Is There a Future for the Strokes?

The Strokes hug the middle of the road on their newest EP, a four-song reminder that this band was once the premier indie act of the 21st century.

Let it be known that The Strokes really want you to like Future Present Past EP. In theory, its all there; the fuzzy guitars, the big city swagger, and the promise of redemption after a string of mediocre records. It seems like the perfect storm, yet the 3 originals and one remix on Future Present Past EP offer nothing more than a reflection of past glory, stopping off at each familiar locale to lend enough nostalgia to carry through the brief trip. The glimmer of brilliance is still there, showing up in spurts like the squealing guitar solo on “Oblivius” and the effortless melancholy of the chorus on “Threat of Joy.” However, these moments are unable to shake the cobwebs off of the rusted relic of The Strokes past glory.

The album opens with processed drums on “Drag Queen,” the biggest clunker on the record. Ironically, this self-serious electro anthem is supposed to represent the “future” of The Strokes sound, as designated by the haha-gotcha EP title (each song corresponds with an era of The Strokes’ future, present and past). The end result comes off as more of a parody than a mission statement, and even the charismatic chorus can’t save the rest of this dirge.

The EP’s lead single, “Oblivious,” fares better. Julian Casablancas pushes his vocals to the top of his register, bringing an urgency to the song that is largely absent from most of the Strokes catalogue. Even with the track’s awkward vocal solo, the pleading melody of the chorus, complete with Casablancas’ signature vulnerable falsetto, is easily a highlight of the EP.

The third original, “Threat of Joy,” is sublime in its mellow nostalgia. Of course, this is the piece of the EP triptych that is meant to represent the “Past” of The Strokes, so maybe it’s the rose colored glasses, but this laid back jaunt is the most immediately appealing of the record. Casablancas barely breaks a sweat on his vocal delivery, managing to sound charming in a smarmy, wearing-sunglasses-inside kind of way.

Casablancas performing on SNL with that signature sunglasses swag
Casablancas performing on SNL with that signature sunglasses swag.

It’s as if you can hear him shrugging off the bad press and has-been status, and just letting out the melodies, unaffected and low stress. As soon as The Strokes loosen up, the lockstep rhythms give way to a gentle stroll, abandoning the studio tricks for songwriting and real human heart. It’s exactly what you would hope for from a Strokes reunion, sounding like they split a 12 pack and asked each other, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” only to hop in the studio the next-day. It stands in stark contrast to “Drag Queen,” which leans on nifty production tricks to hide the fact that it lacks any kind of soul.

The last song on the album, a remix of “Oblivius” by Moretti (the electronic side project of The Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti), is — well — fine. The distorted vocals and synth lines can’t hide the fact that this is less a remix than a re-skin, only adding new texture to an otherwise identical version of the song. There might be a new guitar solo, but it sounds so close to the original that it’s not even worth double-checking to confirm. Not exactly the vote of confidence you would wish for from the album’s only remix.

This EP does little to change the narrative surrounding recent Strokes records. It’s inoffensive, would sound great in a Pac Sun, and there isn’t a reason to return to it unless you wanted to listen to a mediocre version of this band’s previous work. Future Present Past EP isn’t awful; it just leaves you asking, “Is this it?”

Rating: B-