Ok, I’m not yet sure what I think about this. Here’s why.
New Strokes material is always released amid a barrage of internet opinion – derisive, exuberant, contemplative and more. It is almost impossible to judge the music on its own merits. I’ll try to stay observant and neutralish. But full disclosure, The Strokes were THE band for me in high school.
The Strokes arrived at a weird time for music. Everything was colliding and imploding all at once. Is this it? dropped in late August 2001 in the UK, and in early October 2001, which bookend the 9/11 attacks. They hailed from New York, at a time when people wanted to hear vibrant New York voices. They sounded vintage, even as a new band. Their initial single was pre-released by a stalwart of the old-guard music press NME – but not on one of NME’s signature compilation CDs, but experimentally as a digital download.
They blew up just as, and just because, the music business – that is, the $20-per-CD-pseudo-monopoly-old-boy music business – was starting to tank. Executives were willing and able (and desperate) to throw money at a band, especially one like the Strokes, who had the promise to really move units. This was also the same time that taste-making blogs like Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, Brooklyn Vegan, and a host of others really started to rival print media like Spin, NME, and Rolling Stone. Pitchfork, for example, only started doing daily updates two years earlier, in 1999. By 2001, the general public had really started to express themselves and really explore the internet, and move away from AOL, email, and porn (the sturdy bedrock upon which the rest of the internet was built). Napster was gone, but copycats like KaZaA, Morpheus, Limewire, and a bunch of others rose up to fill the public’s insatiable desire for 1-song-at-a-time free downloads (man, remember how long that took?!?). 2001 was pre-facebook and myspace, remember.
The Strokes, for a couple of months, were all things to all people. They were voices from the hip underground of battered city looking for champions. Both old and new waves of music criticism proclaimed glowing adoration. The power of internet buzz had taken off, but high-speed downloading had not yet crippled the mainstream music industry. And somehow, with perfect timing, they exceeded the hype and released a great, incredibly successful pop record. One that was simultaneously cool and popular, retro and fresh – and one that will haunt everything that they ever do.
An early release from what the internet has discovered will be their fifth record, Comedown Machine, One Way Trigger seems like it might finally be a step in the direction that fans hope and expect, though it’s tough to judge from the single tune. They’re doing what they do best: this song is a stylish experiment in a genre as old as they are. Julian Casablancas is pushing his voice into falsetto, which I like better than I expected. Frenetic synth-y arpeggios and a mechanical beat drive the track, a sound reminiscent of their work on Room on Fire and First Impressions. I’m excited to hear the rest of the record.