The Strokes try out new ‘Angles’

By Brian Canova

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Today, the Strokes released their long-awaited fourth album, “Angles.” The record slaps a surprising 80s synth-rock danciness onto their modern garage rock, which draws from The Velvet Underground and carried their inaugural album, 2001’s “Is This It.” While it can’t surpass their first, it’s their best album since and light years beyond 2005’s catastrophic “First Impressions of Earth.”

The band began writing songs for “Angles” in January of 2009 with the stated intention of getting into the studio by that February. A year later, following an incompatibility with producer Joe Chicarelli (Beck, U2), the band was hardly any closer to an album release. The album was ultimately recorded at Albert Hammond Jr.’s home studio in upstate New York.

The chief complaint about “Angles” is that lead singer Julian Casablancas fails to match the energy he’s brought to his vocals in the past, and this is probably due to fundamental differences in the way this album was produced.

Casablancas, who ran the show in the songwriting process for the first three albums, shared in the creative responsibilities with the other band members on this one in order to get the album made. But even “share” might not be the right word. In fact, the music for the album was recorded in Casablancas’ absence as he toured his solo album,  2009’s “Phrazes For the Young,” adding in his vocal parts afterwards. His distance from the production shows.

With an 80s synth rock sound and a faint hint of pop and funk a la Talking Heads, “Machu Piccu” kicks off the album with a surprising sound that’s echoed through most of the album. “Under Cover of Darkness” calls to mind a much more produced “Last Nite” or “Is This It” off their first album, and “You’re So Right” introduces a spacey trance-like song unique to the track list.

At the same time, some tracks feel disjointed and others a little whiney. Take “Call Me Back” for example. Even “You’re So Right” could be described as the musical equivalent to one of those ransom notes cut out from the individual letters of a magazine, thrown together with a glue stick and a kid’s pair of scissors.

Building off the same influences as their earlier work, including The Velvet Underground and The Cars, “Angles” also experiments with sounds from MGMT, a little Phoenix, Arctic Monkeys and even some Talking Heads on a few of the tracks. Listen to “Taken for a Fool,” the first 10 seconds of “Games” or “Machu Piccu.” “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight,” the only song kept from the recording sessions with Chicarelli, sounds a bit like The Shins, and this makes sense given that he produced with them as well. “Gratisfaction” and “Two Kinds of Happiness,” each worth a listen, round out the album.

The most exciting part of this album is what it might mean for their live shows, especially after a stellar performance on Saturday Night Live two weeks ago, playing new tracks “Under the Cover of Darkness” and “Life is Simple in The Moonlight” in their third live performance on the program.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]