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After a five year hiatus, Julian Casablancas and The Strokes are back with their fourth studio album titled “Angles”. The band started working on this album with Joe Chicarelli, who in recent times has worked with The Shins and The White Stripes, which lead me to think that this may be a flop in the making.

The album opens with the track “Machu Picchu” which gives the listener an immediate impression of what this album is about. The vocals are gentler, the guitars are warmer and the overall sound is full and mature from their earlier days as well as showing off a distinctly new direction, from a band that may be accused of being a little safe for the past two albums.

Don’t be fooled by the tone of this review. If you are after an album which feels like “Is This It” well you will have a few tracks which are up are your alley, having said that though there will be people that I assume will find the follow on from “Phrases for the Young” (I don’t care how Julian spells the title, I refuse to use US English in MY review) a little too “poppy” for a want of a better word, with a lot less raw emotion put into the songs.

The lead single “Under Cover of Darkness” had me a little confuzzled at first listen. I didn’t know what to make of it. The song felt a little confused itself and I didn’t know how to react. The more I hear this song, the more I love it. This is exactly the song that the alternative rock community needed to drag the kids away from the deamons of the garbage dance music that they listen to these days (end rant).

The bass guitar work is fantastic throughout the album with the highlight being the “Taken for a fool”, but who would guess otherwise as Fraiture has always been a rock for The Strokes and doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. Even on this track you find your self getting dragged away that funky as bass sound and drawn into Casablancas’ vocal which is clearly showing off great flexibility from earlier works.

I absolutely loved “Gratisfaction” from the first moment that I heard it. The song is chock full of fun and energy, it really makes it hard not to smile and tap away on the steering wheel as you drive along. The band then follows up with “Metabolism” which is quite chunky and brings back the Strokes sound of old, with that distinctive vocal taking control.

The songs are well written with much of the bands signature drumming style and guitar sound surviving the groups extended vacation. The sound is quite deliberate with no sense of fodder, the album title “Angles” suggests that Casablancas and co had a good understanding as to what they had created with this album. Parting was with their original producer didn’t phase them in the slightest.

I am not going to say that this is the best Strokes album, having said that, it is their best. The have never displayed such range or maturity in their sound on previous albums in the way that they have here. The Strokes have never been a band that have demanded listeners to sit down and take a lesson in rock, but that is exactly what they are doing here. Not that the band demands much commitment to gain reward, it’s just that the sound is fuller and more layered than before. The band has taken a lot of ideas and managed to fit them into on album and make it work. There is some great funky sounds on this album with some really great guitar work and people wanting to judge them as past their best should give this a chance.

This album gives me the impression that the band was trying to please too many people and comes off as somewhat disjointed from track to track, despite this though the sound is strong and as each song is enjoyable on its own you can easily get past the lack of flow. I think this comes down to the band not being certain about what they are after such a long lay off and side projects to boot. I must say I love this album and think that it will be tough to run this down in album of the year stakes.

ALBUM RATING: A bit of everything for all varieties of Strokes fans

Chatting with Tristian the other day, I mentioned planning to work on a review of “Mine is Yours”, only to find out that he was not at all interested in hearing this album. “Mine is Yours” is the third studio album from CWK after the somewhat disappointing “Loyalty to Loyalty” its predecessor “Robbers and Cowards” which was an enormous success. I started out by reminding myself what “Loyalty to Loyalty” was about and honestly is wasn’t as forgettable as I had labelled it.

The first that I had heard of this album was the lead single “Louder Than Ever” which had really got me feeling that this band had remembered what it was all about. The track is definitely by far the champion of the album and could easily slot onto the bands debut album “Robbers + Cowards”.

The album opens with the title track “Mine is Yours”,  and is a nice little opening track, which it really sets a good foundation and tone for the rest of the album. A very nice contribution in terms of lyrics backed up with some emotive vocals remind you how this band made its name. Once “Louder than Ever” is finished doing its thing, the album moves on to “Royal Blue” which injects some nice percussion, piano and bass guitar. This is a nice little track which offers so much, yet leaves you feeling like you ate a 2 course dinner when you ordered 3 courses.

“Finally Begin” is a weird track, I seem to love it one minute and then am grossed out by it the next. The guitar transitions in the song are really predictably pop sounding and are simply there as support to the vocals. The song is just neither here nor there and needs an injection of something to give it some identity.

“Out of the Wilderness” is probably the most adventurous track on the album from a band which I feel is quite narrow in what they try and achieve. The sound is big and bold, while retaining a gentle feel. I get the sense that maybe this song would have worked better as a closing track as opposed to the middle of the album. They also could have tried merging it with “Skip the Charades” and really challenged the listener.

The back end of the album, seems to lag a bit with “Bulldozer” being a real love it or hate it track. It has a nice little bass line which is not serviced all that well by the chorus.  The album really needs a injection of something in the later stages as the sound can get a little monotonous at times, I get the feeling that this is due to the vocals and absent drumming, more than anything else. I get the feeling that CWK are trying to show a transition in the album to a darker side at the end, however it doesn’t really go dark as I would like to hear and is really just a collection of songs as opposed to a united piece of work.

Overall, the bands sound has not changed course since the first album, which gives them a sense of familiarity which at times works but at other times you are left with a feeling that they are just flogging the same old product straight off the conveyor belt. This album will grab some people’s attention however it fails to grab hold of my shirt and make me listen to it over and over. I will definitely have an ear out to see what they do next, however if it isn’t a little more edgy and new then they may be getting locked away in the basement. The biggest disappointment of the album is the drumming, where was it? Was it even there? It’s as though he went on holidays to Spain for a few months while the band was writing the album and came back with 2 weeks remaining in the recording studio. The disappointing thing about this album is that it stinks of complacency and doesn’t challenge the listener as they are surely capable. This review is probably a little harsh, however this is a band capable of blowing your socks off and they just aren’t doing that with this release.

ALBUM RATING: Few great tracks, overall listenable

White Lies introduced themselves to the international music scene in 2008 with a wonderfully 80’s inspired, yet modern pop album titled “To lose my life….”. They have since followed this up with their recent release “Ritual”. The title alone lead me believe that I might expect something very deliberate and inspired, maybe even spiritual. After my first listen I must admit that I was a little disheartened in regards to what I was hearing. Yes it was unmistakable, there were definitely synthesizers being used.

OK so hear me out. I get this feeling with a lot of bands after the write the first album they are under the pump from their label to get a second album into the market before too long passes and their brand becomes forgotten. Song writing is not necessarily the strength of a lot of bands, so the label brings in a big time producer who takes over and repackages a band’s brand.

“Streetlights” possesses a very Joy Division ‘esc vocal to it which I haven’t seen on their previous work. This however develops throughout the track and is really nice piece of songwriting and to boot, is the most in touch with their debut album in terms of a nice clean sound with the subtle introduction of the keyboards in the background, showing a transition into a new direction. The album actually starts out quite nicely with “Is Love” and “Bigger than Us” as two very enjoyable tracks to lead off the record. And then things start to feel forced.

“Holy Ghost” opens with a very industrial sound which develops further throughout the track. I don’t know if this is an insult or not, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Mighty Boosh when listening to parts of this track. The more I listen to this track the more that aspect makes me laugh so I guess that means a tick for the insult column. Last year I fell in love with Band of Skulls who had a wonderful album with a single track which made my skin crawl. This song achieves the same feat for me, yet I don’t get the feeling that the rest of the album is strong enough to warrant using the skip button to move past it.

“Turn the Bells” begins with a yet another confusing industrial sound and then kicks in with a very cheesy sounding synthesizer however by the time it reaches the chorus, the different aspects start working together and reach a purpose. Despite this, I still am left with a dirty taste in my mouth. This track though displays the most organisation and structure of all of the songs on the album and I get a feeling that it could have been much more than what was delivered, time will tell. This seems to follow on with the track “Peace and Quiet”, which gives the expectation of a soft and delicate tone through the song which is achieved to a degree. What really gets on my nerves in this track is the drum machine and for a portion, more synthesizers, that has been used in this track really detracts from what it seems is the original intention when the title of the track was penned. To me this track is again showing promise and potential, yet just has too many distracting factors that are pulling me away from the meat of the song which feels a little rare for my liking.

This is an album that has clearly been written with a particular portion of the market in mind and I feel that they may find some success within that group. I find that with “To lose my life…” they managed to reach a greater audience through the use  of big vocals, traditional band structure and easy to follow pop songs. Every band should move in a new direction at some stage in their career, despite this, The White Lies seem to have made their transition for the wrong reasons. This album feels unfinished. The back end of the album gives the impression that they are stalling or at least are not clear in what the songs are trying to achieve. There is definitely enough signs of life on this album to suggest that we haven’t seen the last of a very talented band, but there will need to be some soul searching before they will be moving in the right direction again. I get the sense that this will be an album that will split White Lies fans and fail to attract a lot a new ones. Given some more time to ensure that every aspect of every song is serving a purpose might have lead this to be a great follow up album, unfortunately it falls frustratingly short of the mark. This is definitely not the heavenly experience I was hoping for and was surely lacking the emotional pull I was longing.