After almost 18 years of manning the lead guitarist post in The Strokes, Nick Valensi has finally broken away to release his debut side project CRX. The last of The Strokes to do so, the inaugural album New Skin was a long time coming. It’s a fitting title too, as Valensi experiments with a new sonic identity as a lyricist and front man for the first time.
The album started with humble beginnings on Valensi’s laptop at home in LA for over two or three years. He then rounded up a gang of four band mates, appointed himself as the lead singer and recruited the legendary Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) to produce. Obviously, an opportunity to test out new waters, the album embraces every genre from pop and rock to metal and retro synth, but with Valensi’s characteristic dual-guitar arrangements stringing them together in one body of work.
Blasting off with the infectious debut single Ways to Fake It, the album opens with noodly and ’80s-sounding guitar for an up-tempo power pop number. It was one of the first tracks written during the demo sessions and is our first sneak peek at Valensi on lead vocals. And oh boy, what a set of pipes they are.
Broken Bones lumbers in with a thudding drum beat, industrial-sounding guitar and echoing falsetto while Give It Up grows with clapping percussion, a slinky rock chorus and eerie acapella style vocals. Anything zooms in next with head-banging rock pop vibes and fuzzily produced vocals and coos. Walls picks up the pace again as Valensi questions “I don’t know what to make of it when everyone is faking it,” in the catchy chorus.
Things pull back on Slow Down, a mellow number that gives us a chance to take a breath from the frenetic pace before On Edge slams in. Coming in under two minutes in length, it’s just enough time to pack in some punchy and insanely fast guitar riffs. Unnatural slithers in at similar breakneck speed, punctuated by throaty grunts from Valensi and chugging bass lines.
Soaked in synth and dub beats, One Track Mind takes on an ’80s new wave sound, while closing track Monkey Machine relies more on heavy metal guitar licks and aggressive vocals. Considering that Valensi largely pursued CRX because he wanted to tour more, it’s easy to imagine how tracks like the closer will absolutely kill it live.
CRX’s New Skin is not quite The Strokes and it’s nothing death-defying either. Instead, New Skin is just that, an opportunity for Valensi to step out of his comfort zone and explore something alien. The fact that he decided to share it with us rather than keeping it hidden on his laptop is just a plus.
CRX’s ‘New Skin’ is out today. Grab a copy here.