FUTURE PRESENT PAST
For a band like The Strokes, the future, the present, and the past are always at the center of conversation. It came as no surprise that in 2016, three years since any new material, a four-track EP came in the form of answers to the following questions – who were we back then? What are we doing now? Where are we going? As a band notorious for hiatuses, diverse and far-apart solo projects, as well as being just a bit too cool to care, their answers – “OBLIVIUS”, “Threat of Joy”, and “Drag Queen” – reflect a new life for the Strokes. Now free from the constraints of big-label RCA and operating under Julian Casablancas‘ own Cult Records, the opportunity was there for the Strokes to sound however the hell they wanted to, and not how anyone else expected them to.
The tracklist of Future Present Past reflects the reverse order of time. It starts off with what is perhaps the most far removed from anything the Strokes have ever done – “Drag Queen”, a futuristic world created by a mesh of distorted guitars and Casablancas ever omni-present layer of vocals. It is considered by many the weakest track of the three, but I find it captivating in everything it tries to say as well as all it doesn’t. It is politically-charged in itself, allowing the band to be forthcoming about a topic Casablancas has never shyed away from.
The second track – the “present” that sums up all the sound they’ve driven to do since 2011’s Angles – was also the single and stand-out, “OBLIVIUS.” This song sums up 2016 for me in a way I’m not sure anything else can. The two distinct guitars that flirt with each other back and forth, the percussion that holds it all together, and Casablancas yet again proving he can out-sing you with little to no effort. “OBLIVIUS” captures a nostalgia for what hasn’t happened yet, and a longing for everything that did and you’ll never quite feel again. The sole question it relies on – “what side are you standing on?” – reflects the division in the past year around the current political climate, something the band has never shyed away from commenting on.
The third track (and final if we exclude the remixing of “OBLIVIUS” by drummer Fab Moretti), “Threat of Joy”, is an ode to every Strokes fan who has ever wanted them to return to the sound of Is This It-past. Casablancas turns up the classic Lou Reed crooning he became so known for as Moretti provides the heartbeat of the song. With a line like “I’m going to watch the tidal wave, it’s hard to chase away”, it is inherently vulnerable in it’s honesty and sentimental in the face of yesterday. This is not new territory, but it is nice to hear a return to form that arguably can’t be done better. This time around, the Strokes having solidified their iconic status for years to come, it is clear that this track is meant to appease those who feel like they have some sort of unfinished business with the band they first heard fifteen years ago. This is The Strokes saying to those very fans: we didn’t go anywhere – we’ve been here all along.
Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I have loved the Strokes album after album – for some cosmic reason, their state of mind never failed to mirror my own. For a band that’s shaped so much of my cultural upbringing and opened as many doors as they have, it was important to me to consider if this EP could stand on it’s own if I didn’t know who made it. The answer is yes – but it’s the fact that it comes from them that makes it so incredibly important. In the midst of a year that was so emotionally and mentally tolling, Future Present Past became the only thing I wanted to listen to because it was the only thing that just made sense. It was released the day I came off the flight back from France after having lived there for the past six months – it was a return to the life I left behind, as well as a future I had no idea of it’s direction. In it’s own bizarre summation of everything I was feeling, somehow “for the first time in my life, I’m going to get myself right” put it into words better than I ever could.
Maybe with Future Present Past, that’s exactly what The Strokes meant to say – you can’t turn back time, but you can always go home again.