Different Strokes for Different Folks: “OBLIVIUS”, “Drag Queen”, and “Threat of Joy”

This week the Strokes unveiled, one by one only over the course of a day, their first release in three years: the EP Future Present Past. I can’t help but wonder if the three time periods are represented in the three songs, and since the tracks became more familiar to me as a Strokes fan moving down the list, I have to assume they are respectively, from the top, the future, present, and past of the band’s sound. I also happened to like each song a little more than the one before it, so I was more than happy with the sequence in which I listened, and I find it a little weird that they chose to release them out of order if the releases were so close to one another anyway (“OBLIVIUS” followed by “Drag Queen”, and finally “Threat of Joy”). The rapid fire release of quality music is an exciting and satisfying comeback for the Strokes and excited fans.

Drag Queen

“Drag Queen” starts with a near-cheesy naked drum beat and moves confidently into a super-low bass riff. The overall color of the song is immediately dark and clean, but in the context of Casablancas’s muddy vocals, it seems to shift into something a little dirtier. Thanks to the slowly developing, even rhythms and cyclical patterns, this song starts off unexpectedly (a little more like something off First Impressions of Earth) but evolves into something a little more recognizable. I think the thesis  of the song is the constant identity shifts on various levels. The vocal distortion ranges section by section in weight and crispness. The aggression of the bass flirts with the heroic cockiness of the guitar in the chorus (and the bizarre, dissonant guitar solo stands out all on its own). And the freshness of the song is maintained  as the tension builds and dissipates, always dissolving back to the same beginning bass line and high alternating  perfect fifths.

OBLIVIUS

“OBLIVIUS” (which people seem to be having trouble spelling)  is instantly more characteristic of the Strokes, and much more optimistic than the edgy “Drag Queen”. The double lead guitars, which also double the voice in the pre-chorus, give the song a playful character sandwiching the emotionally explosive and memorable chorus. An ostentatious guitar solo leads into another quicker, cleaner one made of arpeggios over which Casablancas vamps in a falsetto until moving back into the soaring chorus. The vocals in this song are more consistent in production but freer with lots of vocal runs and a wide melodic range. I felt much more of an emotional response to the catchy “OBLIVIUS” as opposed to my mostly-intellectual interest in “Drag Queen”.

Threat of Joy

The last track feels the most like a quintessential example of the Strokes to me. “Threat of Joy” feels vaguely jazzy in the harmonies, and even a little beachy in the lighter rhythms. The jazz color is supported with cleaner guitar tones than the noisy ones in “Drag Queen” and “OBLIVIUS” and some slides towards the end. The vocals are delivered in a casual, off-hand manner that pulls them into the rest of the mix without really overshadowing the upbeat arrangement. Unlike the previous two songs, “Threat of Joy” doesn’t grow very much from start to finish, making it a good song to quietly groove to. It’s the easiest to enjoy with minimal effort towards engagement.

OBLIVIUS – Moretti Remix

One more addition to the EP is Fabrizio Moretti remix of “OBLIVIUS” which, frankly, I didn’t need. It just sounds thinner and vaguely more annoying, essentially  flattening out the great ranges of emotion that made me like it to begin with.

Overall I’m thrilled with the return of the Strokes, and like many other fans, excited to find out what their next move is. Normally when a band with such a long, great track record comes back after a long hiatus I get a little apprehensive (“please, don’t let this be another Battleborn”) but in this case I’m optimistic.

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