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Review of the Strokes’ “Future Present Past” EP

By Henry Tyndall

In the late hours of May 25, 2016, New York City and London passersby glanced confusedly at cryptic projections on the facades of buildings throughout the cities. These mysterious exhibitions featured a sequence of three short animations, aesthetically reminiscent of a 1970s arcade game, accompanied each by one of the words, “Future,” “Present,” and “Past,” respectively. The only trace of clarity to be found in these videos was the brandishing of the familiar and stirring title of the band that took those two cities by storm 15 years ago: The Strokes.  

The frantic fandom’s bewilderment was requited the following day by the on-air premieres of three brand-new Strokes tracks, the band’s first original material in over three years. The songs were packaged in a 4-song EP, explicably entitled “Future Present Past,” along with a remix of one of the EPs tracks by the band’s drummer, Fabrizio Moretti.

Though cynics may rationalize the EP as a halfhearted attempt by the Strokes to satisfy their fans, the true significance of the EP is not in its length, but in its creative autonomy. The four tracks are the first of the bands’ to be released through Cult Records, a label founded and run by lead singer Julian Casablancas, after their 5-album contract with RCA was completed in 2013. This essential lack of contractual obligation to the industry removes all doubts of enthusiasm of creative integrity, reassuring fans for the first time since as far back as “Room On Fire” in 2003 that the Strokes play to the songs, and not to the charts.

The EP is the band’s first since the year 2000 bestowed “The Modern Age” upon the world. Then obsolete, the Strokes became the first unsigned band in over 40 years to make “Rolling Stone” magazine’s single of the week. The EP marked the beginning of an era that would see countless indie groups rise to stardom, nearly every one able to trace their inspiration directly or indirectly back to the Strokes.

The significance of FPP is further exemplified by its figurative title. Though it has not been confirmed by the band, the songs of the EP have been interpreted almost invariably by critics and fans alike to represent the musical style of the Strokes’ future, present, and past.

Track two of the EP, “OBLIVIUS,” embodies the Strokes era that began a decade after their debut album, “Is This It.” Their 2011 album, “Angles,” introduced the 80’s pop sound that would be further explored in 2013’s “Comedown Machine.” Though the albums were well-received overall, the band warranted a fair amount of criticism over the 80’s undertone, notably by loyalists to the Strokes’ first two albums. Nevertheless, the 80’s pop infused in the Strokes sound undeniably defined their music for the first half of this decade. “OBLIVIUS” is thus correlated with the “present” in “Future Present Past.”

Track three of FPP, “Threat Of Joy,” alludes to the Strokes first two albums, “Is This It” and “Room On Fire.” Their first two albums were quite similar in style, both recorded minimalistically, giving them an authentic garage rock sound. “Threat Of Joy” seems to mimic this style of mixing. Musically, the song’s drum-machine beat and consistent main chord riff are also reminiscent of this time period in the Strokes history. Therefore, “Threat Of Joy” is invariably associated with the Strokes’ past.

Track one of the EP, “Drag Queen,” is a haunting political commentary about corruption and conformity. The most notably unique quality of the song is its haunting vocals. The song’s beat and guitar riffs are also very rigid compared to much of their previous music, nevertheless a quality which brings so much to the song, and which the Strokes were undoubtedly aiming for. The uniqueness of the song has led listeners to overwhelmingly believe the song represents the Strokes’ future.

Continuing the political commentary of “Drag Queen” – as well as the more subtle references to Wall Street and corruption in “OBLIVIUS” – the Strokes released a music video for “Threat Of Joy” in late June. The video depicted a scenario where the footage to a music video for “OBLIVIUS” was stolen and brought to a table of pigs in suits, undoubtedly representing Wall Street. Casablancas told NME in an interview that the story was actually a satire of a real scenario, in which the Strokes were informed their video for “OBLIVIUS” would not be aired as it was “too political.” The band never learned who was behind the shutdown.  

The release of the EP in June was also followed by a headlining spot at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island, NYC. The concert was one of the band’s most enthusiastic performances in almost a decade.  

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