March 21, 2013

Come Down Machine

I've been a huge Strokes fan since I returned from Africa in 2002. I have written about them here and here. Their first three albums will always be in the top three places I go when I need to feel young and hip and relevant and bad ass.

There are a few songs on Julian Casablanca's solo album that I love- Out Of The Blue? Forget about it! I also have spent quality time with Hammond's first solo effort. I have seen them perform as a band several times in NYC, Boston and San Francisco. It's safe to say that I love The Strokes.

So why have I not more excited about the release of their latest effort, Come Down Machine? Honestly they lost me a bit after Angles. That album's lackluster appeal could have has something to do with this
Singer Julian Casablancas largely removed himself from the other four Strokes during the recording process, going so far as recording his vocals remotely at Electric Lady Studios and sending them to the band via email. Likewise, most communication between Casablancas and the rest of the band took place via email, and, according to guitarist Nick Valensi, most of the singer's ideas and suggestions were written "in really vague terms", leaving the others without much to go on. Casablancas' literal distance was a deliberate attempt at forcing the other members to take control of the band's creative process, a task which he had hitherto dominated. In an interview with Pitchfork, Casablancas stated: "When I'm there, people might wait for me to say something. I think it took me being a little mute to force the initiative". While Casablancas’ disengagement may have been by design, Valensi found the whole experience deeply dissatisfying. "I won’t do the next album if we make it 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.
Whatever the case, that album was a major departure from their original style and sound. Don't get me wrong, I respect their experimentation and growth.  They have always been pegged as a one-trick-pony, so it is refreshing to see them play with sounds and styles, but for whatever reason I did not click with Angles. It must have been the residue from Angles, that kept me from getting exited about their latest.

That is until a few days ago; some friends sent me their gut reaction report cards. They were not impressed. I had to listen for myself. Here is my first (second actually) listen, gut reaction report:

Tap Out= B+ I kind of love this song. Weird 80's bass line and Blondie like harmonies. Love the falsetto voice and layering of baritone. This is a repeating theme of this album. Pleasantly surprised. Guitar work, opening riff and solo is lame.

All the Time= C-  Meh, I will probably never listen to this song again, like many of the songs I have already forgotten from Angles. (Stop with the guitar solos)

One Way Trigger= B-  Weird Japanese game music and falsetto voice again? Yes please! The guitar works here. I wish I knew what he was talking about. Ummm. never mind. I wish I didn't know what he was saying. I can dig this song. I like this sound. It is different, but I can respect it.

Welcome to Japan= B I can groove to this. Great opening bass line and feel. I like the build up and tension that is built through the first minute. I don't listen to David Bowie, but I am pretty sure this is what he sounds like. I wish there was a weird dance club scene in Lost in Translation that featured this song. The last minute of this song is amazing. More of this please.

50 50 = D+ I will get my "hard rock" from other bands. No thanks Juicebox remix. I want sardonic moody rock from The Strokes. Too loud. The driving riff is lame. I gave this song the obligatory second listen, but doubt I will give it too many more chances.

 80s Comedown Machine= B This song starts has so much potential. Dreamy synth pop, weird layers. I'll take all of it.  It's no Thom Yorke, but it tries to be. I imagine this is what I think the Psychedelic Furs sound like. I like this song a lot.

Slow Animals= B+  This song weirdly reminds me of Diamond and Pearls era Prince. There is an awesome soulful harmony. It holds my attention and has plenty of room for exploration. There is a lot here I like. The guitar finally works. Could be my current favorite!

Chances= D Too many different sonic things happening here. Nothing special. Another random Strokes song that will get lost in the shuffle and blend into all the other songs that sound the same. Sounds like a bad song off Julian's solo record. It's just kind of boring. 

Partners in Crime= D Too many thing I don't like, but can't pinpoint them all. That opening guitar  riff for starters, feels like someone shat in my mouth. Hard to move on from there.

Happy Ending= B+  Love the opening riff and yes the robot voice. Clap track? Okay. I can play with this. Has so much potential. Matches the mood I am liking from the whole album. It gets lost in itself, but that's okay because you can help it find itself again.

Call it Fate Call It Karma= C+  This is the Bugs of this album for sure. WTF? In a good way?  Is he imitating Billie Holiday? They are trying some weird Tom Waits stuff here. Not sure they executed it well, but got to give it to them for thinking they can get away with it.

This album has already grown on me after the second listen.  Over all I give it a solid B- What I love about The Strokes, is that their songs are not easy to digest on a first listen These songs are not the three minute rock pop jams we expect from the pretty boys from NYC. They have grown. They have changed. Not necessarily for the better, but you have to admire bands that evolve. This album is even making me thinks that perhaps I missed some gems on Angles.

As long as The Strokes keep making music, I will keep exploring.

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