jason stives is a machine …
It’s amazing to think that the Strokes released their classic debut Is This It? 12 years ago, but here we are a decade later with another new album. In that time music has changed greatly, and hope that the Strokes would still possess the grimy indie rock swagger of their first effort has slowly declined with each release. In fact, it’s hard to argue that the importance of the New York quintet has declined greatly. With a long gap between records and hardly any continuous touring in the past 7 years, it’s not hard to understand why their limelight has faded into the obscurity. However, to say they are releasing less than listenable material is unjustified. What has come in the wake of each record is a band more confident in changing even if their overall individual skills vary. Their fifth record, Comedown Machine, while not the best material wise, is a strive to distinguish themselves from the glory of the hype machine they once were associated with.
The band initially released the track “One Way Trigger” to confused fanfare a few months ago. The surprising emergence of lead singer Julian Casablancas’ falsetto didn’t impress most who waited since their debut for better results. The rest of the electronically infused and sonically reduced record seems to leave The Strokes in a state of progression that is both inventive and uncool to their audience at the same time. The double tap of the record’s first two tracks “Tap Out” and “All the Time” start out fast and almost schizophrenic; these songs feel the closest to some of their earlier releases, specifically, something off 2006’s First Impressions of Earth.
After the aforementioned “One Way Trigger” pants to a halt, the record descends into some remarkably retro territory that is almost reminiscent of Casablancas’ solo album, 2009’s Phrazes for the Young. While still not the most skilled front man and lyricist, it’s clear the time Casablancas’ has spent exploring different avenues of music has played a part in the band’s changing sound. Most songs reach for a new wave aesthetic coupled with a healthy dose of eighties pop music: this is the sound that earmarks Comedown Machine.
In an alternate reality, this sound would be welcomed with open arms. Both “80’s Comedown Machine” and “Happy Ending” sweet synthesizer beats, while the throwback “50/50” and “Welcome to Japan” display the more eclectic traits of the album by mastering the already established sounds that the Strokes have embodied on past releases. Since Comedown is far more electronic than what was expected, it would be best to place it alongside 2011’s Angles. However, Comedown Machine takes on an identity of its own. Guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi continue to showcase their skills as a unified guitar force, but it’s the emphasis on the twinkling hooks that defined their guitar work that has been axed this time in favor of a broad sequence of melodies heightened by a variety of instrumentation.
Despite some initial reservations, Comedown Machine is neither heartless nor lazy. Most of the time it feels like another attempt at Casablancas’ solo record, but the willingness to try something different signals a different side to the group. The Strokes clearly are making music for someone, not for the masses, but they are also having a fun time in doing so. Despite thinking that a more unified band was simply a smoke screen, there is an effort to make further records unique with far more depth than the scrappy and messy sound that they became so renowned for. Comedown Machine merits mixed results depending on the kind of fan you are but it will no doubt find an audience one way or another.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Good, not Great)