‘The New Abnormal’ reminds fans of why we love The Strokes

From garage rock to new wave

Courtesy+of+The+Strokes+official+Facebook+page

Courtesy of The Strokes official Facebook page

By Quinn He, Assistant Arts Editor

From the conception of the band in 1998, The Strokes have gone on to release some of the most influential music of the 21st century. Countless artists have cited The Strokes as a significant influence, The Killers and Article Monkeys to name two. Since their debut album, “Is This It,” the driving rhythm guitars and brain-melting overdrive of The Strokes has been ingrained into pop-culture and will remain so for years to come. The perfect amount of fuzzy overdrive on guitarists Nick Valensi’s Riviera and Albert Hammond Jr.’s Stratocaster changed the course of garage rock and indie rock music. Julian Casablancas’ gritty, harsh vocals are as paramount to The Strokes’ sound as the guitars. It is not a stretch to say The Strokes will go down as one of the greatest rock bands to come out of New York City, especially with their diverse incorporation of other genres of music into their own as they grew older.

The Strokes and their styles have seen massive shifts. Even early iterations of songs off their “The Modern Age” EP, like “Last Nite” and “The Modern Age,” became crisper and cleaner, with the tempo seeing a slight decrease, in the following album release. As The Strokes have grown from cigarette-smoking, shaggy-haired, ragged-jean and leather jacket-wearing rock stars, their music has also seen a progression. This is not to say “Is This It,” “Room on Fire” and other subsequent releases by the band have not been phenomenal pieces of music, but as much as deep fans fawn over 2001-2003 era Strokes, the sound of The Strokes was bound to change. From every album and from every side project, influences for this new album can be seen throughout The Strokes’ discography.

The time between previous album releases was filled with various side projects by the individual band members, most notably front man Julian Casablancas. In 2009, he released his first solo album “Phrazes for the Young,” an album heavily inspired by a lush 1980s aesthetic. Musically, the album pulls from new wave and synth-pop, especially in the heavy use of synthesizers. This album would set the stage for another significant, experimental project Casablancas would be a part of, The Voidz. One can hear elements of The Voidz’s two albums seeping into sections of “The New Abnormal,” to create that diverse, new-wave pop element with a hint of psychedelia. Through the solo work of Casablancas, fans could observe the music he created in various side projects was always the type of music he was craving to create, so it’s nice to see The Strokes heavily adopting aspects of his style into their work with this album.

“The New Abnormal” came out April 10, a welcome break from the world today, and it was the first major release by the band since their “Future Present Past” EP in 2016. This album is a much more cohesive and put together release than the previously released EP. The Strokes dropped statements during shows in 2019 and 2020 that hinted at an album release. At the Bernie Sanders rally in Durham, New Hampshire, the band confirmed the album release date, while also debuting “Bad Decisions,” as well as “At the Door.” The band’s chemistry feels very fluid and they put out, debatably, one of the best Strokes releases audiences have seen in years. The album is a melting pot of disco pop, indie new wave and garage rock electronica, a clearly diverse array of sound. The bass riffs on the album are heavy and certain songs sound like they utilize an old drum machine, but we all know Fab Moretti is the one sitting behind the kit.

The opening track, “The Adults Are Talking,” begins and maintains a tight, robotic backbeat with drum hits that sound like they’ve been sampled from some Roland drum machine. Lyrically, the song draws in political meaning, as lyrics by Casablancas’ usually do. Even the title of the track is a phrase of authority and power, notions that corporations and politicians hold over everyday people. The lyric, “And then you did something wrong and you said it was great. And now you don’t know how you could ever complain” speaks to this idea.

“Selfless” is a beautifully, dreamy song that utilizes a familiar sounding guitar riff panned far to the left channel, a studio tactic The Strokes heavily incorporate into this album. Julian reaches for higher, crisper falsettos on the track while singing of living his life for this love. It’s an emotionally bare song, especially in the bridge singing, “Bite my tongue, I wait my turn. I waited for a century. Waste my breath, no lessons learned.”

The single “Bad Decisions” sounds drastically similar to the dance-rock, new wave songs “Age of Consent” by New Order and “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol, borrowing melodies and a loose song structure.

The middle track, “Eternal Summer,” induces an all-around euphoric feeling around the 10-second mark with a boom of sound coming from a synth in the right channel and a deep piano chord strike that creates a wide atmosphere. It’s further enhanced by Casablancas’ incredibly beautiful vocal performance beginning the first verse. A subtle synth progression sneaks into the bottom of the left channel for the per-chorus while Casablancas lulls the listener with “Summer is coming, won’t go away. Summer is coming, it’s here to stay.” A guitar chord progression reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” drives the post-chorus. The song describes the idea of an eternal summer, a time period most synonymous with feelings of joy, happiness and freedom, as the eleventh hour, a period of time that leads right up until the last moment. An eternal summer also seems to lean towards the looming threat of climate change. The lyrics, “Don’t you want the truth? Ignore reality. See, I love that feeling to,” ideates how easily people can be drawn to ignore the reality that is on its way. “Eternal Summer” stands out as one of the most beautifully crafted songs on the album, both lyrically and instrumentally.

“At the Door” is a lush and dreamy synthesizer driven ballad that was first debuted at the Bernie Sanders rally in Durham, New Hampshire along with a grainy and enthralling animated music video. It’s a song that sits apart from almost every other Strokes song out there, devoid of guitar licks and rocking backbeats. “At the Door” incorporates juicy synthesizer progressions, one with a distinct, hopping rhythm and the other acting as a wobbly, hypnotizing base. Throughout the song, many other synthesizer progressions and sound poke through the mix to further pull the listener into a washed-out world of sonics.

The Strokes are back and better than ever. “The New Abnormal” fills the speakers with dance rock and new wave, using stereo splitting and panning to orchestrate a wide brilliant atmosphere that has fans itching to blast the volume at any party. The Strokes have developed their sound so much since their debut album, and “The New Abnormal” sees The Strokes creating captivating and gorgeous music, lyrically and instrumentally, as they grab for different effects, instruments and studio tactics with the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin. Within the lyrics to most of the songs, Casablancas makes references to previous works done by both The Voidz and The Strokes by using recurring themes, melodies, lyrics and motifs. Every track on the album is phenomenally produced, with lyrics that can be ruminated over for days.

“The New Abnormal” would pair beautifully with a summer drive with the windows down, letting the cool wind and embracing sun invade your speeding car, but unfortunately that is something we may have to hold off on for the time being. None the less, The Strokes’ new album is a beacon of light in these gloomy days. I expect this album to remain on repeat for many fans in the comfort of their homes, as it will be in my own.

Quinn He is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at [email protected]