The Strokes

Angles

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When the Strokes returned from their lengthy post-First Impressions of Earth hiatus with Angles, they’d been apart almost as long as they’d been together. While they were gone, they cast a long shadow: upstarts like the Postelles and Neon Trees borrowed more than a few pages from their stylebook, and even established acts like Phoenix used the band’s strummy guitar pop for their own devices. During that time, the members of the Strokes pursued side projects that were more or less engaging, but it felt like the band still had unfinished business; though First Impressions was ambitious, it didn’t feel like a final statement. For that matter, neither does Angles, which arrived just a few months shy of their classic debut Is This It's tenth anniversary. Clocking in at a svelte 34 minutes, it’s as short as the band’s early albums, but Angles is a different beast. Somehow, the Strokes sound more retro here than they did before, with slick production coating everything in a new wave sheen. More worryingly, and perhaps inevitably, the group comes across more like a well-oiled machine than the gang they felt like on every other album. Fabrizio Moretti's drums are more mechanically precise than ever, and Julian Casablancas' voice is walled off in distortion that stands in sharp contrast to his pristine surroundings. This distance allows Nick Valensi to be Angles' star, turning in witty responses to Casablancas' vocals and dazzling solos like the one that graces “Two Kinds of Happiness”' mix of power pop and post-punk. But even if the Strokes don’t sound as passionate as they did before, they deliver a few quintessential moments. “Under Cover of Darkness” is an über-Strokes song, with tumbling verses that borrow “Last Night”'s melody and soaring, secretly earnest choruses; meanwhile, “Machu Picchu”'s reggae-fied strut harks back to Room on Fire. They sound even better -- and less studied -- on “Taken for a Fool,” which, with lines like “Monday, Tuesday is my weekend,” rivals their earlier songs for quotability, and on “Gratisfaction,” which plays like the perfect cross between Nick Lowe's “And So It Goes” and everything Billy Joel recorded from the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s. When they venture from this territory, the results are mixed, ranging from the sweet synth pop of “Games” and “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight” to less successful, insular experiments like “Call Me Back” and “You’re So Right.” Ultimately, Angles' best moments are reassuring rather than exciting, offering proof that the Strokes can still make an album together, and hope that it'll come more naturally to them next time.

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