The Strokes

First Impressions of Earth

Prior to First Impressions of Earth, the Strokes worked off a template of unified, NYC hipster-approved compositional restraint, frosted with frontman Julian Casablancas' bleary-eyed, freon insouciance.

For 2003's Room on Fire, a deviation meant little more than minor tweaks to a winning formula: a reggae bent here ("Automatic Stop"), a smoldering prom-night embrace there ("Under Control"), the splicing together of several vividly different songs into one awesome track ("The End Has No End"). Not quite the risk-taking departure the album's shadowy, roulette-tables-and-hands-cocking-pistols cover art led fans and haters alike to expect.

Twenty-some months and countless Drew Barrymore People snapshots later, the quartet finally seems game to take some genuine chances. Most of First Impressions of Earth was entrusted, bravely, to producer David Kahne (Cher, Sugar Ray), with trusty vet Gordon Raphael handling a couple of these expansively discomfiting, never-gonna-be-an-inescapable-ringtone tunes. Kahne emancipates Casablancas' croon from its former cough-syrup quagmire, the better for him to charm his way through the Thin Lizzy-meets-"12:51"-ax-tone Chinese fingertrap guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. weave on "Red Light." Casablancas navigates the dark, Calla-cum-Come tone tendrils of "Heart in a Cage," and confesses, in a Lou Reed rumble encased in angled, ever-circling mellotron'n'cello swipes, that he's "got nothing to say." On opener "You Only Live Once," the singer/primary songwriter actually interacts with the music — ooooooing and '80s whoa-ing and syllable karate-chopping over a delirious dice-roll-and-hurl guitar wilt, chk-chk-chk-ing alongside Fab Moretti's backbeat — like Jay-Z did all over The Blueprint. Impressions won't necessarily up the Strokes' sales or exposure, but it should garner them more respect.

The Strokes play in Atlanta Sun., Jan. 9, at a location to be announced closer to show date on www.thestrokes.com.