While most music-lovers are familiar with the iconic alternative rock band The Strokes, some may be unaware that the lead guitarist of the group, Albert Hammond Jr., has a prolific discography of his own. On May 9th, Hammond released his fifth studio album, a succinct yet complex nine-track album titled Melodies on Hiatus – Part 1. This project effortlessly expands on the classic indie rock sound that Hammond has developed throughout his time with The Strokes, while simultaneously introducing brand new elements such as beats, artist features, and vocal effects to give Melodies on Hiatus – Part 1 a fresh and modern feel.
Albert Hammond Jr. has been surrounded by great music and inspiration his entire life. His father, Albert Hammond, is also a famous musician, singer, and songwriter, best known for the catchy 1972 Billboard hit “It Never Rains in Southern California”. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hammond Jr. then attended boarding school in Switzerland where he met future band mate Julian Casablancas. The rest is history– The Strokes were formed in New York at the turn of the 21st century, catapulting the indie sleaze movement into the national spotlight and instantly becoming a hit band. Hammond is not just the guitarist of this famous group; a melodic backbone, he and Casablancas often craft songs in tandem, creating chirping choruses for iconic guitar leads and solos. Hammond’s first solo venture, Yours To Keep, was released between The Strokes’ projects First Impressions of Earth and Angles, in 2007. His solo work became an avenue for Hammond to refine his genre-defining sound and explore new song structures, free from the confines of upholding a unified group image or sound.
The album’s title reflects one of Hammond’s ongoing obsessions, as he shared that “melodies are what turn [him] on” in an interview with The Guardian ahead of the project’s release. The album’s cover depicts Wassily Kandinsky’s famous painting “Seven Circles,” often described as a perfect example of abstract expressionism in fine art. The circles are placed in a way that suggests randomness yet feels deliberate and complete. Perhaps there is some meaning to be gleaned from the album’s artwork: chaos and disorder blending into a seamless expression of art.
The opening track of the project, “100-99” features American rapper and singer Goldlink– a seemingly unusual collaboration for the typical alternative rock or Albert Hammond Jr. song. Despite any reservations listeners may have had upon seeing the strange pairing, Goldlink’s hard hitting lyrics rapped over Hammond’s melodic and indie instrumentals provides a welcomed juxtaposition of grit and harmony. Hammond finishes out the final verse and chorus of this track fully autotuned, a vocal effect he has yet to experiment with in his solo work thus far. Listeners are led directly into “Downtown Fred”, which sounds more reminiscent of songs found on Hammond’s earlier albums like Yours to Keep and Francis Trouble that drip with his classic bright vocals and chord progressions. Lovers of The Strokes will rejoice at the third track, “Old Man,” which sounds as though it could be a long lost B-side from one of the bands’ early projects: a classic demonstration of noisy, upbeat, surf rock.
The song practically begs to be played on summer drives down Pacific Coast Highway and gives the uncontrollable urge to dance around.
The second half of Melodies on Hiatus – Part 1 begins with an upbeat rock tune, “Thoughtful Distress”, featuring drumming from Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys and an epic electric guitar solo by Steve Stevens, guitarist for Billy Idol. A similar effect to Goldlink’s feature on “100-99” is felt here– by folding in guest artists, Hammond gains new ideas and sounds to incorporate into the track.
This adds a welcomed and deeper perspective and musical maturity to the project as a whole.
The album then returns to its indie rock backbone with “Libertude”, a catchy, sweet love song that allows the tracklist to breathe before the closing songs. The final track, “I Got You”, expertly layers complementary guitar melodies and harmonizing vocals over a driving drum beat: a well-crafted culmination of the album’s journey and an homage to the rock genre as a whole. Melodies on Hiatus – Part 1 is Hammond Jr’s most experimental album to date, navigating new genres and sounds through the use of featured artists and techniques such as autotune. Still, he skillfully maintains the signature tone and writing style he has curated in his decades of artistry.
The album title suggests that this is not the last project Hammond Jr. will release from this era and sound. There’s also been some buzz around The Strokes’ seventh LP, with confirmation from multiple band members that they are working with legendary music guru Rick Rubin on new tunes, who produced their 2020 album The New Abnormal. Hammond himself even declared, “I don’t think [The Strokes] have written our best songs yet. I really feel that in my gut” (via interview with The Dork). While we’ll have to wait and see if Melodies on Hiatus – Part 2 is in the cards, it seems certain that fans can count on upcoming Albert Hammond Jr. songs in some capacity. Fans can also buy tickets to his upcoming tour supporting Melodies On Hiatus here.
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.