The Strokes’ new EP, titled Future Present Past, is certainly as good as any reasonable Strokes fan might hope for. The music contains traces of experimentation without being weird for the sake of being weird, is still blessed by Casablancas’ undeniable gift for song craft and melody, and retains that inexplicable cool that the Strokes have always epitomized at their best. This is not to say that you’ll be singing along to these new songs. On the contrary, Casablancas’ melodies and lyrics, while certainly appealing and catchy, are so hard to follow here that it’s best to just sit back and enjoy it. Throughout the EP, Casablancas sounds like he’s reaching both the listener and the band from a great distance, as though he’s trapped in some distant prison desperately crying out for help. This is especially true on the first two tracks of the EP, “Drag Queen” and “Oblivius.”
“Drag Queen,” the opening track of the EP, is marked by the electronica and pronounced ambience of indie pop found in forcefully quirky films like Mistress America. It’s a reminder that Casablancas has always loved the 80s, and that this love will likely continue to become an ever more evident influence on his musical endeavors. Though the track opens with a strong, almost Queen-like drumbeat, the “cool” it exudes is nothing like the rough charisma of The Strokes’ early endeavors. Whereas prior music was in your face, “Drag Queen” feels like it’s being sung to you from a distance, even in its melodramatic chorus. This track is supposed to be the “future” aspect of the EP, and one can definitely hear the change from The Strokes of the past. The song’s guitar lead feels just a little out of place, making the track feel edgier and more interesting. It’s such little quirks of the song, its feeling of distance, and its utterly unintelligible lyrics that pull the listener back to it over time. However, it’s these same things that prevent the song from becoming an anthem I suspect it had the potential to be (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
“Oblivius”, the “present” track of the EP, does not feel all that different from “Drag Queen.” A compelling rhythm is established early on in the song, but Casablancas continues to sound distant from both the band and the listener. Like “Drag Queen,” “Oblivius’” chorus is explosive, but Casablancas’ soaring vocals make this one feel much more urgent and oddly in place. Finally, “Threat of Joy” harkens back to The Strokes past with its snappy drumbeat and happy, syncopated guitar. Of all the songs on the EP, this is the only one you have a prayer of singing along to, thanks to its simpler melody and less garbled vocals. The guitar line that enters the song around the three minute mark is an earworm, and with it The Strokes succeed in once more crafting an irresistible slice of rock music. However, the song is not all good times and happy go lucky charm, as the track is tinged with the feeling of sadness through and through.
The Strokes deliver once more on Future, Present, Past, in that the EP’s songs remain as cool and captivating as anything one can expect from the group. The Strokes definitely appear to be moving in a different direction from their past, but anyone expecting a great re-invention of rock music from the band will likely be sorely disappointed. These guys were dubbed the saviors of rock and roll not because they did anything new, but because they explored old avenues in a new and exciting context. It’s exactly what they continue to do on this EP.