For The Strokes, Is This It is more than just an album title. “Is this it?” has also been a taunt used against the band throughout its entire career. That likely won’t change with Angles, the first Strokes album in five years. Stripped to the barest essentials—droning vocals, springy guitars, simple rhythms, and unbeatable hooks—Angles is far from being the sort of grandly ambitious statement that’s expected after several years of deliberation. Which means The Strokes, at least, still recognize their strengths.
Angles finds the band at times sounding very much like the Strokes of old, and other times, experimenting with its signature sound in familiar Strokes ways. For the former, look no further than “Under Cover Of Darkness,” a rollicking throwback to the leather-jacketed urban cool of Is This It by way ofSteely Dab’s “Bodhisattva.” Or the snaky album opener “Machu Picchu,” where the intricately strummed riffs of guitarists Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi interlock and explode over a faux-reggae shuffle with the precision of military movements. Then there’s “Games,” a synth-pop sparkler that initially sounds like an outtake fromJulian Casablancas’ 2009 solo effort Phrazes For The Young. But given Casablancas’ limited role in the making of Angles—he recorded vocal tracks remotely, as the other Strokes worked on the music in collaboration—songs like “Games” and “Taken For A Fool” might actually be a nod to Phoenix, the Strokes-inspired Frenchmen who became the new masters of marrying wiry guitars to airy keyboards during their heroes’ prolonged absence.