I’m a simple man of simple pleasures like that—I see the biggest guitar band of the 2000s drop a new single slash announce a new album and I click. NYC garage rock stalwarts The Strokes just came out of the woodwork to gargantuously announce their sixth full length studio album The New Abnormal, out on RCA/Cult Records 10th April, peppering its earnest brand new lead single “At the Door” on top of it. While we’re speaking of RCA—allow me to ride off a swift digression over here, encouraging all of us to humbly collect our thoughts around what a tremendous work the Sony-owned label is currently doing when it comes to bolstering the alternative music scene within the broader mainstream pantheon. Just take a look around and think about it. For one, the American imprint can’t seem to get one project wrong—anything with their fingerprints on it spurs quality and taste from pillar to post. Plus, it ended up picking up nearly half of this site’s 2019 AOTY spots just a couple months ago, repping projects as disparate on the genre spectrum as abstract hip-hop and emo rock. Not that this alone would imply universal appeal or anything like that, but ya know—it’s ya boy’s opinion here.
Tying it back to the Julian Casablancas-fronted rock outfit—do jump onboard with me with frivolous excitement over the above mentioned announcement, esteemed readers. Let me put it this way: The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ first LP in seven years, following 2013’s sparkly, glitchy, and dense yet polarising hodgepodge Comedown Machine. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; as of right now, according to its Apple Music pre-ordering landing page, the new record sports a mere nine original cuts, with no indication of total runtime to speak of. Naturally, not all songs will clock in at over five minutes, just like the album’s brilliant lead single does, hence let’s just say we’ll have slim chances of it beefing up its playback experience to a decent industry standard of three quarters of an hour. What I’m alluding to is that we might be in for a less-is-more, slim pickings-type of affair over here, ladies and gentlemen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would die for the album to ultimately end up sporting “At the Door” as its shortest, radio-friendly edit, with every other track being longer than six minutes. However, that’s simply not going to happen.
Apropos not getting stuff wrong, The New Abnormal isn’t technically the group’s first batch of new music in seven years, as the quintet did come through with the somewhat lukewarm and gelid Future Past Present EP, back in 2016. Unfortunately though, said outing didn’t so much turn fans’ heads left and right, leaving a somber bittersweet taste in their mouth, speeding into the audience’s consciousness just as fast as it anonymously left it. Furthermore, in the band’s defence, it’s not like its members didn’t keep busy during the previous decade’s latter half. Frontman Julian architected his experimental lo-fi indie rock side project The Voidz and went on to release to major studio outings in the shape of 2014’s Tyranny and 2018’s Virtue, while rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr followed in on similar creative footsteps by reprising his mid-naughties solo act and putting out two LPs titled Momentary Masters and Francis Trouble in 2015 and 2018, respectively. Similarly, remaining band members Nick Valensi (lead guitar), Nikolai Fraiture (bass), and Fab Moretti (drums) all kept quite preoccupied throughout the same span of time, albeit as part of less flashy and flamboyant projects.
Eventually, this all led to The Strokes becoming USA Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ marquee backing band in 2020, as the God-like garage rockers found themselves doing the honours and headlining the senator’s New Hampshire concert rally on Monday 10th February. It’s during the same gala evening that the band first unveiled their highly anticipated comeback single via its laser-abundant, cosmonautically futuristic, sci-fi attached music video. The track sees the group embark on a beefy, synth-heavy syncopated motif, initially blistered by intermittent and piercingly clear cut croons by Julian, vocalising a profoundly self-suffocating yet somehow carefree existential stream-of-consciousness: “I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it out of this in time / I guess that’s just fine / I’m not there quite yet / My thoughts, such a mess / Like a little boy / What you runnin’ for?”. Erupting into a radically gratifying and gorgeous melodic release around the one-minute mark, the frontman’s vocals quickly begin to get enveloped by surgically strummed guitars as well as celestial layers of synths. A stern second verse then picks up where the first one left off, both sonically and lyrically:
Bang at the door / Anyone home? / It’s just what they do / Right in front of you / Like a cannonball / Slammin’ through your wall / In their face, I saw / What they’re fightin’ for / I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it to the end, I guess
Fab Moretti must’ve been left behind smoking in album producer Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La’s parking lot for most of this track’s recording sessions, as it’s not until past the second refrain that we get even the slightest hint of a drum beat. Awkwardly stumbling in around three minutes, an understated and subdued electronic kick introduces the song’s bridge, during which Julian grants himself a tad more creative freedom, ranging just lightly off the hitherto beaten path. The song’s fast-lived drumming track rapidly disappears again, as a cacophonously textured host of synthesizers steals the scene for a minute-long grim non-lyrical intermezzo, paving the way for a panning, fluctuating, sombre, and darkly bright solmizated outro. Leaving us all salivating for more.
Now, if it weren’t clear enough at this point, this is no Is This It or Room On Fire-era Strokes. Far from it. The lights are dimmed by red bulbs, the candles are flickering, and leather jackets have been swapped with space suits-like onesies and cologne-soaked shaved beards. Yet somehow, for the first time in over a decade, a similar reminiscing sense of trailblazing excitement for what blend of cultural implication a new Strokes album will carry is no longer to be denied.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2020, RCA Records