The Strokes | Comedown Machine
For all of its positives, one can imagine being in The Strokes must be a pretty infuriating circumstance at times. Ever since the release of ‘Is This It’ back in 2001, there has always been an expectation for the New Yorkers to keep that genre defining sound, as the public (and some critics alike) seem to judge every piece of new material against their debut, griping at any deviation from what they imagine ‘classic Strokes’ should sound like.
In 2011, their ‘comeback’ of sorts was deemed too experimental for some, its frugal sprinklings of electronica translating more as an extension of Casablancas’ solo work than an organic group effort. The surprise release of ‘One Way Trigger’ back in January was no different, as its frenetic 8bit instrumentation and startling falsetto were met with a mix of joy and confusion.
As one of the biggest bands in the world, The Strokes shouldn’t have anything to prove (especially after five albums), which is what makes ‘Comedown Machine’ such an interesting listen, as they deliver their bravest material to date.
The mechanised groove of opener ‘Tap Out’ is the first indicator of a new direction, as Casablancas provides vocals of opposing octaves, harmonizing with himself over a restrained rhythm. Much like the first reaction to ‘One Way Trigger’, hearing the famously hoarse vocals in a completely new style is perhaps a little disheartening at first, though as the album progresses and these developmental nuances to their sound are filtered through the traditional facets, one becomes acclimatized. The first official single ‘All The Time’ conforms to a more habitual Strokes template, with a raw, repetitive chorus hook and a classic Hammond Jr guitar solo that wouldn’t seem out of place on ‘Room On Fire’.
There is a certain throwback quality to the more experimental aspects of the record, as parts of ‘Welcome To Japan’ could effortlessly soundtrack an advert for a holiday in the 1980’s, with Casablancas putting on his smoothest voice to pose questions like “what kind of asshole drives a lotus” over a suave rhythm.
‘80’s Comedown Machine’ is typical of its title with retro orchestral synth and longing harmonies, its mellowness only matched by lo-fi closer ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ which embraces an air of subtlety previously unexplored by the group, to create a lounging style kept serious by emotionally adept lyrical content.
Although it is clear they are trying to embrace a different, perhaps more personal temperament, there are still shades of ferocity amongst the serenity. ‘50/50’ is distorted and chaotic (in the best possible way), capturing a much needed sense of urgency on the record. ‘Partners In Crime’ feels like a culmination of every development they have made in their career so far, showcasing a multitude of ideas without cluttering the environment.
‘Comedown Machine’ is not only The Strokes’ most experimental album yet, but their most honest. The open embrace of new ideas and the record’s almost playful nature feels less contrived than 2011’s ‘Angles’, which ultimately reinstates an air of unpredictability in New York’s finest.