This audiophiles playlist is dedicated to indie rock’s contemporary virtuosos, whose prowess stands out among the legions of apathetic, gauzy and obscured players in their dreamy other-worlds, and the “so-bad-it’s-good” DIY “budget rockers” too. (Though, to be clear, there’s a major part of my heart in that music as well.) Though shredding has become marginalized and quarantined to certain genres for special interest groups, every once in awhile there’s a diamond in the rough, and one of these virtuosos slips through the cracks.
1. Zach Hill, Wavves — “Cool Jumper”
Hired-gun Zach Hill (Hella, Marnie Stern, Death Grips) was briefly the better half of Wavves’ duo incarnation during 2010. Allegedly, Hill and Wavves-founder Nathan Williams recorded an album that was never released. “Cool Jumper” is a stunning display of Hill’s technical fury paired with Williams’ unrefined lo-fi pop-punk. Pre-Zach Hill, Wavves’ lineup was an unremarkable two-piece, and post-Hill, Williams teamed up with the late-great Jay Reatard’s bassist and drummer. Having a pro like Hill on drums offset the banal tendencies of the lo-fi genre Wavves plays in, and also elevated the band way beyond the imitators. Some their collaborative tracks have found their way online, but the entirety of the unreleased album has unfortunately not appeared anywhere yet.
2. Annie Clark, St. Vincent — “Cruel“
I saw Annie Clark last year when she was touring with David Byrne in support of their album “Love This Giant,” and one of the highlights of the entire night was Clark’s spastic guitar playing. Perhaps better known for her vocal talent, Clark’s abilities as a guitarist — punctuating the end of her coolly controlled vocal runs with bursts of fuzzy, skittish micro-solos — deserve special attention. Clark began playing guitar at the age of 12 and went on the study at Berklee College of Music for a few years before dropping out and joining the Polyphonic Spree.
3. Marnie Stern — “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black”
Marnie Stern’s frenetic guitar sound has everything to do with her tapping technique. Tapping — using both hands to play notes by hammering on and pulling off notes on the neck with the hand usually used for picking (This). It’s a style of playing used in a lot of metal and math-rock. While Stern leans toward the latter, her sound isn’t so easily categorized in that box. Her music is ultra melodic, energetic and even approaches poppy at moments. The effect of her technique is often dizzying, and her wailing, high-pitched vocals give the music an overall disorienting feeling. Stern’s a shredder in the truest sense of the term.
4. Joanna Newsom — “Only Skin”
Joanna Newsom probably belongs somewhere in the top 25 indie-folk harpists, right? Her instrument, typically reserved for angels and medieval minstrels, is her not-so-secret weapon. That, and her elfin voice that puts the ‘freak’ in freak-folk. Newsom is a classically trained harpist, and on this particular 16 minute song she proves that she’s the only one really killing it in the harp game right now.
5. Josh Fauver, (ex-) Deerhunter — “Nothing Ever Happened“
So often the role of the bassist seems delegated to poor guitarists (or dropped completely), so it’s always great to see someone slay the bass. I wrote about Josh’s playing when news came that he left Deerhunter, and now that Deerhunter’s post-Fauver album is out, I miss his playing even more. His driving and deliberate picked bass lines gave Deerhunter’s music a deep undercurrent that, when paired with motorik drum lines provided a solid foundation for guitarist Lockett Pundt’ lofty ambient work and singer Bradford Cox’s delay-laden vocals. This wide sonic spectrum all over “Cryptograms“(2007), “Microcastle” (2008) and “Halcyon Digest” (2010) is absent on the band’s new album “Monomania” (2013) — a pretty noisy and concentrated “nocturnal garage” rock record.
“Her presence is fascinating. Tall and clothed in a garb of many colours. Typical African colors: red, yellow and green with large earrings and a Maasai-type necklace…Her hair is in braids…head-wrap, gold shoulder bands and gold arm bands…beautiful…her presence is very impressive”
The above quote was scribbled down in my notebook during Fatoumata Diawara’s performance on Friday, April 5th at Mayne Stage—a cozy Jazz-clubby venue off the Morse red line stop. It was, what I would call, a “classy” venue, with a surprisingly clean, well-lit interior. It was an intimate setting, decked with comfortable furniture angled toward the modest stage, yet maintaining a sense of privacy. I enjoyed the setting, although I thought it odd for her to play at Mayne Stage, considering that her music is so often groovy and dance-oriented. Nevertheless if there is a will there is surely a way, because by the end of the night, almost everybody was up and moving. Some of the audience members even found themselves sharing the stage with Fatoumata and her band!
As always, the free body movement activity was instigated by a few of those older “hippie-type” folk. Why is it that at every “African”-tagged event you can find white hippies with dreadlocks swaying mysteriously (and usually without rhythm) to the music? I have yet to find an adequate explanation, but on this occasion their enthusiasm was the necessary catalyst to persuade a quiet audience of racially, nationally and ethnically diverse 20-somethings to get up and join the dance party.
I first came across Fatoumata through her collaborative effort with Bobby Womack on his latest LP release on XL Recordings— “The Bravest Man in the Universe” (2012), an album produced by Damon Albarn (of Blur, Gorillaz), Richard Russell and Kwes. Fatoumata was featured on the song “Nothin’ Can Save Ya,” which I found interesting even if it wasn’t my favorite song. However, when my sister kept referring me to YouTube videos of her solo efforts, I made a connection between her voice and what I heard on Womack’s album, eventually deciding to further investigate this singer/songwriter from Mali by jumping on the opportunity to see her live in Chicago.
And what an opportunity that was! Her voice is beautiful; it is warmly sensuous—colored by the cadences of her native tongues, French and Bambara. Her music blends Western African folk traditions of the Jeli—an occupation that combined the roles of an oral historian, poet, storyteller, praise-singer and musician—with a jazz-funk sensibility and a peppering of rock and pop elements. Her songs tell stories about love gained and lost, about women’s rights, self-determination and personal life experiences. On her debut album “Fatou” (2011), Diawara sings about these issues with calm instrumentation that point more towards West African folk than rock, in contrast to her live performance. What I found very engaging about Diawara’s live performance was how the polyrhythmic drum parts of the four-piece band mingled with the groovy bass riffs, yielding a very playful and stimulating sonic interaction.
Another very stimulating aspect of Fatoumata Diawara’s live performance are her dance routines. Not every individual is blessed with Diawara’s gift for amazing footwork! As with every culture, African cultures have a tradition of dance, theirs ranging from the very sensual belly/hip movements of women in Central African regions to the energetic jumps and leaps of the Maasai people in Kenya. And like many South American cultures, African cultures often have dance incorporated into every celebration, festivity and social gathering where there is music. People dance in Churches, at baby-showers, after soccer matches, at political rallies, at house parties, in townships, in clubs and the list goes on. Thusly, people who come from this kind of environment often know how to dance, and Fatoumata is no exception. Her performance even culminated with a dance lesson and demonstration delivered to an ecstatic audience. Breathlessly, she announced to the crowded venue, “God gives us so much music—we just have to share!” In light of my dancing proclivities, as well as my own DJ activities, I have to confess that I could not have agreed more!
“Controllerism borrows its name from turntablism. These terms are essentially the same idea, but they revolve around different instruments. DJs who emphasize performance and approach their tools as musical instruments needed to differentiate themselves from DJs who just play records. In the same way, performers who use computer technologies as musical instruments needed a way to differentiate themselves from people who “check their email.” Controllerism is the art of manipulating sounds and creating music live, using computer controllers and software. Simple as that.”
— Matt Moldover, composer/producer
Over the last few decades, following the introduction of digital technologies, the tools of DJs the world over have changed dramatically. The laptop has destabilized the dominance of the vinyl turntable as the icon of the DJ, while also creating polarizing perceptions about what place the “new” (the digital and the midi controller) has in DJ culture.
The criticism of midi controllers is that the software automates the deejaying process, thus eliminating the need for a human agent. I view this as a much too simplistic reading, especially in light of French sociologist Bruno Latour’s article, “The Berlin Key or How To Do Words With Things”(1991). Latour writes, “Things do not exist without being full of people, and the more modern and complicated they are, the more people swarm through them.” It can be said that laptops and midi controllers can function as legitimate instruments, depending on the musician’s relationship to them.
In Bernardo Alexander Attias’ article “Meditations on the Death of Vinyl,” the professor and DJ states that “new musical technologies are first perceived as phony and threatening to the ‘truth’ of musical virtuosity.” He continues by saying that “they may be skeptically incorporated into musical subcultures in the beginning but they carry audible traces of inauthenticity in the sounds they produce, sounds that audiences find unnatural, even unsettling.” Even vinyl DJs, now viewed as authentic purists, had difficulty being accepted by the mainstream culture. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the turntable began to be accepted as a performance instrument for a wider audience.
Today, midi controllers and digital instruments are facing a similar dilemma. The Monome (pronounced \’mo-nom\) is a family of minimalist grid-based controller-devices with silicone backlit keypads designed for computer-use. The Monome comes in three grid formats, 8×8 (known as the “sixty four”), 16×8 (“one twenty eight”) and 16×16 (“two fifty six”). The Monome is used by a number of musicians including Alfred Darlington, who goes by the stage name of Daedelus. Daedelus — a self-proclaimed “controllerist” — blurs the boundaries between deejaying and live musical performance. He uses the Monome to operate a program called MLR, a sampling and sequencing instrument created in Cycling ‘74s programming environment Max/MSP. Buttons along the rows of the Monome become steps in each sampled sequence and so at the press of a button Daedelus is able to re-arrange samples, creating new patterns in real-time. As a controllerist, Daedelus becomes a nexus of creative energies, just as the DJ, the composer and the instrumentalist.
The hip-hop group Herrmutt Lobby is another strong example of the controllerist practice. Herrmutt Lobby are a collective of “musicians, artists and self-proclaimed nerds whose love of technology has helped shape their musical output.” The most active members are based in Belgium, and as a group they have been releasing material since 2006 on record labels such as Thin Consolation and Eat Concrete, making “low sloping kind of beats and putting out on EPs with names like ‘Bassfudge Powerscones.’” Herrmutt Lobby make music using midi controllers and custom-made software patches created in Max for Live—a collaborative programming environment between Cycling ’74 Ableton Live. Their most famous creation, “Beatfader,” allows the user to assign different sounds to the parameters of a crossfader, essentially transforming it into a trigger-type musical instrument. Demonstrations on the internet show them using this instrument to play the percussive elements of their compositions, hence the name “Beatfader.” The majority of their output is created this way. Their recordings are document of a very human performance that draws musically from both hip-hop and improvised jazz standards. This pioneering and playful spirit is the raison d’être for a group such as Herrmutt Lobby, whose name comes from the signature on Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” R. Mutt.
For Hermutt Lobby, the use of digital technologies couched within the modality of controllerism became a way to arrive at the new, making this practice a space for productive experimentation while deepening the well of sonic possibilities. By operating with laptops and midi controllers in a culture of play, with performative creativity and intentional control, artists like Hermutt Lobby are actively transforming digital technologies into instruments for controllerism.
Illustration by Alli Berry.
On February 13, 2013, the New Museum in New York City opened the exhibition “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.” “The exhibition,” Newmuseum.org states, “is conceived as a time capsule, an experiment in collective memory that attempts to capture a specific moment at the intersection of art, pop culture, and politics.” Borrowing its title from a Sonic Youth album of the same name, the show is a prime example of the 1990s revival in which music is playing a central role.
Music has always been a hotbed for nostalgia. Sonically replicating a particular moment in history with instrumentation and technique is one way to transport a listener; dressing in time-stamped clothing and decorating your album sleeves toward a past trend is another. Revivals aren’t a new phenomenon, and neither is nostalgia. Popular revivals have included the garage rock revival of the early 2000s with bands like the Vines, the Hives and the White Stripes, the lo-fi 1980s aesthetic revival of “chillwave” with groups like Washed Out and Neon Indian at the end of the 2000s and the 1930s-1940s swing revival of the 1990s with the Royal Crown Revue and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Some of the current festishization of the 1990s is attributable to the fact that the kids raised on its material are now in their twenties. But, also of importance may be a nostalgia for the ways certain material was encountered at that time — memories of the primitive Internet, buying CDs, TV on television and a newly outdated model of alternative celebrity.
In “Hip: The History,” author John Leland states that “nostalgia is comforting because it revisits a past in which we know we did not die. We are invulnerable within its amber; in our pasts we are immortal.” By not taking progressive risks, the best that revival bands can hope for is a stylish vegetative state, a deferment of time and artistic progress. Like any past era viewed through rose-colored glasses, the ‘90s are a goldmine for inspiration and theft. However, territory explored by ‘90s alternative rock groups is being re-imagined by new bands with diminishing returns. Bands like Cloud Nothings, Yuck and DIIV exist as redundant, referential hyperlinks that will hopefully only redirect listeners back to Sunny Day Real Estate, Pavement and My Bloody Valentine. MBV’s 2013 album “m b v” proves that they’re still the masters of the genre they invented in 1988, and that even in their absent decades (their last release was in 1991), imitators haven’t moved the shoegaze genre forward. Cycling through decade-referencing trends, there is an increasingly apparent tendency in contemporary indie-rock to forego originality, to instead go for carefully cultivated imitation.
In hip-hop, hyped new artists like Compton, California’s Kendrick Lamar are praised for bringing back classic West Coast hip hop, characterized by the melodic G-funk synths and laid back delivery on Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” (1992) and other gangsta rap Death Row Records releases. Lamar cites being present at Tupac and Dr. Dre’s video shoot for “California Love” (1995), as an influential moment in his life, and his own 2012 album “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” a critical and popular favorite of the year, was produced by Dr. Dre. Last year at Coachella, promoters went to the extremes of mining the ‘90s — resurrecting Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996, in the form of a “hologram” (2-D video projection) to perform alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
The 1990s in music marked the beginning of the end for many long-standing musical institutions such as major record labels, television appearances, radio hits, magazine covers and CD sales. Alternative music, championed by the new and then-hip MTV, became mainstream culture with bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, who were given exposure by dominant institutions of the type which their original scenes worked outside of or in direct opposition to. By 2013, the Internet has obliterated any common denominator in alternative music by opening the doors to an infinite number of casual, one-off bedroom recordings and exposure for any musician with an Internet connection. Record label deals are no longer necessary means of distribution or appeal. With this change, local scenes and DIY movements have to work harder to resist homogenization (if that’s the goal), but it also means infinite possibility for any aspiring musician, and an unfathomable amount of noise to sift through for listeners seeking out new artists.
2013 Festival lineups this year are evidence of the death of the “alternative rock star” model, as the crutch of ‘90s nostalgia is implemented here too. Coachella this year will host Blur, a ‘90s Brit-pop band (Brit-pop itself referencing the 1960s as a reaction against Grunge), Stone Roses, major players in the “Madchester” movement of the early ‘90s (a reaction against shoegaze), and Red Hot Chili Peppers, a reliable festival headliner band whose greatest hits album covers 1991 through 2002. The Pitchfork Music Festival, typically closer to the cutting-edge, booked R. Kelly (see “Born Into the 90s” (1992)), Björk, whose greatest hits album was released in 2002, and Belle & Sebastian, whose Wikipedia “Critical Acclaim” section covers 1998 through 2000. Bonnaroo, which is also hosting Björk and R. Kelly, will also feature the Wu Tang Clan.
Though it’s difficult to know if the the sheer number of musical acts was actually less in the 1990s, by virtue of the modes of distribution, people were, in all likelihood, less aware of as much music as they are today, and had less access to today’s variety. At the risk of oversimplifying the past — a major signifier and problematic trait of nostalgia — it can truly be said that the improvements and progress in Internet culture have made the last ten years more culturally diverse and complex as more information is available to more people. That’s a fact of progress. Major labels, radio hits, physical music stores and MTV all served to create a culture of stardom that exists less and less today as those modes become anachronistic, especially in the “alternative” sphere. At a time when our attention is exponentially fractured and continually divided, icons from the recent, yet vastly different past — Björk, R. Kelly, Dr. Dre and the 1990s by extension — serve as a fondly remembered common
Look out, cause the ‘90s are coming back, not just in fashion but in hip-hop too. With groups like OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) drawing comparisons to The Wu-Tang Clan and Kendrick Lamar’s hit album “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” taking inspiration from ‘90s Southern Dungeon Family beats (and of course paying homage to the West Coast rappers of Compton). You’ve also got rappers like Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$ and the Pro-Era crew bringing back the ‘90s New York “boom-bap” style. What better way to frame the present than by looking at the past? We all know Biggie, we all know Nas, we all bump Wu-Tang, and even your mother listens to A Tribe Called Quest, so let’s take a look at some of the lesser known rap stars of the ‘90s tri-state.
Back in Business
Long Island’s EPMD is a classic duo of Erick Sermon and Parrish J Smith. With a long running career and seven albums, EPMD has undeniable staying power. EPMD has put the word “Business” in every album title, and their name stands for “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars.” EMPD’s “Da Joint” was their big hit off “Back In Business,” and Erick and Parrish killed it on the Sermon and Rockwilder produced track. Their hip-hop collective Hit Squad helped artists like Redman, Das EFX, K-Solo, Hurricane-G and Knucklehedz as they came up, ensuring EPMD’s lasting effect on New York’s hip-hop scene.
Lords of the Underground
Here Come the Lords
MCs Mr. Funke, Dolt All Dupré of Newark New Jersey met DJ Lord Jazz at Shaw University and they put out their first album “Here Come the Lords” in 1993. “Chief Rocka” was the album’s third single and the closing lines: “I live for the funk, I’ll die for the funk,” are famously sampled in Biggie Smalls’s “Machine Gun Funk” from his debut “Ready to Die” (1994). Lords tend to avoid the clichés of gangster rap, and are oft criticisizd for being “soft.”Their lyrics don’t always tell a narrative, but they’re masters of percussive lyrics, even if it makes for some nonsensical rhymes.
“Tonight’s Da Night”
Whut? Thee Album
The less-discussed half of Methodman and Redman, Redman is often called the 11th member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Hailing from across the Hudson in Newark, New Jersey, “Whut? Thee Album” was Redman’s solo debut. A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and EPMD’s Erick Sermon were instrumental in getting Redman his record deal. “Tonight’s Da Night” has been quoted and referenced by rappers like Common, Dilated Peoples, Lords of the Underground, and Party Arty on Big L’s track Da Graveyard. The beat is absolutely insane and primarily samples a sped-up string and trumpet section from Isaac Hayes’ recording of “A Few More Kisses to Go,” with a classic boom-bap bass and snare drum beat.
“Ready to Rock Rough Rhymes”
Hold It Down
Das EFX came from Brooklyn and were prominent members of EPMD’s Hit Squad. “Ready to Rock Rough Rhymes” is toward the end of their album, and PMD (of EPMD) and C-Dogg kill it on the first two verses only to be outshined by Dray and Skoob (of Das EFX) on the closing verse. “Ready to Rock Rough Rhymes” samples Redman from an EPMD track. Das EFX is famous for their stream of consciousness style and adding suffixes to words like “-iggity,” (“No Diggity”) a stylistic choice frequently parodied in pop culture by the likes of Dave Chappelle.
Big L and Jay-Z
“7 Minute Freestyle”
live on the Stretch and Bobbito Radio Show
Not an officially released track (though easily found on the internet), the “7 Minute Freestyle” features Big L (from Harlem) the year his first album dropped and a young Jay-Z (Brooklyn) before anyone knew his name (read: before he sold out). Big L is on the short list for greatest lyricist of all time, but was killed in 1999 before his second album could drop. On this recording from Stretch and Bob’s radio show, we hear Big L and Jay-Z free styling over Miilkbone’s “Keep it Real.” Although many will argue who beat who in this “rap battle,” the real winners are the listeners, who get to hear two masters of the art doing what few else can, improvising better verses than most can premeditatively write.
“Luchini AKA This is It”
Uptown Saturday Night
Camp Lo were a duo from The Bronx consisting of Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba who were heavily inspired by ‘70s blaxploitation films and culture rather than the more timely ‘90s mafioso gangster style. This inspiration can be seen in the way they dress, the samples they use, and the obscure references they drop in all of their songs. The name “Uptown Saturday Night” is a reference to a ‘70s black comedy film, and the album cover itself references the album cover for Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”; the painting “Sugar Shack” by Ernie Barnes.
“Throw Ya Guns”
Coming out of Queens, New York with shaved heads and Army fatigues, Onyx’s first song to hit the radio was “Throw Ya Guns.” Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr, Sonsee, and Big DS lay down verses on this track filled with shouted “Buck bucks!” The “Bald Heads” rocked boots and baggy black hoodies while yelling into mics and cameras, leading the way for acts like 50 Cent, DMX, and others. Onyx’s rough-and-ready-to-rumble attitude makes for an exciting library full of songs to get rowdy to.
“Buck Em Down”
Enta Da Stage
Lyrically, Brooklyn’s Black Moon (Brothers who Lyrically Act and Combine Kickin Music Out On Nations) rarely rise above braggadocio and street violence. Their verses are delivered with potent lyricism over dark, simple, bumping beats. Main rapper of the group Buckshot (Shorty) was 18 and 5’6” at the time, and you can hear him trying to prove himself in these songs.
”The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”
Mobb Deep emerged in ‘92 out of Queensbridge housing projects in Queens, New York, the same housing projects that spawned Nas. The “Infamous” was their second album, solidifying their place in the hardcore gangster rap community. Mobb Deep were part of a resurgence for east coast gangster rap and are known for their gritty often violent imagery.
Big Pun feat. Fat Joe
“Twinz (Deep Cover 98)”
Big Pun came out of the Bronx’s underground hip-hop scene. At the time of his death in 2000 at the age of 28, Big Pun weighed nearly 700 pounds. He is known for super technically lyrical verses, with multi-syllabic rhyming schemes, little room for breath pauses and heavy alliteration. He was tight with rapper Fat Joe, and some even suspect that Big Pun wrote most of Fat Joe’s lyrics , which took a s teep dive in quality after Big Pun’s death. Capital Punishment was the first Latino solo hip-hop album to go platinum.
In 2001, The Strokes released their debut record, “Is This It,” and it’s been diminishing returns ever since. Granted, they had nowhere to go but down. “Is This It” is nearly perfect, a thirty-five minute shot in the arm. The young Strokes – led by their raw and brilliant songwriter, Julian Casablancas – seemed to know their limitations. “Is This It” has one tempo, no fat, and most importantly, it was made using rock instruments: two guitars, a bass, and drums. Sounds crazy now, but back then critics believed the Strokes would save rock n’ roll. Hey, maybe they did. It’s hard to imagine the White Stripes, Black Keys, and Killers getting nearly as big without them.
As the Strokes got older, they began experimenting with slower tempos and electronics, but never strayed far from their winning formula. Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. fine-tuned their collaborative partnership while the rhythm section kept driving in 4/4. In 2003 the band released their sophomore album “Room on Fire,” and for the lead single, “12:51,” the Strokes coalesced into an even tighter, poppier unit than before. But overall, on “Room on Fire” and “First Impressions of Earth” (2006) the Strokes grew pale. Especially Casablancas, whose melodies felt increasingly forced. Then the Strokes did what many bands do when in a slump: they went on hiatus and Casablancas and Hammond put out requisite solo albums despite Valensi’s protests. In 2011, the Strokes set aside their differences and reassembled for “Angles.” The killer single “Under Cover of Darkness” signaled a big comeback, but “Angles” fell flat. It’s the nadir of the Strokes’ uneven discography.
“Comedown Machine” is better, but not by much. Its highest high is the opening cut, “Tap Out.” Amidst prickly guitars and a Studio 54 beat, Casablancas sings his trademarked macho-sleazy lyrics in falsetto. “Even though I really like your place, somehow we don’t have to know each other’s name.” Though he’s clearly become fond of his new-found technique, it ends up failing him time and again. This record’s got a lot of filler, people. “Slow Animals” and “Partners and Crime” squander any momentum from “80’s Comedown Machine,” and on the “Is This It” style rockers, “All The Time” and “50 50,” the Strokes sound like imitators at best, a local cover band at worst.
It’s only when the band tries something radically new that “Comedown Machine” works. The panning guitars on “Chances” bring to mind Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” On the closer “Call it Fate Call it Karma,” the Strokes lean heavily on muted organ and baroque strings, not unlike indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo. The aforementioned title track is a sexy romp in slow motion.
“One Way Trigger,” with its insistent and annoying riff, should come to represent a line in the sand for Strokes fans. I’m reminded of Weezer’s “Can’t Stop Partying.” On that song, the once-beloved group turned its back on its storied history, got in touch with Lil Wayne, and cut a ridiculous song for top-40 radio. Point being, if you could hang with “Can’t Stop Partying,” you could hang with the new Weezer. And if you’re still on board the Strokes’ sinking ship after “One Way Trigger,” maybe they’ll reward you for sticking around. For me, “Tap Out” is the only song on “Comedown Machine” worthy of my Strokes Greatest Hits playlist, while the rest has me convinced that I should jump ship while the jumping’s good.