Summing Up the Parts

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Published October 7, 2009

There was a time when impassioned defenses of favorite Strokes could get as rhetorically bloody as those of favorite Beatles or favorite Jonas Brothers (or what I imagine defenses of the latter sort sound like. That song on my iPod? I’m holding on to it. For a friend.) (PHOTO: NIKOLAI FRAITURE)

The Strokes’ last studio album, First Impressions of Earth, was released in 2006. By the time their next album is released early next year, four of the five band members will have released a record on their own. The default term for that kind of venture is “side project,” which brands the undertaking as inescapably extracurricular, an extra hustle that is alternatively judged too leniently or harshly because it is–by definition–the thing that is not the main project. It’s an unfair connotation, but one that’s been historically reinforced. See: JC Chasez.

Google “solo career” and you’ll find that the fourth suggestion is a link to Albert Hammond Jr.’s MySpace Music page. That’s not an unrealistic cognitive connection to make. His two releases since the Strokes hiatus began, ¿Como Te Llama? and Yours to Keep brim with potential. They’re solid albums , and through them, Hammond Jr. has likely gained a larger audience. “It’s Hard Living in the City”, off Yours to Keep, was included in the Gossip Girl soundtrack. Some of the songs sound like potential Strokes tracks left on the cutting room floor as envisioned by Conor Oberst. That’s not a bad thing. There’s a consistency that’s less present in Nikolai Fraiture’s record, The Time of the Assassins, a party of an album that features guests like Regina Spektor and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

These three records feel like side projects. The problem is not that they’re not good (they are) or that they’ve remained obscure (Nikolai even got the Mark Ronson remix) but that they remind us that the Strokes are currently broken, if not broken up, and that something very good will come of their return. 

The most interesting album to have come out of the Strokes hiatus is the one that is as aesthetically different from Is This It as it is possible to be, but still touches the same nerve endings: Little Joy’s self-titled debut.  (PHOTO: LITLLE JOY)

Fabrizio Moretti, Strokes drummer and former Drew Barrymore paramour, formed Little Joy with Rodrigo Amarante, of Brazilian group Los Hermanos. Fabrizio and Rodrigo are the lyrical and musical creative forces behind Little Joy, and they’re joined by the milky-voiced Binki Shapiro, who turns tracks on which she sings lead vocals into solid gold. “Unattainable” is all things soft and wistful and mellifluous.  It sounds like it was the result of a recording session on a hammock. It’s unassuming and effortless, and sounds warm and comfortable and exciting, like kissing a longtime friend for the very first time. “Next Time Around” contains a couple of verses in Portuguese and “Evaporar” is sung entirely in that language. They’re beautiful moments and should nudge listeners in the direction of Los Hermanos, a band very much deserving of attention.  (They are also on hiatus.)

Little Joy played a show at Webster Hall last Friday, a performance Binki described as the last one they’d put on together for a while.  In one of the pauses between songs, Fabrizio offhandedly mentioned being busy recording with another band. I don’t think I was the only one in the audience who pretended she didn’t know what he was talking about. We also pretended we didn’t know the opening act, Swami Shave-us Jr., was actually Devendra Banhart, except for that girl who yelled “Carmensita!” Way to play along, sister.

And, of course, up-and-coming singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas releases his album, Phrazes for the Young, on October 20th. Mark your calendars.