We were playing the new album by Fab Moretti and his other band, Little Joy, yesterday, when talk turned somewhat inevitably to The Strokes. The Reviews Ed was saying how much he liked the second Strokes album, and then we were trying to remember much about the third album: he recalled not rating it; I seemed to have fondish memories of about four tracks, but couldn’t remember a single title, let alone a tune.
The whole business of The Strokes it seemed, thinking about them again, was about perfecting a sound from the off, then trying to work out how to expand on that when your way of constructing a melody is so diffident, so idiosyncratic, so unavoidably Strokesian. There are times when I think they’re one of those bands who should have just retired after the first album, mission accomplished – though that’s plainly daft, when a song as good as, say, “Reptilia”, lies further along the line.
The point is, though, that defining yourself so brilliantly, so skinnily, from the off, can become something of a curse – as perhaps Vampire Weekend may find out over the next few months and years.
Listening to The Strokes, it always appeared that maybe Julian Casablancas’ vocal melodies were what tugged the band into those oddly alluring, deceptively lackadaisical shapes. It’s strange, then, listening to Little Joy and discovering that when Fabrizio Moretti goes off and works with other people, he has exactly the same way about him – as, to a less successful degree, did Albert Hammond Jr.
Away from the essences of New York, Moretti has hooked up with a very different crew. He’s currently playing with Devendra Banhart’s new project, Megapuss, and a Brazilian member of Banhart’s circle, Rodrigo Amarante, is the main singer in Little Joy. Those of us who believe that The Strokes may be the band with the coolest personal names in history will be pleased to know that Moretti has recruited for Little Joy with similar discretion: the trio is completed by a woman from LA called Binki Shapiro.
“Little Joy”, the album, then, sounds like a faintly South American, faintly rustic acoustic take on the Strokes’ catchily skewed version of pop. There are a couple of very beguiling, Tropicalia-tinged, bossa nova-ish songs (“The Next Time Around”, “Play The Part”, “Shoulder To Shoulder”, “Evaporar” especially ), and a fantastically memorable, folksy singalong called “Brand New Start”, which perfectly synthesises The Strokes and Banhart’s less freaky, community-oriented side.
When he appeared on “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon”, Amarante’s voice was sometimes hard to separate from that of Banhart himself. Here, though, he sounds uncannily like Julian Casablancas; vague, self-conscious, charming and affecting in spite of itself. By track eight, “Keep Me In Mind”, it’s verging on eerie.
But that said, there’s a lovely mellowness to “Little Joy” which has never been much evident in The Strokes. It’s laid-back rather than uptight – Moretti liberated, perhaps, from the anxiety caused by trying to live up to and evade expectations which must plague his first band.
As for the rest of his old bandmates: I’ve no idea what this is like, but I was alerted yesterday to the fact that Nikolai Fraiture is playing in London at the Borderline next Wednesday. His band are called Nickel Eye and you can get tickets here. Let me know what he’s up to if you make it down.