Man, I used to love the Strokes as a kid. (I know, what a weird thing to say. But I’m 27 now, so … why not, right?) Growing up on the southwest side of San Antonio (what some may affectionately refer to as “the cunn-chry”), I didn’t have a lot of exposure to “indie” music. I was into jazz, the Beatles, and whatever was on the radio, but I was never really into the hyper-aggressive rap-rock and nü-metal that was so popular, even if it was what my friends all listened to. When my family finally (finally) got the internet (NetZero dial-up, homies!), I was totally primed and ready for “indie” culture.
I remember buying Is This It from a CD Exchange because I had heard the band’s name so much, and the cute girl behind the counter told me she listened to it every day: it was her “favorite album of, like, all time.” After about the third listen and some intial second-guessing (Why does the singer’s voice sound like that? What kind of person walks around with the name “Fabrizio?”), I was hooked. I, too, spun Is This It pretty much every day that year. Not only that, but The Strokes were my gateway drug into so many great New York bands, past (Television) and present (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio … anything with a 212 area code, I had to have it).
Ten years later, the Strokes are still around, but it’s hard to say why exactly. Angles is not as disappointing as First Impressions of Earth, but if it’s meant as a “comeback record” it doesn’t really get there. There are some good tracks, but they’re overshadowed by stories of difficult, drugged-out recording sessions (where the band rarely worked in the same room, let alone the same studio) and the general apathy they’ve shown toward their fans and their own material. In short, they’re not the band I was so into when I was a teenager. Or, maybe they’re the same as ever, and I’ve outgrown them.
I think that the latter is true, and not just for myself, but for the “music world” in general — and the irony is that the Strokes are the cause of this effect. They weren’t an “indie” band that crossed over to mainstream rock fans … they made mainstream rock fans cross over to them. The Strokes were the alternative to the alternative, pioneering a trail for other bands that sounded nothing like Limp Bizkit to get on the radio or on MTV (you know, back when that mattered). Question: Would the White Stripes have been as big if the Strokes hadn’t cracked the door open a little? I think not.
But, as the saying goes, “pioneers are the guys with arrows in their backs.” The Strokes (and, of course, the rise of internet downloading) may have changed the face of music in 2001, but unfortunately for them it didn’t stop changing — and hasn’t stopped. “Indie” culture — and all of its subsequent splinter sub-cultures — celebrates the new (or the very, very old) above all things, and the Strokes just aren’t new anymore. For better or worse, they have outlasted many of the bands that sprung up around them ten years ago and are still making music (even the Stripes wisely called it day). Angles might not be a game-changer, or even consistently good, but the Strokes don’t deserve to be dismissed as easily as they have been. Any band not playing rap-rock, nü-metal, or anything-core owes them — or at least the cosmic circumstances/marketing teams that caused them to blow up — a nod of gratitude, and maybe even respect.
You can read my full review of Angles right here, and check out “Taken For a Fool,” the best track off the album, embedded below (audio only).
One or two Wednesdays ago, I was taking a break from my Broadway 5050 gig with Chris Maddin (where we play covers and originals as the Tiago Splitters) and sat down with members of my solo project, Bad Breaks. BB is now made up of members of my other two bands, Marcus Rubio and the GCOP and We Leave at Midnight, and I joked about how all the various band-member overlapping/collaborating would make a great Venn diagram. So in the spirit of procrastination and mental/physical exhaustion (it was a good birthday week), here’s what I came up with … only I soon discovered I couldn’t just limit it to my own personal projects and included as many other bands and side projects as I could think of. If any two groups share at least one member (to my knowledge), they made the chart. (If I left anybody out, I apologize!) In addition to playing with the color-coded bands mentioned above, I also am the co-founder of the Live Album Cover Project(again, with Maddin, aka Film Strips) and recently started playing drums with The Angelheaded Hipsters, led by Gordon Raphael (producer of the first two — and best — Strokes albums and first Regina Spektor LP). It’s worth noting that members of the Gospel Choir of Pillows are by far the most prolific, contributing to seven different bands in one way or another. What does this mean? I don’t know, really. OK, back to work …