties the band had putting together the album-- "This band is like a house of cards — when one thing falls, the whole thing collapses," says guitarist Nick Valensi, "It's just typical rock-band bullshit — the clichés that keep a group of people who have something special from wanting to continue it." I'm not going to elaborate too much (well, we'll see) on the discrepancies and difficulties The Strokes had with putting together Angles-- Valensi says it best when he simply states , "It's just typical rock-band bullshit." But many, including the band themselves had gotten increasingly pessimistic about ever re-forming. In November 2009 frontman and primary songwriter Julian Casablancas is on the record saying, "We've been trying to do it for years, I'm always available and they know that but getting together is tough." If that isn't non-committal enough, Valensi, who often has appeared to be the last remaining strand holding the band together said around the same time, "I'm not even sure we're going to make a fourth album at this point."
Too add to the difficulty in putting together the album there are several other factors that need to be taken into consideration-- the scrapped sessions with producer Joe Chiccarelli (closer "Life Is Simple In the Moonlight" is the only remaining track from those sessions, the multi-angled songwriting approach (Casablancas, the primary songwriter of the group, called the new approach "Operation Make Everyone Satisfied."), and the lack of everyone able to be in the studio together-- Casablancas in fact wasn't even really a part of the recording process, he sent all of his vocals through electronic files to the rest of the group
Despite the apparent difficulties in recording, we're left with Angles, a series of ten tracks that are all individually solid (great) tracks from one of the last remaining true "rock" bands. The band stressed again and again how the album is called Angles because of the varying influences on the record and the scattered songwriting credits, and for that reason I can forgive the band for giving us a record that lacks cohesion. What is clear with this record is that The Strokes are back, and while not being as groundbreaking of a record as 2000's Is This It? we again see a band gelling and excited about making new music (the rumor mill says that they are already writing and recording new material).
We get return to form tracks like, "Gratisfaction," and first single, "Under Cover of Darkness," but we also see a band stretching, breaking out of their comfort zone with fantastic takes like, "You're So Right", "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight" and album opener, "Machu Picchu." With "You're So Right," we get harmonies, something almost unheard of in a typical Strokes record, the track even sounds remotely Radioheadesque, a comparison I never thought I would make, "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight," is almost flawless, and displays Casablancas' strongest and most self-reflective lyrics to date, and "Machu Picchu," contains guitar blips that sound like synths and a tight almost reggae or hip-hop groove that underlines the track. Perhaps the most successful cut on the record is "Taken for a Fool." Here we see The Strokes at their best (funkiest?), it contains the essential and unmistakable Strokes sound while sounding nothing like they have done up to this point. The pre-chorus has been stuck in my head since the albums release and won't be leaving anytime soon.
Each individual track on the record gives us a different dynamic look at the band, even if they wear their influences on their sleeves (The Velvet Underground, Television). Still, it would be hard to ever mistake a Strokes song for a song by any other artist or group. There is something about the band that sticks with the listener, and for that reason I'm sure by the end of the year and even in years to come-- that I won't forget about Angles, or The Strokes for that matter.