Back in 2001, garage rock was nothing more than a memory and the prevailing musical trends were a essentially a toss up between hip-hop, Train, or Limp Bizkit. The phrase “rock is dead” has often been thrown around, but never was it more prevalent than in that moment. That was until a little indie rock band by the name of The Strokes released an album called Is This It, and were immediately deemed as the “saviours of rock n’ roll”. But as quickly as all the accolades came, it didn’t take long for the conversation to go from “rock n’ roll” saviours to “are they still around?”, and that conversation was never louder than when The Strokes released Comedown Machine in 2013 to little fanfare. Fast-forward to 2016, and the question still stands: are The Strokes still around? Or better, are The Strokes we fell in love with still around?
Well, the band answered that question emphatically in the form of a surprise EP, and in the process, reinvigorated the “saviours of rock n’ roll” question. Titled Future Present Past and featuring three tracks (plus one remix), this EP is not only a great little collection of tunes, it also gives us a glimpse into the future of the band.
In what is essentially a recap of The Strokes’ musical evolution over the past decade and a half, each of the three songs depict an “era” that the band has gone through since Is This It was released in 2001. ‘Drag Queen’ is a synth-heavy tune that’s definitely for the Comedown Machine fans; ‘OBLIVIUS’ features that transitional synth/guitar sound from the Angles and First Impressions of Earth days; and ‘Threat of Joy’ is a welcome guitar-heavy track that wouldn’t have been out of place on Room On Fire or even Is This It.
As good as the EP is (and it is definitely very good), those three songs are bound to reignite criticisms on how Julian Casablancas’ love of synth has pushed the traditional Strokes sound far beyond their initial indie rock days. The thing is, those claims definitely hold some degree of truth to it.
As catchy Casablancas’ solo stuff is, most of it has leaned far too much into electro territory to be a comfortable listen for a Strokes fan. At the same time, the solo ventures from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nikolai Fraiture (Nickel Eye) encompass the early Strokes “sound” more, but they’re missing that extra something that keeps fans coming back for more. This little problem can be put down to one simple thing: Casablancas needs The Strokes just as much as The Strokes need Casablancas’ musical voice, and it’s only now that everyone seems to realise it.
From day one, Casablancas has always been the dominant voice in The Strokes’ sound, and it appears he’s finally accepted the fact that having all the other band members around helps keep his over-indulgent musical tendencies in check. Having said that, for all the criticisms that The Strokes have received over their new love for synth, we can’t exactly say that we didn’t see it coming. These elements have come up as early as Room on Fire, and though it may not initially seem like it, the band’s sound has more or less progressed naturally as time and more influences have come into play. It may have taken three or so albums to reach that point, but upon listening to Future Present Past, one can’t help but feel that the band has finally recovered that level of comfort that has been missing since their Is This It days. In that sense, Future Present Past is less about The Strokes reaching their end and more about coming full circle.
The Strokes released their iconic The Modern Age EP before they signed their record contract, and after five albums, the band are now free from their ties with RCA, and the first thing they come back with? Another EP. Rather than see this as nothing more than a glorified Casablancas solo project with The Strokes, this EP caps off an era whilst offering up a glimpse into what to expect next. That’s not to say that the band will recapture that lightning in a bottle moment in 2001 or that their old garage rock sound is forever gone, but everything definitely feels more optimistic than what it did when Comedown Machine was dropped on us without any hint of a whisper.
The Strokes did indeed “save rock n’ roll” back in 2001, and if their newest EP is any indication, the band may well “save rock n’ roll” once again.
I may never win a Grammy, solving the piracy issue is way out of my skillset, and I'll probably die of joy if left alone in a room with The Strokes. All I can do properly is write words about music stuff, and hope that people will read it. If you want to debate why 'Is This It' is the best album ever, or you're just bored one day, hit me up on Twitter @alexandervpanView all posts by Alexander Pan