The Strokes Angles

A miserable experience recording an album doesn’t always equal a miserable album. So often the opposite happens: Big Star, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Fleetwood Mac all made brilliant albums under internal or external stress. So the early clues into the Strokes’ fourth album, their first in five years, weren’t so bad. Sure, it had been a while, and Casablancas was recording in a separate studio, and he told any reporter he spoke with that the band was touring for the money alone. But some good things happen when band members hate each other. Listening to Angles now, it seems like hate would have been good, actually. Instead the band was working under much worse feelings: boredom, apathy, alienation. You can hear bits of what you loved about the Strokes in many songs, and some promising new ideas in others. Overall, though, Angles is an uneven album. The only thing that connects the separate pieces is the palpable apathy..

But guitarist Nick Valensi describes that feeling even better in a recent Pitchfork interview:

I won’t do the next album we make like this. No way. It was awful– just awful. Working in a fractured way, not having a singer there. I’d show up certain days and do guitar takes by myself, just me and the engineer. Some of the third album was done that way, but at least we were on the same page about what the arrangements and parts were. Seventy-five percent of this album felt like it was done together and the rest of it was left hanging, like some of us were picking up the scraps and trying to finish a puzzle together.

Unfortunately that 25% weighs the album down considerably. You can just watch their SNL performances and compare Strokes in 2001 to 2011 to see the subtle but significant differences that color Angles. That effortless cool and uncaring has crossed over into genuine boredom. You can tell they’ve grown apart, not just as friends or a band, but as musicians. They all contributed to the songwriting on Angles, but the mix of these different voices and styles doesn’t create variety, it creates disconnection. There are some very good moments on each song, but none of those moments add up to few great songs; the songs don’t connect to an album, and the songs don’t present any larger vision, and there’s no build-up or tension to give the record shape.

“Machu Picchu” sets up the album’s auspicious and dubious start. There are great things here: the upbeat and slight reggae influence, the rhythmic bridge, the catchy lead guitar hook. But already you can hear the break between the instruments and Casablancas’ voice, which hangs above the song, as it does on most of Angles. “Under Cover of Darkness” and “Two Kinds Of Happiness” also have lots of life in them, and shows the one thread you can follow from track to track: strong 70s/80s pop influences, from the Cars to Tom Petty (which you can hear in the latter especially) and Men At Work, Police, Thin Lizzy, and Steely Dan(!). “You’re So Right” creeps in a darker direction for the band (which Casablancas explored in his solo album), but it feels incomplete, as does “Taken For A Fool.” “Taken For A Fool” reads as if it’s about feeling disconnected (the line about his weekend being Monday/Tuesday seems like it’s about how he’s out of sync with others, and once again Casablancas sounds as if he’s hovering about the song, never engaging with it, as if the parts weren’t only recorded in different spaces, but mixed differently as well.

If The Strokes have a “Reelin’ In The Years” (and every band needs one), it’s “Gratisfaction,” and it’s one of the most fun tracks on the album. What I like about “Gratisfaction” is that it also sounds like a band working together, enjoying each other’s energy, especially when all of their voices show up on the chorus. Elsewhere the band introduces more creative ideas and influences that feel aimless after a bit. The light Brazilian guitar in “Call Me Back” is a romantic contrast to tracks like “You’re So Right” and “Gratisfaction;” it sounds a bit like drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s adorable Little Joy project. The band invented a boiling psychedelic groove for “Metabolism” that should have set this song up for bigger things instead of Casablancas’ yawning vocals (even his ending shout sounds like a stifled yawn.

Casablancas singing “What’s the point?” in ambling closer “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight,” is appropriate — the album and the band lack purpose. That list of good bands that’s you sort of hear in Angles? You could add The Strokes to it. Angles is the band you loved, in ghost form. The Strokes’ many side projects prove that the band clearly love writing and playing music. They just don’t enjoy writing and playing with each other, and unless they can undergo a Some Kind Of Monster-type group therapy that gets them in the same room again, all these ideas might be better explored by those side projects. What’s the point in keeping the Strokes going? In the same Pitchfork interview Casablancas ends by saying “The best thing we can do right now is put out another [album] really quick.” It’s only the second best thing they can do.

Angles is out 3/18.

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Comments (72)
  1. Typos should read:
    • “guitarist Nick Valensi”
    • “What I like about ‘Gratisfaction’ is that it also sounds”
    • drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s adorable Little Joy project
    • Casablancas singing ‘What’s the point?’

    • LOL. Why did you guys vote this comment down? How are you going to sink your feet into music journalism and have excessive typos?

      As an English major, i approve of this criticism.

  2. on the whole, a perfectly accurate review. but wow, is there no editor on ‘gum? i could hardly read through some of these [ample] typos!

    • Agreed. This review is pretty spot on, particularly “Gratisfaction’s” lifts from “Reelin’ in the Years” and Thin Lizzy. I’m enjoying “Two Kinds of Happiness” the most so far because, who doesn’t like a song that draws on the Cars and Tom Petty? It delves slightly too far into U2 territory during the chorus, but Valensi’s mini guitar solo at the end of each chorus saves it. ” Machu Pichu” and “UCOD” are both enjoyable. People seem to like “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight.” I’m not a fan yet, but I feel like this one will grow on me. The album is worth buying for these songs alone.

      With that said, “You’re So Right” is probably the worst song on the album. It sounds like a demo for Casablancas’ “River of Brake Lights” but without the soaring chorus that redeems that song. As the review stated, “Call Me Back” screams, “Hey! You didn’t forget that Fab Moretti also had a solo project, did you?” The pre-chorus from “Taken for a Fool” lifts almost directly from the Gorillaz “Feel Good Inc.” which I find inexcusable. It’s as though the band thought they could hide that by following it with an out-of-left-field chorus that I’m almost positive was written for a different song. I’m guessing “Metabolism” is essentially a FIOE outtake, which Casablancas more or less stated in an interview with NME. “Games” has some promising parts but I’m not even sure you can classify that thing as a song.

  3. Wow. Typo city. Good review. My qualm with the album is that Julian’s vocals are too high in frequency or something. I feel like I’m listening to it with the treble turned up too high or something.

  4. I can’t agree with everything said in this review. I think “Taken for a Fool” is one of the strongest songs on the album along with “Macchu Picchu”, “Under Cover of Darkness”, Gratisfaction”, “Two Kinds of Happiness”, and “Life is Simple In The Moonlight”. I really do think all the songs I just mentioned are some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in awhile and maybe some of the best the Strokes have released.

    As for everyone talking about how the vocals were recorded and how Julian sounds like he’s hovering above the song, not engaging with it. I think people have this set in their minds because of the news that Julian wasn’t around for most of the recording. If this wasn’t out in the open I really think this wouldn’t even be included in reviews.

    I really am happy with this album, it’s really a lot more fulfilling than First Impressions. I just hope they can put all the BS aside and get recording another in the next year.

    • I was thinking the exact same thing. If nothing was said of how Julian recorded vocals, this “singing above the song” shit would never be mentioned. I for one am pleasantly surprised by the album. I was half expecting it to suck, and it doesn’t. So I’m pleased.

    • I don’t know. I had no idea that Julian wasn’t around for the recording until after I heard the album, and I still got the feeling that they were very disconnected.

    • Agreed. I feel like this review was already half written before the album was listened to. All of the reports leading up to the release have provided a pretty easy narrative that just about any set of songs would have had a tough time wiggling out of. As for apathy, there are times on Is This It? when Casablancas sounds like he’s about to fall asleep.

      If this had come out in a vacuum, I think we’d note the couple bum tracks, get into the handful of really solid tunes that you mentioned, and feel grateful for the album as a whole. Maybe with time.

  5. Typos were intentional ’cause we were being apathetic like the band?

    Sorry about the typos!

  6. “Album disconnected, not that good, band should probably break up,”
    ….

    Angles is out 3/18

  7. Is it just me or does a part in Machu Picchu sound like Jackson’s “Wanna be Starting Something” at a few points?

  8. Methinks either Brandon or Armit wrote this depressing review like they got their heart broken. Being from NYC, I saw The Strokes rise to fame from the beginning and I also became a proud fan, and as a proud fan, I’ve come to learn that I need to respect their direction even though I may not agree with it, or think it’s not the right direction. I, nor any other disgruntled fan can’t act like a puppetmaster and force them to be what WE want them to be, like this whole “return to form” bullshit, and put them in a place that’s both convenient and familiar to US. That pressure is not fair to them and it compromises their music.

    If you don’t like this, you have to let them go and move on, dude. I know it’s easier said than done b/c I grew up with The Strokes as well, but it HAS to be done. I like and dislike “Angles” and there’s definitely a new directional shift in their sound that’s not gonna change course anytime soon, again, whether I / we like it or not. This review sounds more than just a bad review and whoever wrote this sounds personally disappointed, disgruntled, and let-down. True, this is YOUR blog, and you’re entitled to your feelings/opinions but to harbor it and to judge a band based on it won’t make you or any of us feel better and it’ll just piss you/us off even more that they’re still around making the music you/we don’t like. The same can and has been said about Weezer and if I was Rivers, I would’ve said “FUCK OFF” a long time ago with the chorus to “Pork and Beans” posted underneath to those who didn’t like the music and spewed hatred b/c of it.

  9. I thought the album was great! …but I do agree with you on some points. I think it has the really really great songs, but it’s lacking a bit in excitement from the band, and I think that Valensi is right, when he says they have a better album in them… even though I still think this album is really great, but I also had the feeling sometimes, when I heard it, that they are still capable of making another album in the same class as is this it!

    • Slammin idk really? Leave our boys alone!! Angles is a good album, whatever shit circumstances you throw in.

      • JC: I think we’re going to start working on stuff as soon as possible. We were supposed to already, but it took longer than expected to master the album. I didn’t want to work on Strokes No 5 until Strokes No 4 was done.

        NF: Personally, I don’t ever want to stop making new albums. If we take another break, and I really hope we don’t, it won’t be something in my control.

        NV: There’s material in the works. We have a lot of music stockpiled so, in terms of content, we’re in a good place right now. If I had it my way, we’d have another album out by the end of this year.

        I don’t have an Albert quote to share but he’s been pretty positive about the whole thing (and going forward) as well.

        I mean, I agree with plenty of points made, but not a lot of the assumptions about apathy and insinuations that they should go their separate ways…at least not based on reading more than just the negative.

  10. Part of what has always made The Strokes such a great band for me is the way they approach their songwriting and structuring, as well as how they present it. Is This It was so stripped down and simple that it likely would have never seen the light of day in the US had the UK not loved it so much in the beginning. Regardless it was that sound and style that made them stand out from the rest of the acts and that concept became a template for so many bands that followed in the 2000s. Without The Strokes, bands like The Killers and Kings of Leon likely would have sounded very different and possibly not reached the levels of success that they have. It’s not that they created the attitude or style because they absolutely pulled from bands before them, they just made it all cool and current again.

    As for the Angles, it is a bit of a misguided/disconnected/random work of art. I like it very much and find it to be a vast improvement over FIOE but don’t feel that it is anywhere near their best material. Two Kinds of Happiness, Gratisfaction, Undercover of Darkness, Machu Picchu, Taken for a Fool and Life is Simple in the Moonlight are all very good songs to me. The rest I’m whatever about in varying degrees. I do like the direction they have gone by updating their sound while still trying to stay true to original form and take all that as a good sign they have at least one fantastic album left in them for a 5th run.

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  12. Umm…excuse me? Do you even understand what you’re talking about? You’re complaining about the sound being different. Of course it is. All members of the band have had time to venture off into their solo projects, and now they’ve come back with more experience and knowledge about what they want for this record. The vocals from Julian are amazing. When he sings you can tell he really feels the words he’s singing, and he loves it. Why don’t you go spend your time reviewing something else like a Justin Bieber album? You seem more equipped to handle music like that ;)

  13. First Impressions Of Earth was NOT THAT BAD. Christ.

    • It wasnt that bad…it was terrible! Great Bhudda!

      • I mean, obviously it’s not their best. But the way people talk about it you’d think they went and did a Soulja Boy collaboration. Maybe it’s just the nostalgic result of first hearing it when I was 13, but I’m just sayin’, there were some pretty decent songs on First Impressions. Vishnu!

      • Actually it’s their best album. When all the hipster bs and nostalgia die away, it will stand as their most musically and lyrically accomplished album. I love the first two albums as well but the backlash against First Impressions is ridiculous. The shallow criticisms lobbed toward it are way more applicable to the indulgence on the new album. I’ll say it: First Impressions holds up as a great, great album. It’s a shame that it may take a while for people to ignore their sacred Pitchfork review and actually listen to it.

        • I really like First Impressions, like, a lot, but it’s not better than Is This It. That album was an absolute classic. Just stop with that.

          • The only real problem with FIOE was that it was too long. If they would have cut 4 songs everyone would put it on the same level as Is this it. The band even wanted to cut the album, but Julian said it felt incomplete without the extra tracks. What was really wrong is people felt like the Strokes lost their simple, sweet sound in bloated electronics so they got upset and wrote bad reviews. The first 8 songs are amazing, I wish people would give the album the credit it deserves.

          • however, that would have left track #9 off – ‘killing lies’ which i think is a little underrated

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with this review. Period. There are moments of beauty that shine through many more moments of crap, and it feels lazy. That said, a few great tracks, some that will probably make it onto some summer mixtapes because they sound so fun. The rest can please fade away quickly.

  15. “Gratisfaction” would have fit very well on “Is This It”. Every time I listen to it, I find myself getting excited every time it comes on.

  16. Even at their ‘laziest’, the Strokes can still make a pretty damn good album.

  17. Can we get a reevaluation now where we all agree Angles is better than people originally thought? Just figured you should jump on that pretty soon.

    Seriously though, been a fan from the beginning and I don’t see why people were clamoring for another Is This It. We already had that, it was called Room On Fire, and it was actually better than Is This It. I like the fact that they’re amping up the late ’70s/early ’80s new wave elements instead of writing another ’00s record. And to be honest, I don’t think “Games” is getting any love. It’s probably my favorite track since it feels distinct from a lot of what they’ve done before and isn’t an outright misfire like “You’re So Right.”

  18. … I think it sounds pretty good.

    … I guess?

  19. 5 days in my stereo and I can definitely tell it’s a great album. Tottally disagreeing with this review and more towards the Rolling Stone’s one—this is definitely a leap forward for the band

  20. I really like the album. I haven’t really gotten too into the Strokes so kind of listening in a vacuum. Some really great songs on here regardless of the band’s chemistry or recording process. I love Macchu Picchu too.

  21. I like that they are experimenting and some of the tracks are really unique in terms of their catalog, but I just don’t think many of the songs gel into a cohesive whole.

  22. I don’t even care much about the disconnect between members of the band and the strenuous recording process. I’m just happy it doesn’t sound like Is This It. The Strokes actually sound… INTERESTING. There’s a ridiculously pathetic pretentious Catch 22 with indie music fans in which you aren’t allowed to switch up your sound and style, yet you aren’t able to put out music that sounds exactly the same from album to album either. Do one or the other criticism ensues.

  23. 4 good tracks
    n1 n2 n3 n10
    but some songs are just bad

    and Games at the end sounds like fucking Bad Romance…

    It’s hard to give this album more than 6\10

  24. I take it by reading this review that there are a few things potentially wrong with you:

    1. You don’t have a pulse.
    2. You, like Lt. Dan, no longer have feelings in your lower extremities.
    3. You are just a miserable human being.
    4. And most likely, all of the above.

    First of all, the Strokes absolutely rule, and this album is damn good. What do you want from the guys? For Julian to magically pop out of your Macbook and give you an HJ during track 2? Secondly, if you are going to write crap, put your name on it. As a “journalist” (which you, by the way, certainly are not) you should open yourself up to criticism and response. Instead this junk article is posted by “stereogum”…garbage. Did you craft this review months in advance reading interviews about it? Aree you feeling trendy for going against the Strokes because its been over a decade since they were the hip, new act? For once, I’d like a review that just focuses on the music and sound in vacuum, instead of reading into all this crap.

    Have a PBR on me you joke of a critic. I’ll enjoy my day tomorrow with my headphones in at work and this album playing. I hope a bird shits on your car, and a senior citizen spits in your face. Like The Strokes, according to you, I’m out.

  25. Wow, I disagree with most of this. It’s weird that a Pitchfork write-up fueled the majority of it, rather than the music.

    So I’m gonna continue to listen to this. Lots. Just in time for Spring.

    Really good songs.

  26. When first streaming the record on their website I’ll admit I was turned off for the most part. After listening a few times it has grown on me, some of my favorite albums came into my world that way. Machu Picchu, Gratisfaction and Life is Simple in the Moonlight are all fantastic tunes. And while we all love Is This It and ROF we’d be writing them off just the same if they gave us a third album like that. I think musically they’ve gotten way more interesting and Julian’s vox sound the best to date. Had no idea he could find some of the places he’s going. There’s a couple stinkers in tracks like You’re So Right and Games but the rest of the album is pretty good once you give it a chance. I personally like all the harmonies and little instrumental flourishes and the production sounds good. Anyway, that’s my take.

  27. Screw Pitchfork in general. They’re so predictable, you can guess their album reviews based off album artwork and the band name. Try it. Pitchfork have their 40 or so shitty bands (can you even call some of them such?) which they endorse due to whatever political ties surround such a corporation and everyone else gets written off. What’s with pushing all that mediocre electronic garbage? And what’s with all the daily throw away remix fodder? Come on already, it’s insulting. It’s a shame so many kids go to them looking for new music. The pitchfork jokers really don’t have much of a clue. They favor style & fashion over essence. It’s also a shame that more than half the folks writing about music really don’t know much about it. Music journalism is in the gutter.

    • I would love for you to back up any of this. Just one point. If you want to know how far music journalism has fallen, just read any Rolling Stone or Spin or NME review – the most hype oriented, ass-kissing, corporate payola publications out there. Pitchfork isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. Rolling stone said Angles was their best record since Is this It. He apparently has never heard Room on Fire.

      • I have to agree with Aggy. Spin, NME and the like are terrible but Pitchfork are just as bad. Look at some of the horrendous music they praise. This may not be The Strokes best album but how do they bash it then praise trash like The Weekend, Blood Diamonds and Shit Robot? Do they really believe in that junk? They champion nonsense that sounds like it could have been created by an eight year old with a Casio drum machine. Pitchfork are leading music journalism into a very sorry state and the quantity of bottom feeder, fly by night internet tosser acts they boost to indie stardom is unsettling.

        Granted, they are to Deerhunter what NME and Spin were to the Strokes and they religiously push bands like Dum Dum Girls and Kurt Vile on a daily basis but the majority of their cast are indeed a sorry bunch of 4th rate buffoons whom climb the hype ladder clenching firmly to style over substance, devoid of anything to say artistically. Curious listeners would hear a lot of that junk differently if they couldn’t put a face or some sort of ironic hipster image to the sounds coming out of their computer speakers. And regardless of what you think of The Strokes and whether you like Angles or not (that’s besides the point), it’s a lot better than anything streaming on Pitchfork’s page right now.

        The basic writers on that site are often notoriously oblivious to any sort of music history beyond the past five or ten years which is painfully apparent when trying to get through most reviews. One has to wonder where in the world do they find these people. If you’re going to write music commentary then research your subject beforehand. Do the homework, know the references, have some passion about why you do what you do – speak the language.

        • Not much more I could add on the subject. That backs it up alright. Despite Rolling Stone being a throw away mag, at least they have writers like David Fricke who could put some weight behind their pieces. What you get at Pitchfork and other similar blog by night sites are these pathetic kids who know nothing past Pitchfork reviews from the last few years. Knowledgeable music fans should be the ones honing this material. Guess that’s another story though. For Christ’s sake, get real writers who can reference past Animal Collective and Kanye West. Leave that noise to mainstream publications. Also agree that there’s just a bit too much of the wannabe r ‘n’ b, dance music forgettables happening there. Hope that fad passes quickly in general.

          Funny… I took a look at Pitchfork after reading this and low and behold some crummy band called the weekend has been anointed by them and is on the front page with like an 8.6. They basically even tell you flat out that no one had heard of them before. There may not be a cash payola happening but something is obviously in the works in that camp to make stuff like this materialize. I listened to a couple tracks and they’re absolutely horrendous on so many levels. Thanks but no thanks.

  28. mouth cancer

  29. This album is fuckin’ good, and I was expecting it to be shit. I remember watching the Strokes on SNL with my mom back when I was 12, and they’ve had me since. Minus FIoE, no matter how much I wanted to like it.

    The Rolling Stone review is the only one I really agree with so far, and that’s coming from someone who refuses to buy an issue anymore, because normally their music reviews are just shit, afraid to be good or bad on new artists, and mostly middling.

  30. this review HAD to have been written by this “brandon” character who brought us so many questionable articles on this website. But, why does he no longer have the balls to put down his name as writer of his own rubbish?

  31. Feigned or no, hasn’t apathy always been part of The Strokes’s sound and presentation?

    Go watch their performance on SNL from 2002–the bored, detached, aloof act has always been there. But the band also always sounded very tight and connected, and they still do on this album, which is an accomplishment considering the circumstances under which they recorded it.

  32. Well, I kinda love it now. The all-over-the-place feeling sort of threw me for a loop my first few listens, but now I’m finding more to love about each song, even if they still don’t really gel.

  33. Great article! Here’s my review of Angles for the New School Free Press: http://nsfreepress.com/story/strokes

    Enjoy!

  34. At first I agree, this album did sound disjointed. The old strokes are usually so tight as a unit too; I really loved the first two albums because of their dynamic.

    But I’m not disappointed with this album at all. After a couple listens, this album proves to have some jems, that I appreciate. Number 1, it’s nice to have new Strokes material because it’s been so long, and they’re one of my favorite sounds. I also really like the guitar work on the new album, I think the first single sounded great with the guitar interplay, and this continues throughout the album. Also, I may be different here, but I really like the direction and sound they’re going in. Although I loved Room on FIre in high school (and still do), that was a long time ago.. They came out with an album that reminded everyone of how great the Strokes are, while stepping out of their circle and introducing new tones. I’ve really enjoyed the majority of this album (like Taken for a Fool, Two Kinds of Happiness, Machu Picchu, and Life is Simple in the Moonlight are all great songs), but I’ll admit I think there are some duds too (Call Me Back, You’re So Right).

    I think it’s funny that people are upset that this doesn’t go back to the Is This It sound, when they’re were criticized for replicating that on Room on Fire and being ‘lazy’ (http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/7538-room-on-fire/).

    Whatever, in my opinion, it’s good, and I’m happy that there is new strokes

  35. Looking forward to the Double Take that inevitably will be coming.

  36. Yes, not as good as their first two, but this is a really good Strokes album. “Two Kinds of Happiness” is a really fantastic track. The only tracks that don’t do much for me are “Machu Picchu” and “Metabolism”. Over all it has a nice new wave sound, sometimes sounding like The Cars.

  37. Basically The Strokes can do whatever they want and the general public are going to hail it as genius. I realized this after seeing the ridiculous Fallon clip. That was one of the worst performances I’ve seen by any band in a long time. But hey, they’re The Strokes. As long as they look good and put a couple decent songs on every record they’ll always be at the top of the heap, regardless of the pitchforks and stereogums out there.

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