Showing posts with label the strokes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the strokes. Show all posts

Saturday, May 12, 2018

video review: 'virtue' by the voidz

Yes, I know it took way too long to get to this, but honestly I could say more that was interesting here... sadly not.

Next up, something more current - stay tuned!

album review: 'virtue' by the voidz

Let's talk briefly about being weird in music. 

And this is actually a topic I don't think gets enough attention, mostly because for something to be called out as 'strange' or 'weird' there's at least some element of surprise, and in the era of 'nothing surprises anybody anymore' thanks to the Internet, the bar for weird gets pretty high. And for a critic it gets even higher, and not just because of the insanity you can dredge up out of /mu/ or Bandcamp, but because there is a grand tradition of outsider artists that have existed outside the mainstream where their brand of oddity might be just as catchy, but also brings with it elements that the public majority just are not willing to process. And yet again, in the Internet era where it's so easy for influences to crossbreed and mutate or become memes, the public might seem more willing to embrace these outsider acts... but it becomes a balancing act, both for the artists and the fans, because for as much as you want your favourites to do well, you know that artistic eccentricity can get eaten alive by the industry.

And then bridging between artist and fan you have someone like Julian Casablancas, frontman of The Strokes and his own defiantly odd band The Voidz. And I'll freely admit that he didn't flip that 'weird' alarm for me with records like The Voidz' debut Tyranny in 2014 - offkilter and paranoid and scattershot, absolutely, but it was also overlong and not quite as challenging as it thought it was. But it wasn't that record that compelled any interest from me so much as a series of manic interviews before this record that revealed Casablacas was a huge fan of Ariel Pink - which made sense, especially when you start digging into certain thematic parallels, but it was also telling that while Pink might be the genuine article and an act like MGMT be the studied devotee, Casablancas was the fan that didn't always grasp the intricacies but adored the aesthetic. Now reviews of Virtue were suggesting this could be changing, at the very least in terms of sonic fidelity and tone, but given this record also came with signing to RCA and producers most well-known for working with The War On Drugs, Weezer, and Beyonce, I had my doubts about this. But hey, it's nearly an hour long, surely they could have gotten things working, right?

Monday, March 25, 2013

album review: 'comedown machine' by the strokes

It's the dream of every artist to make it big, for their work to be widely experienced and acclaimed by the masses, to be recognized for its greatness. It's not just that you're creating art for the sake of the art, but that the art can be experienced and enjoyed on such a wide scale that you might be able to attain that cultural paradigm shift.

So what happens when the first album you release is your big break? Right out of the gate, you hit a home run so powerful that you become widely acclaimed by the industry, the critics, and the public alike. You can hardly believe it, because not only has success come, it has come hot and fast off of your first album. All of a sudden, magazines and critics are hailing your album as a masterpiece, and that your act is the start of a new movement that  will resurrect not just your genre, but rock music in its entirety!

And then comes the terrible, terrible question, the question that comes the second you consider making another album: how the hell can you follow that?

That's the question that's plagued the indie rock band The Strokes ever since they struck it huge with Is This It, their mega-successful debut that definitely deserves the majority of the praise it gets. It was tightly written, superbly arranged, and featured some of the most solid and rhythmic electric guitar I've heard in a long time. The Strokes had a definite gift for melody, and fused with main singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas' 'teenager-in-New-York' sensibilities, it was a perfect summer smash. And combined with the success of The White Stripes, The Hives, and The Verve around the same time, it was no surprise when critics began proclaiming that The Strokes were the start of a new movement to 'save' rock, bring it back to its simpler roots in the 70s garage traditions. The post-grunge dreck of the late 90s and early 2000s was about to be swept away, replaced by a new explosion of rock...

...and it didn't happen. Post-grunge remained stubbornly implacable, only beginning to fall away as the pop-rock boom of the mid-2000s elbowed its way in. The Hives and The Verve never managed to hold onto their momentum, and most of the indie acts that gained popularity in the wake of this 'rock revolution' only managed a fraction of a breakthrough in 2004 (see my review of The Killers' 2012 album Battle Born for details). The White Stripes (arguably the most interesting of the acts), lasted a little longer before disbanding, leaving behind six mostly solid albums and Jack White's intriguing solo efforts, but nothing close to the success they were promised. 

This leaves The Strokes, one of the peculiar musical acts that has always seemed to sit in the shadows of their magnificent debut. It's honestly a bit depressing, really - Is This It was so goddamned great that it would take some genuine genius to effectively follow it up, not to mention top-notch songwriting. And for a second, when The Strokes delivered their follow-up album Room On Fire, most people thought their success was assured. Sure, it wasn't quite as polished and focused as Is This It, but that was to be expected with a sophomore album, with the band exploring their sound and trying new things. But the first evidence of the problem was here: the album sounded a bit too much like Is This It, and the songwriting hadn't quite advanced much either. There were exceptions ('Reptilia'), but overall, it was hard not to see The Strokes just sticking a bit too close to their working formula.

But then they released their third album First Impressions of Earth, and here was where the big problems with The Strokes started to come out. For starters, their sound was evolving, but their material lacked the precise control and tightness of their previous work, instead slathering distortion effects over only decent guitar work. But on even their better songs, the real problem became Julian Casablancas, the increasingly punchable face of the band - mainly because while the band was evolving, he certainly wasn't. The vocals were never the most essential thing on albums by The Strokes, but with their greater emphasis on First Impressions of Earth, Casablancas' caterwauling started to become a little insufferable. More problematic was the fact the songwriting just wasn't getting better, still feeling clumsy and lacking in focus, and it was fast becoming clear that Julian Casablancas really didn't have anything interesting to say.

So after taking five years off, The Strokes came back with Angles, their fourth album and by far their strangest - and I don't mean strange in the good way. According to sources inside the band, the recording was troubled, and it definitely does come across in the music. Casablancas apparently recorded all of his vocals separate from the rest of the band, and the tonal differences between his material and that of the rest of The Strokes is jarring. I can pinpoint three definite problems on Angles: the tonal shifts within songs are often incoherent and frustrating, the songwriting still isn't very good, and Julian Casablancas decided he wanted to add autotune to his singing, where it doesn't fit with the production at all. And really, it's a strength of the rest of the band that despite all of this, Angles actually turned out to be a decent album. 

But the problems that plagued their last album hadn't been solved - in fact, even more problems had cropped up, and when I heard The Strokes were coming back with another album (and a godawful album cover to boot), I was uneasy. Could The Strokes pull something together here?