For quite a long time now, The Strokes in real life haven’t sounded so much like The Strokes in your head.
We think of them as forever in the mould of 2001 debut ‘Is This It’ – choppy guitars, fuzzy vocals, impish guitar lines, keepers of the then-zeitgeisty sound of early 2000s cool – but, really, they’ve been all over the place. 2013’s ‘Comedown Machine’ was an experiment in multiple genres, from synthpop (‘One Way Trigger’) to funk (‘Tap Out’) and all points in between. It’s something they’ve been doing ever since 2006’s ‘First Impressions Of Earth’, which had oddities like the farty, parpy ‘Ask Me Anything’ on it – even if they’ve never shaken that first impression of the band.
So when those Strokes videos were projected onto buildings yesterday, the words ‘future’, ‘present’ and ‘past’ embedded in them, you had to wonder what past they were referring to: the New York sleaze-pop of ‘Is This It’ and ‘Room On Fire’ or the band that’s been pushing away from that ever since.
So is ‘Oblivius’, the new track debuted this afternoon by Julian Casablancas on his Sirius XMU show, the past, the present or the future? Hard to tell: we’ve got familiar Strokes tropes – filtered vocals, an effected guitar line that runs through the verses, a general sense of the band being too cool to care. But then the chorus arrives in a blast of power chords and it feels like they’ve all woken up at the same time. Later, there’s a squealing guitar solo, some latter-period Strokes falsetto from Julian and the chorus to fade: “What are you standing on,” it repeats. Sonically, we’re somewhere between ‘Room On Fire’ and the brilliant ‘You Only Live Once’ from ‘First Impressions Of Earth’. So does that make it past? If so, is it as far in the past as people would like? And will the other EP tracks on the ‘Future Present Past EP’ (‘Drag Queen’ and ‘Threat Of Joy’) tick those boxes?
The track’s available to listen to now on Cult Records – Julian’s own label. Its presence there is, perhaps, the most encouraging news for Strokes fans. For a band that have seemed for some time to be going through the motions, the implications are big: there’s no major label contract demanding they make nice and put music out. This song is out there purely because they want it to be, which can only be a good thing.
But what did you think of the new track?
UPDATE: Another new track, ‘Drag Queen’, has just been played on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show (5.35pm BST). This one is The Strokes as we know them, but with a twist. The beat is metronomic, and is that really Nikolai Fraiture playing bass or is it Peter Hook? The blatant New Order-isms of the first 30 seconds soon give way to another towering chorus, but this track is all about the doomy atmosphere created by the rhythm section. Further down the line, Casablancas’ vocals explode into wails, screams; it’s vital, energetic, frightening even. And there’s one more new track to come…