The creation of The Strokes’ fourth album, Angles—the band’s first in five years—was a somewhat patchwork process. Each member receives songwriting credits, and vocalist Julian Casablancas wasn’t even in the same place as his bandmates during their time in the studio; he recorded his vocals remotely and emailed his performances to the rest of the group. While Casablancas insists this gesture was for creative reasons, it backfired. Angles is low on energy and camaraderie, and comes off sounding like an overstuffed studio project.
Casablancas’ absence and distance manifest in one very obvious way: His vocal performance often sucks the life from the music. On “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight,” for example, his distorted emoting clashes with the crystalline, Miami Vice keyboard-pop. Bored detachment kills the energy of the Ted Leo-like throwaway “Gratisfaction,” and anguished yowling detracts from the minor-chord haunted-house rock of “Metabolism.”
Angles is most engaged when The Strokes’ recognizable, wiry guitars take center stage. Album-opener “Machu Picchu” features layers of tropical drums, zippy bass and corrugated riffs, “Taken for a Fool” is gritty disco-glam, and the off-kilter “Under Cover of Darkness” feels jittery and raw. For as much experimenting and expectation-shedding as The Strokes want to do, they’ll always be a solid guitar band. Angles messes with that formula and suffers because of it.