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.

New Releases

The Strokes Are Lonely on New Song "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus"

The rock band's sixth album, The New Abnormal, is out this week.

Jason McDonald

We might not have dine-in restaurants, the freedom to gather in groups, or toilet paper, but even as the world falls apart, we still have the Strokes.

Not long after headlining a massive New Year's Eve show at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, the iconic New York City rockers might have put their tour dates on hold, but they aren't letting public health crises halt the release of their upcoming album. The Strokes' appropriately-titled sixth album, The New Abnormal, is set to arrive this Friday as usual. Following lead singles "At the Door" and "Bad Decisions," they've shared another, titled "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus."

"Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus" dives headfirst into the '80s pop aesthetics that the Strokes have only dipped their toes into prior. Introduced by a jabbing, staccato synth line, it seems to take cues from frontman Julian Casablancas' other band, the Voidz. However, by the time the dueling guitar lines arrive at the chorus, "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus" also feels reminiscent of earlier Strokes work from their First Impressions of Earth or Angles eras. Nevertheless, Casablancas' instantly recognizable croon takes the forefront.

The song squares up its narrator's urges to socialize against an inclination to self-isolate. "I want new friends, but they don't want me," Casablancas sings. "They're making plans while I watch TV / Thought it was you, but maybe it's me / I want new friends, but they don't want me." It feels topically relevant almost to an alarming degree; but, when all of this blows over, "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus" can serve as a dark reminder of where we've been.

The Strokes - Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus (Audio)


Kim Gordon Knows the "Recipe for a Better Future" in New Bernie Sanders PSA

The Sonic Youth founding member shared a parody cooking video that puts a fun spin on feeling the Bern.

Bernie Sanders and popular musicians pretty much go hand-in-hand at this point.

The senator's events have played host to a growing list of musical artists lately; indie darlings like Soccer Mommy and Lucy Dacus have opened for his rallies, as well as established bands like Vampire Weekend and the Strokes. If they're not sharing the stage with Bernie, musicians are likely otherwise endorsing him: Ariana Grande and Cardi B have both hung out with the presidential hopeful, and countless others have shared their support.

Among the notable names in music who are feeling the Bern is Kim Gordon, a founding member of the band Sonic Youth, who released her first solo record last year. Over the past few months, Gordon's Instagram has become saturated with her Sanders support, and she's not slowing down.

Last night, Gordon shared a video from her kitchen to help Democratic voters who still might be on the fence this Super Tuesday. "Want a recipe for a better future? Watch to find out," she captioned the post. In a clip titled What's Cooking America? With Kim Gordon, the rock legend put "ingredients"—Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness, women's rights, and much more—into a bowl, mixing them together to create a colorful goo. After pouring it into a Pyrex and letting it bake, Gordon whipped out a perfectly-frosted cake with Bernie's name written on top. "Vote for Bernie," Gordon urges at the end, letting you know which states need to get out and vote this Super Tuesday.

If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, or you're a Democrat abroad, get out and vote!

Watch the video below:

Last night, the Strokes headlined a massive Bernie Sanders rally at the University of New Hampshire.

The legendary indie rock band took the stage before 7,500 Sanders-supporting students and volunteers, coming on after a stacked lineup that included Dr. Cornel West, Cynthia Nixon, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the indie band Sunflower Bean, and of course, the Senator from Vermont himself.

"This is no ordinary campaign," said Dr. West. "This is a movement that has a spiritual, strong coming together. It's part of the genius of Hebrew scripture—I don't care if you're Muslim, I don't care if you're Christian, I don't care if you're Buddhist, Hindu—it says the spreading of Hasid, the spreading of that steadfast love to the orphan, the widow, the fatherless, the motherless, the oppressed, the occupied, the dominated—it's rooted in the best of America… That's a moral and a spiritual dimension, and I thank god my dear brother Bernie Sanders has got the courage and the vision to bring us together."

"We're moving forward," said Ocasio-Cortez in her introductory speech for Sanders. "Forward to a multiracial democracy. Forward to guaranteed health care. Forward to a living wage. Forward to indigenous rights and honoring sovereignty. Forward! That's where we're gonna go! We're not going back to the days where people had to hide!"

Sanders is currently surging in nationwide polls and is expected to spar with Pete Buttigieg for the top spot in the New Hampshire primaries, which will be over by 7PM on Tuesday, February 11th. He took to the stage to cheers and the sound of "Power to the People," and delivered his typical invectives against the 1% and his calls for unity.

The Strokes, who performed last, remained relatively apolitical throughout their raucous set, which consisted of the infectious indie rock that made them into legends of the New York downtown scene in the early 2000s. They played some of their classics, like "Someday," and debuted a new song called "Bad Decisions." At one point, frontman Julian Casablancas announced that his album was coming out April 10th. At another, he launched into a tirade about pirates, who represent the "evil people" that "stole and r*ped for money" who "Bernie Sanders would knock out of office." He made sure to clarify that he meant "no disrespect to pirates" and added, "modern businesspeople? Way worse." The banter was strange, but the energy was undeniable.

Near the end, Casablancas asked fans to look at a screen hanging above the audience. He then played a new song, "At the Door"—an autotune-heavy, synthy number reminiscent of his work with the Voidz—while a psychedelic animated video played in the background.

The video "At the Door" appears to follow several disparate science fiction-inspired storylines, and uses vintage Disney-style animation. There's a little boy who leaves his house with a Grim Reaper-type figure after watching his parents fight. There's a superhero-esque woman who kills her captors and embarks on a heroic journey in a racing car. There are a couple of rabbits reminiscent of Watership Down who are forced to run from both an enemy mutant rabbit and a massive dark sun. And then there are a host of aliens, who seem to live in a paradise world on the other side of the real one. Filled with starry, surreal imagery, the video blends science fiction and fantasy with reality and seems to present different possible futures, some apocalyptic and some Elysian.

There are a lot of ways to read this video in the context of the rally. It could have little to do with the burgeoning political revolution that Sanders is leading. Then again, the rabbits, the little boy and the trapped woman could also represent some of the fear and suffering that occur in America—ecological disaster looms, suffering reigns, and mutations land people with incurable illnesses—and Sanders' campaign promises to fight these realities with environmental movements like the Green New Deal and beneficial programs like free college and Medicare for All.

Whether or not the Strokes' new video was a symbol of political revolution, it struck more than a few chords. But it was far from the end of the show. Casablancas had been complaining periodically that the lights had been turned on, and when someone told him that the cops were to blame, he launched into a version of the song "New York City Cops," an anti-police number. Perhaps frustrated by their presence and disruptiveness, and inspired by general frustration with cops, he invited audience members to jump onstage (much to the disdain of the present police).

When the show finished, crowds poured outside and launched into an impromptu ice skating session on a frozen pond, writing "BERNIE 2020" in the snow.

Prior to the event, Casablancas released a more political statement that said, "We are honored to be associated with such a dedicated, diligent, and trustworthy patriot — and fellow native New Yorker… As the only truly non-corporate candidate, Bernie Sanders represents our only chance to overthrow corporate power and help return America to democracy. This is why we support him."

The Strokes—with their private school backgrounds and rockstar ethos—might not be the most obvious representatives of Sanders' campaign. But something in the gritty energy of their music seems to perfectly embody the spirit of hope and determination that's carried Sanders' campaign from obscurity to the front lines of the future.


New York, The Strokes, and rock & roll: everything we learned from Lizzy Goodman's "Meet Me in the Bathroom"

The oral rock history that features excerpts from Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, and more

Music. Drugs. New York City. These are just some of the few things that keep the world spinning in Lizzy Goodman's oral rock history, "Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001 - 2011."

The early 2000's were an explosive time for the music scene in New York, whether or not we realized it at the time. To tell the story of how exactly it came to be, Goodman spoke to hundreds of musicians, journalists, publicists, and record executives, including elusive figures like Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, and the White Stripes' Jack White. It's a story you come to know through the people who lived it themselves, single-handedly altering the course of rock music. "This was an important and poignant period of time in the city," Goodman said in an interview with Rolling Stone. "And I wanted to document it."

The story of rock's rebirth places a heavy emphasis on the Strokes and the aftermath of Is This It. It begins with Goodman reaching out to old friend and Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, who started way back when as a booking agent for Mercury Lounge. "I felt like I had to get him on board right away," Goodman says, "in order to begin to approach achieving what I was hoping to achieve." Once he understood the ambitious scope of the project, gradually every Strokes member got on board. For a band that avoids press, reading their conversations on the moments everything began to unravel almost feels as if you're invading their privacy. One such fascinating instance is when guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. opened up about the extent of his heroin addiction, which reached a breaking point once he grew closer to musician Ryan Adams. "Ryan would always come and wake me at two in the morning and have drugs, so I'd just do the drugs and kind of numb out," Hammond said. "I knew I would shoot up drugs from a very young age. I'd been wanting to do heroin since I was 14 years old."

The situation came to light once the group asked Adams to meet them at a bar. "I was asked to meet one single person in a bar and I got there and it was the whole band and [their manager] and I was more or less given a lecture, a hypocritical lecture, and then they told me that I was not going to be part of their scene anymore," Adams said. "It was very weird. It was easy to brand me as the problem. I would suspect that they soon learned that I was not the problem." (Adams' comments in the oral history become that much more interesting once you realize it's probably the catalyst for his latest childish twitter antics, which include (but are not limited to) when he called Hammond a "horrible songwriter" and Father John Misty "the most self-important asshole on Earth.")

Of course, it can't be unsaid that oral histories depend entirely on who's doing the talking. It's no secret that rock stars might not have the greatest memory in the world - which is why Goodman looked for outside sources (like journalist Rob Sheffield - "He's a living encyclopedia," she says, "and he's the only reason I remember anything from my past") during her research. "That is why I wanted this to be an oral history," Goodman tells Rolling Stone. "The nature of memory is imprecise even though we're sure about all sorts of things. That goes 100 times for complex and emotional drug- and booze-soaked and years-ago memories. What's rad about an oral history is that all those memories can coexist."

Albert Hammond Jr. and Fabrizio Moretti of the Strokes, Ryan Adams, and Courtney Love on TRL 2002

Meet Me In The Bathroom is for those who lived these electrifying, timeless years in New York, as well as those who wished they did. It's a story of music by those who were providing the soundtrack of the golden years. It's a story of how file-sharing services (like the creation of Napster) changed the music industry as we know it. "A working title of this book was The Last Real Rock Stars," says Goodman. "Interpol is really emblematic of this reality. Their first album came out in the era of rock stardom that's familiar to pop culture. It's what you see in Almost Famous or Behind the Music. By the second record, which leaked, it's like, 'Oh, so we just started this career in this old paradigm and now we're still in this thing, but we don't even know what it is.' These people are all relatively young, but they're also relics of an era that's gone."

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001 - 2011 is out now and available to purchase via Amazon.

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Popdust Monday Mix #4: Best of The Strokes

Music writers E.R. and Vanessa have curated a playlist of the best Strokes tunes in honor of their return

Vanessa Bermudez

"For this week's #MondayMix, we pay tribute to The Strokes in light of their recent return to the stage as well as Comedown Machine's 4th anniversary. For a band with so many hits, we focused on the tracks that display the variety of sounds and approaches they've come to be known for over the years (and trust us when we say this, there is no such thing as a bad Strokes song). From "Someday" to "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight," this playlist will make your Monday that much more bearable.

Don't forget to tune in next Monday for another #MondayMix.