In their latest EP, The Strokes manage to articulate what can be considered either a ridiculously well-played move into public conscience, or a curiously anticlimactic debut of four equally curious tracks. Future Present Past is, inevitably, the next phase in the band’s building momentum, which is arguably in its peak phase at this point, as garage rock becomes more and more of a floating entity that young bands scramble to define with reverb pedals and as much DIY action as one can muster up in all this twenty-first century convenience.
While The Strokes remain a pivotal group of the nineties edition garage rock revival, it seems they’re experiencing a revival of their own among an American fan base, which I can speak to as a seventeen-year old who sometimes mingles with other seventeen-year olds. Not only does this new entry to their catalog pacify pre-Governor’s Ball jitters, it addresses The Strokes’ capacity for experiment as much as it offers living, sonic proof of their timeless brand of relevance.
The first track is the big and dancing ”Drag Queen,” which, when stripped of her power chord progressions and innocuous beginning, sounds like an epic poem complete with hero, villain, and the battleground of guesswork lying in between. “I don’t understand your fucked up system,” admits Julian Casablancas, feeding off the rise and fall created by Nick Valensi on lead guitar, Albert Hammond on rhythm, and Nikolai Fraiture on bass. The song embraces the band’s penchant for instrumental-vocal contradiction, as pitches clash with keys only to merge into a stream of reluctant but right coexistence. And Fabrizio Moretti’s right there with them, watching it all go to glorious calculated hell and putting forth the kind of beat that reserves the right to remain endless.
“OBLIVIUS” carries on Casablanca’s saloon Casanova meets stadium powerhouse cadence, at times trading the signature twang for something a little more pop-friendly, without compromising the lyrical significance of the song itself. “What are you standing on?” is the question reverberating throughout the chorus, and there’s a sad answer somewhere, waiting to be spoken and somehow acknowledged. Valensi’s solos give the song an unhinged dimension, and the diversions they provide from the rhythmic structure are absolutely necessary, not to mention rich. Then we have “Threat of Joy,” with a no-nonsense spoken introduction and a gradual tumble into good old Strokes territory. The rhyme scheme, the droll, the bashful sneer we hear in Casablanca’s voice, all the elements are there to give the people what they came for. The final track is a remix of “OBLIVIOUS,” an interesting end to the EP and a promising send- off, leaving one drenched in the sheer volume of the four tracks and the way they thrive off each other in animalistic mutualism.
Future Present Past is well-produced, highlighting the solidity of The Strokes’ current sound and, perhaps even more importantly, raises questions. An unorthodox choice for a new release, it plays its part terribly, terribly well.