Music Reviews

The Strokes' "The New Abnormal" Is Perfect Apocalypse Rock

How things have changed since the Strokes debuted "Bad Decisions" and "At the Door" at a Bernie Sanders rally.

The Strokes didn't have to make The New Abnormal.

They could've easily hidden away in their suburban homes, working on their own more avant-garde solo side projects. But the band is New York City born and bred, and they've never abandoned the cosmopolitan anxiety that fueled their first album and launched them into mythical stardom. If anything, that anxiety is worse than ever on their latest album, which is the band's first offering since 2013.

The Strokes are used to releasing music at politically tense times; their first album was delayed by 9/11. In the wake of that disaster, the band's first album gained them reverential worship; they were crowned as saviors of rock and roll, given almost godlike status. Their songs about apathy and fractured relationships resonated with every newly minted indie kid looking to reclaim the New York City they'd read about, as well as everyone looking for an opportunity to throw on some Converse and dance the night away in those unstable times.

Today, The New Abnormal arrives in the midst of a different type of instability. There will be no dancing to these songs, at least not for a while and not outside of the confines of our bedrooms. There won't be any world tours for the foreseeable future.

Still, the album feels tailor-made for quarantine, oddly perfect for playing during another night in. In its chaotic, sometimes nonsensical, overtired, magnetic way, it feels at ease with what might be described as pandemic energy.

Perhaps that's because, as Amanda Petrusich writes in The New Yorker, "The Strokes' music makes everything feel less high-stakes." This might be why it sounds so good in an emergency," she continues. "Nothing is ever so unbearable that it can't be shrugged off. People arrive and depart, relationships begin and fracture, things are lost, parties get boring—whatever. Casablancas's songs briefly make a person feel like she's just a little bit above it all, worn out in a sexy, oblique way, rather than in the usual gutted, ugly way. 'The room is on fire as she's fixing her hair,' Casablancas sang, on 'Reptilia,' a track from Room on Fire, the follow-up to Is This It." In the quarantine era, when domestic struggles and the horrific headlines that capture the burning outside world seem to be constantly duetting, that lyric seems extra accurate; then again, when isn't it indicative of the human condition? When haven't we been fixing our hair as the world burns?

That's not to say the Strokes are against action or anti-hope. Frontman Julian Casablancas has often called for the downfall of capitalism, and the band debuted two of their new songs at a Bernie Sanders rally in New Hampshire, when his campaign was gaining critical momentum. But none of the songs are exactly powerhouse ballads about a better world; if anything, they seemed to predict the eventual decline of Sanders' campaign.

The cosmic, existential "At the Door" (which they debuted there, including its animated music video) seems to be about a breakup and climate change, albeit in equally vague ways. An almost unbearably pretty, angelic synth sets the chorus on a more psychedelic track, and the lyrics "I'll be waiting for the old times / Waiting for the tide to rise" couldn't be more accurate descriptors of how many of us are feeling nowadays.

The Strokes - At The Door (Official Video)

Other album highlights include "The Adults Are Talking," a strong opener that features the Strokes' typically rebellious anti-authority ethos. "Stockholders," Casablancas spits, "Same sh*t." It's a short line that sounds both eternally relevant and extra-important in this moment in time.

The final track, "Ode to the Mets," might be the best on the album. Its final lyrics at last relinquish the nostalgia that the whole album has been entertaining, leaning into a more jaded mindset that feels a bit like release. "The old ways at the bottom of / The ocean now has swallowed / The only thing that's left is us / So pardon the silence that you're hearin' / It's turnin' into a deafening, painful, shameful roar," Casablancas mumbles at the end of the song as it billows off into a dreamy, impressionistic collection of wild synths and guitar growls.

Those don't sound like lyrics written by people who believed Bernie Sanders would win. Instead they sound like they were written by a very tired, very anxious rock band, which—whether out of a desire to make more money or a desperate need to create or most likely, some fusion of the two—continues to make beautiful, imperfect music in times of great fear and uncertainty.

The old times are never coming back, but it seems that the Strokes have returned for good. The band's music has always possessed some sort of intangible x-factor, an internal energy that distinguishes them from the rest. Something about them—be it their riffs, or melodies, or in the band's overall synergy—has a way of catching at the heartstrings, no matter what disaster we're collectively living through.

Parts of The New Abnormal are so beautiful that they're capable of pulling the listener out of the fray of the world entirely and into a more beautiful landscape that looks like the best possible version of the future. If the future looks anything like a Strokes song sounds, that would be a better world indeed.

Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

TV Lists

Was “Saturday Night Live at Home” Better Than the Usual Show?

In a world increasingly moving away from traditional TV formats, maybe this is the way the show should be.

When's the last time you actually watched an episode of Saturday Night Live all the way through?

If you're younger than 60, you probably consume the iconic short form comedy show mostly in clips shared on the Internet. It used to be that fans would have to watch the entirety of the broadcast to see the few comedic gems amidst the mediocre filler, but now all you have to do is wait for your social media algorithms to decide which skits are worth your time. This has had the affect of making SNL much less about the flow of the entire show and much more about the individual skits and bits. Now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this is more true than ever.

For the first time ever, SNL aired a special non-live version of the show this past weekend. All of the skits were pre-recorded in the comedian's various homes. Tom Hanks hosted, which only consisted of an opening monologue, introducing the musical act, Chris Martin, and a good-bye. Tons of famous SNL alums and other regulars made appearances, including Larry David, Alec Baldwin, Fred Armisen, and more.

This version of SNL was not the polished, high-budget production audiences are used to. Instead, it was simpler, messier, and incredibly charming. One might even argue that in removing all the usual frills of the show, the "At Home" version allowed the brilliant comedic talent of the SNL cast to shine in a way that isn't usually possible.

One thing is definite: We got way more viral, ultra-sharable clips than usual. So maybe this is the future of skit comedy: shorter, simpler bits ready to be shared online. Whether you preferred this version of SNL or not, it's definitely worth checking out some of the show's highlights.

5. Tom Hanks Opening Monologue

Tom Hanks hosts 1st remote 'Saturday Night Live' at home l GMA

4. Larry David as Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Address - SNL

3. Kate Mckinnon RBG Workout

RBG Workout - SNL

2. Zoom Call

Zoom Call - SNL

1. Quarantine Masterclass With Timothée Chalamet

MasterClass Quarantine Edition - SNL