The Strokes' "Angles": track by track

The Strokes return with ten tracks of baroque new-wave and an array of keyboards. In other words, what nobody was expecting.

The Strokes’ fourth album, Angles, opens with the line “I’m putting your patience to the test” and closes with Julian Casablancas proclaiming, “Don’t try to stop up / Get out of the way.” Which suggests the band fully understands how the long-awaited record will both confound fans and yet firmly establish a new chapter of its career.

The first thing to get out of your head is any notion that Angles is a “return to form.” I mean that in the most positive sense. For starters, in my estimation, the Strokes never lost their form. (Their restraint? A bit.) Secondly, it sounds like nothing they’ve ever made. In fact, I’m struggling to think of any record, ever, that’s quite sounded like this.

Upon hearing Casablancas’s solo album, Phrazes for the Young (one of our favorite albums of 2009), some played the mental game of “What would this have sounded like if played by the Strokes?” Angles might be the answer, as it is very much a continuation of that ornate, futuristic sound—or at least much closer to it than the taut garage rock of Is This It.

These are ten—well, nine—tracks of baroque new-wave, filled with as many synthesizers as guitars. There are gated drums, extreme chorus effects on the guitars, sci-fi keyboards, moments of cold minimalism and bizarre audio mixes. In other words, it sounds like the cover looks, with a bright, uncommon palette and illusions. Guitars can seem like keyboards, bass can seem like guitar and drums can seem like machines. Warren Fu, a frequent collaborator on the band’s art and a LucasFilm imagineer, is going to have a field day with this stuff.

In a compositional sense, it is akin to the Strokes’ first two albums. On the debut and Room on Fire, the New Yorkers never sounded as if you were hearing a band play live. There they were taking elements of all the CBGB bands of the ’70s and reconnecting them into fresh forms. Here, they do that with the ’80s.

Even when ostensibly playing loose rock & roll, the Strokes display a taut compositional approach. Each instrument is painstakingly thought out, recorded individually, tweaked on an audio board and assembled into a pop form. Throughout all of Angles there is very little low end; it is a record very much for the ears and not the stage. The ingredients sound miniaturized, assembled with tweezers and re-enlarged. Casablancas sings with the mic against his lips. The crisp drums splash and pop high in the mix like an old Bowie record or MC5’s Back in the USA.

But the most surprising new wrinkle to the Strokes sound is the unmistakable influence of the slick French retro-futurism of Daft Punk and Air. And, no, that does not mean it’s like Phoenix. As I was taking notes, my first impression was that sounded like a mix of the Cars’ Panorama and Air’s 10,000Hz Legend.

Who expected that? But, enough! Here’s a track-by-track breakdown:

“Machu Picchu”

Angles opens with the same slide-whistle crescendo you get when you log on to Apple iChat, but slowed down a bit. Perhaps this implies a long-distance communication process involved in its creation. Someone else has noted this funky cut resembles Men at Work, and, by golly, it surely does bring to mind “Down Under." Guitar plucks are processed to sound like bongos. Or maybe those are bongos. Again, it’s hard to tell. Sheets of blown-out guitar chords blast through the chorus, as if Nick and Albert have plugged into a laptop. The bass starts, stops and slides like Duran Duran playing Radiohead’s “Airbag.” Casablancas casually sings, “Wearing a jacket made of meat,” which people will undoubtedly believe to be about Lady Gaga. At the end, a cool effect filters his voice to sound like Carol Anne lost in the TV in Poltergeist. A likely single.

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