Future Present Past: Stroke of Genius or More of the Same?

It’s been over fifteen years since the release of The Strokes’ first EP, The Modern Age. The group’s sound has been evolving ever since their debut, so aside from the general label of “rock,” it’s difficult to pin down what exactly defines them musically. Their most recent EP, Future Present Past, encapsulates the entire evolution of the band and gives a taste of what we may be hearing from them in years to come.

“Threat of Joy,” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvhcs93C2x8> the third song on the EP, is what originally piqued my interest in this little gem of an album. Upon first listen, one might think it came straight off their first album- it has the same foot-tapping, summer-time grooves that made Is This It so iconic, with an added sprinkle of experience and maturity. The song’s playful intro is ridiculously endearing; it might not be physically possible to wink via soundwaves, but Julian Casablancas seems to do just that.

Through each consecutive album release, The Strokes have drifted further and further from their original upbeat and driving, borderline-surf  sound. (If you’re particularly partial to their original style, check out The Buttertones’ self-titled album.) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpGMZPvybj4> They’ve lost some of their spontaneous, garage band-esque feel as they’ve matured, but they’ve grown increasingly able to relax in their sound, improving production values and feeling tighter overall- a fair trade. In addition to these changes, the song “OBLIVIUS,” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEjdwhVuW74> off the new EP, captures the changes in tone which started taking place about halfway through their career. The rock is heavier, and the ‘tude is ‘tudier, but the vocals and guitar retain their iconic “Strokes sound.” According to Albert Hammond Jr., “[The Strokes] have always approached music with the mindset of: ‘We have two guitars, let’s use them wisely.’” This sort of intentionality pays off in spades.

Unlike the familiar sounds of the other songs on Future Present Past, “Drag Queen” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts7cgeZC5J0> is a complete departure- not only from the rest of the EP, but from anything that’s ever been attributed to The Strokes. It’s synth heavy, repetitive and lacking any of the raw and original quality that makes their music so endearing. Julian Casablancas’ vocals- which have been arguably the most recognizable and constant component of The Strokes’ identity over the years- are almost completely drowned out in the mix, and I can’t say I’m a fan. While this EP has affirmed my love for The Strokes’ past and present musical endeavors, it has made me wary of their future.

Clearly, the boys are still capable of putting out good stuff. But if “Drag Queen” is any indicator of where their hearts are at, there’s a good chance they will follow the current trend of drastically “improving upon” a pre-existing style that does not need changing (see Bon Iver’s and Coldplay’s most recent albums, 22, A Million, and A Head Full of Dreams, respectively, for more examples of this concept). They’ve been at it for a long time, so I can’t blame them for wanting to shake things up a bit- but really, why fix it if it ain’t broke?

By Olivia Hurd

Picture property of The Strokes

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