Thursday, March 24, 2011

Comments on the Parts of ANGLES that I Liked

It’s strange that people are always commenting on how events surrounding an album's release can affect its reception and yet they still let it happen when that kind of album inevitably comes back around. Many, for example, see Rihanna’s Rated R as particularly well received because of the domestic abuse scandal that informed it so much. And yet, when it came along, they still let it affect, sometimes even engulf, their criticism.

In many ways, then, I should be a perfect candidate to talk about this new Strokes album. I did not grow up with the Strokes. In seventh grade, when their debut came out, I wasn’t confident enough to even identify with any music at all. I think I just liked Weird Al. So they are not an important part of how I think about music as they are to so many people. They do not represent a specific archetype of good music to which I can compare other bands. To put it simply, Is This It, although I enjoy it very much, does not really mean anything to me.

But still, there really is no point of me out-and-out reviewing this. For one, its not amazing. If it were, it would be worth decontextualizing. But we’re not going to be coming back to this for years to come and more importantly, this isn’t essential listening, something non-Strokes fans should really give a chance to. If you care, you’ve already heard it. If you don’t, I’m sure you don’t care what I think.

So I thought I might just talk about three songs that I did like, so that if you are highly dissatisfied, as so many are, you might still be able to squeeze some pleasure out of it. Ok?

"Machu Picchu"

The first song on the album is incidentally my favorite. The song gives off the impression of tension, but not so much so that they’re letting it effect them all that much. Other than Julian’s trademark liminality, every aspect of the production in the verses is stark and hard-hitting, from the drums to the tortured reggae riff. And the chorus, oh man, the chorus shows the band in ecstatic free fall: if there ever was a more textbook case of tension and release, I haven’t heard it. The same goes for the bridge, which consists of a surprisingly well done system of layered vocals. All-in-all “Macchu Picchu” shows the band simultaneously in and out of sincerity in a way that’s effectively fascinating, making us wonder if the emotion of the song is a little bit too over the top to be real. Whether it is or not, the ambiguity makes it playfully enjoyable.

"Two Kinds of Happiness"

“Two Kinds of Happiness” is, to its benefit, entirely more sincere than the song above. The song, as basically everyone has said, resembles something from The Cars, a band that had a real knack for being both overly sincere and a little ridiculous at the same time. The Strokes lean to the sincere end, the song’s saving grace being that it is so emotionally effective from the very immediate beginning. But even then, the chorus is unexpectedly fervent, to the point where it removes some of the song’s believability. Insincerity without playfulness is not all that appealing. The song is, however, redeemed by its verses and because they’re so good, I can still really enjoy it.


“Gratisfaction” is one of the more left field additions on the album, taking inspiration from the Strokes’ trademark nineteen seventies, but the wrong side of the culture divide: not from artsy new wave but from stadium rock. This track reminds me specifically of Queen (with a little bit of the Beatles), but with an added sort of jaunty nostalgia. More importantly, the track is short and sweet, which is more than you can say about any song by Queen itself. Simply put, solid work.

Other than that, I had mixed feelings about the rest of the album. If you care about it, listen to it yourself.

To listen to the songs I mention above, you can stream the entire album here.

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