If you're friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, or if you know me at all, you know how excited I've been about this album for the past few months. It's safe to say that the Strokes are my favorite band. Ever since a good friend of mine introduced me to Is This It and Room on Fire my sophomore year of high school, I've been intrigued by the band's raw sound and simple rock-and-roll compositions. So when I heard they were planning to make another album after an extended hiatus, I was quite ecstatic. It's taken longer than originally expected; it was really supposed to come out last year, and the release date has been pushed back multiple times, but it's finally here, so here is my track-by-track assessment of Angles.
You can stream the album in its entirety on the Strokes' website.
1) "Machu Picchu"
A noise similar to the startup sound of Skype sounds off, and then the groove kicks in and the album has begun. This track has a slight reggae feel in the guitar and the drums, until it reaches the chorus, where the band goes all-out rock. I can hear a weird sound that sounds like bongos during the chorus, but I can't tell if it's actually those drums or just some weird effect... From the beginning, the listener knows that this will certainly be different from the other Strokes albums. One of the biggest things about Angles that makes it different is Julian's voice. On this song, there's a reverby, almost similar to autotune effect on his voice, that evokes 80s influence. His voice is also low in the mix for most of the album, making the guitar riffs stand out even more. "Machu Picchu" is catchy and groovy, and is a great album opener. It's my current favorite on Angles.
2) "Under Cover of Darkness"
Despite all the new sounds and influences throughout the album, there's a couple nostalgic Strokes moments, and "Under Cover of Darkness" is one of them. With the fast rock-shuffle feel similar to that of "Last Nite," this song would have fit in perfectly on the band's 2001 debut Is This It. The song has the dueling, high guitars of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. that fans have come to associate with the Strokes' signature sound. It's got a catchy chorus and a cool guitar solo and subsequent breakdown moment towards the end. It was a perfect choice for the lead single, pleasing old fans and new bandwagoners alike.
3) "Two Kinds of Happiness"
From here we get into the depth of the 80s influence that is highly apparent throughout this album. This song could have been played at 1985's high school prom. Julian's voice is again altered, with an echoey effect reminiscent of Phil Collins or Duran Duran. As it moves to the chorus, it gets more hectic and loud, with a frantic guitar riff, but it quickly settles back down into the verse. This one took some listening for me to get used to, but now I really like it.
4) "You're So Right"
This track, the b-side for the "Under Cover of Darkness" single, is certainly the darkest moment of the album. A change in pace is certainly welcome; there isn't a dark moment on Is This It. The drum track reminds me of "Hard to Explain" from Is This It. Through this song, Julian's voice is barely audible, and his lyrics are hardly distinguishable. When this was released with the single for "Under Cover," I didn't really like it at all, but I think it fits in to the album, and although it's weird and different, it still works.
5) "Taken for a Fool"
Here's another nostalgic moment, "Taken for a Fool" could have fit right in to 2003's Room on Fire. Julian uses the same vocal effect as that album, and there's the loud, rock-and-roll style that the band is known for. Writer Nick Valensi even uses the same synth-guitar sound he used on the band's hit "12:51" from Room on Fire. This is really one of the stronger tracks on the album. If the band's third album had been a further exploration of the sound used on Room on Fire instead of the ill-advised foray into mainstream rock that was First Impressions of Earth, it would probably be filled with songs that sound a lot like "Taken for a Fool." My favorite part of the album so far is in this track, where the rhythm section changes up the feel towards the middle.
From what I've heard and read, this is the most baffling song on Angles for many listeners. Again, it's a much more different sound than what people are used to for the Strokes. Lots of 80s influence in the drums especially, but the band experiments with synthy sounds that make the song sound eerily ethereal, as Julian sings "living in an empty world..." (my English professor would probably suggest something about the existentialist nature of that lyric...). "Games" ends quickly, with Julian singing the highest note (I think...) he sings on the album. This song is really a grower, I didn't like it at all when I first heard it, but now it does intrigue me quite a bit. It makes me wonder what the Strokes' fifth album (if they make one) will sound like.
7) "Call Me Back"
Right after two of the album's most intriguing points, here we have one of the least exciting. "Call Me Back" has no drums, and is propelled by a Jobim-esque bossa-nova rhythm in the guitar. Gone are the catchy riffs and hooks that characterize the rest of the album. This song moves too slowly and feels like filler. I especially don't like the way it ends - too abruptly and with no closure.
But then the upbeat vibe is back, with this homage to the late 70s classic rock bands, like Thin Lizzy. Many have compared "Gratisfaction" and its heavy shuffle groove to that band's hit "The Boys Are Back in Town." Julian also sings with an interesting style on this track that reminds me of early Bob Dylan. This is a nice pick-me-up after the strange and sprawling previous track.
This is the track I have the most mixed feelings about on Angles. Sometimes, I like the fact that it sounds a lot like "Heart in a Cage" from First Impressions of Earth, but then I think about how it doesn't really fit in to Angles very well, with its ominous, almost metallic, guitar riff. I like that Julian uses the same distorted vocal effect he used on Room on Fire. I think this song would have been a standout if it had been on First Impressions, but here it doesn't work. It will probably grow on me, though.
10) "Life is Simple in the Moonlight"
The album ends very strongly with this track, a shout-out to one of my favorite bands in middle school. I like the chorus a lot. It is catchy and fun, and the emphasis is really on Julian's vocal melody, which is different from most of the rest of the album. I also like Valensi's laid-back, almost jazzy guitar solo. The song ends with Julian singing "don't try to stop us, get out of the way," and a long, "A Day In The Life"-like hum. A very good ending to a very good album.
Angles is very good. It's not as good as Room on Fire or Is This It, but it's good nonetheless, and the band's new experimentation is certainly welcome after their weird last album. Angles could do a lot of things. It could draw in a lot of new fans, interested in the band's new sounds, or it could draw away potential fans, scared off by the weird 80s influence. It could do the same thing for longtime fans, scaring away those who can only accept the vintage sound of the band's early years. But for me, the album is deeply satisfying, and it's gonna get me through the summer.