The last fifteen years have seen The Strokes’ lead singer Julian Casablancas trying his hand at a variety of different sonic flavors. From the pop-influenced indie rock sounds of The Strokes’ debut Is This It (2000), to the post-punk flavors of Angles (2011) to the noisy art rock on his most recent album Tyranny (2014) with side band The Voidz, Casablancas refuses to be pinned to a single musical direction. This left me wondering where the man could go next.

If I were Julian Casablancas, I would never have thought to fuse my newfound experimental direction with a sound that I haven’t revisited in fifteen years. But that’s exactly what Julian and company do on their four-song EP Future Present Past (2016). The Strokes apply the stripped-down alternative guitar pop of Is This It to the eerie sci-fi sounds of Tyranny. And after the disco pop experimentation on the band’s last record Comedown Machine (2013), this combination is quite a reliefJulian-LIVE-the-strokes-22288259-500-333.

The EP’s first track “Drag Queen” introduces open, humming synthesizers atop a mechanical drumbeat, reminiscent of The Cure’s Disintegration (1989). Julian’s voice, doused in more distortion than ever before, delivers a robotic vocal melody. He expresses his disillusionment with society, war, and the animalistic natures of human beings, singing “I don’t understand/Your f*cked-up system/This sinister city/Try to sell the water/Try to sell the air”. I interpreted this song as representing the “past” in Future Present Past; although Julian is probably describing his discontent with the modern-day world, he seems to desire that many of today’s institutions fade into the distant memory.

Crunchy guitars enter in the chorus of “Drag Queen” as Julian croons in his low voice, delivering a melody that sounds about as epic as the low register of the male voice can. Lead guitarist Nick Valensi plays a dissonant solo resembling 8-bit music that sounds as if it came straight off Tyranny. At the song’s end, Julian screams so passionately in his upper register that for a few moments he genuinely sounds like a woman.

The second song “OBLIVIUS” features an upbeat chord progression and an incredibly catchy lead guitar melody during the verses. Fabrizio Moretti’s drums sound robotic yet paradoxically human: a true Strokes speciality. The band enters into an incredibly explosive chorus, arguably The Strokes’ most infectious since “Under the Cover of Darkness” from Angles. 

 
Valensi plays a repetitive, futuristic-sounding guitar lead in the bridge of “OBLIVIUS” while Julian discreetly moans in his falsetto. Lyrically, the song serves as a call to action; Julian advocates for a greater change in the societythe_strokes_2 that he criticized in “Drag Queen”. He sings “Untame me/It’s not my midnight yet/Act like a wolf but think like a sheep (Wall Street)/Untame me/Cause this is my best advice”. For me, “OBLIVIUS” represents “present”; Julian calls for something to be done now in order to ensure a better future.

Julian channels his inner Lou Reed during the intro of the EP’s third track “Threat of Joy”, talk-singing in a playfully low voice. The band employs a blissful guitar progression in the verses and Julian delivers a pretty yet slightly underwhelming chorus melody. On “Threat of Joy” the band sounds a bit like they are stuck in 2000. The song is textbook Is This It and shows little musical progression, unlike the two previous tracks. Still, it’s quite a solid, catchy track.

Lyrically, “Threat of Joy” is much more personal than the previous two tracks. Julian describes a woman that makes him want to conquer his addictions and improve as a person. He looks to a brighter future, singing “I cannot wait to chase it all/Yeah, I saw it in my crystal ball”.

The EP runs into trouble on its fourth and final track, a remix of “OBLIVIUS” by drummer Fab Moretti, who aims to turn the track into a trendy tropical house cut. Woody synthesizers play the former lead guitar melody and synth pads fill the chorus. The song just seems very unnecessary; I can’t see this remix appealing to either Strokes fans or EDM-heads.

the-strokes-5I have several ideas about the meaning behind the title of One of my interpretations theorizes that the lyrics of “Drag Queen”, “OBLIVIUS”, and “Threat of Joy” describe desires for the past, present, and future, respectively, as I discussed above. Another idea centers around a Julian Casablancas quote from around 2000, following the release of Is This It. He said that he wanted The Strokes to sound like “a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record”. It seems that, in 2016, The Strokes are revisiting that same idea. On their latest EP, they sound more futuristic than they ever did, but still stick to old-school guitar rock n’ roll. Future Present Past.

A final interpretation of the EP’s title considers the different sounds brought to the table on Future Present Past. The Strokes incorporate a musical direction from their past by returning to the Is This It guitar rock formula. They also include a sound of the (near) present by interweaving elements of Julian Casablancas + The Voidz’s Tyranny. Could The Strokes have perhaps slipped a future musical direction into this EP as well? Only time will tell, but if the sound of Future Present Past is any indication of that direction, then I sure hope so.

B+

Highlights: Drag Queen, OBLIVIUS

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