Releasing a debut album comes with an unprecedented amount of musical creativity on behalf of the band and a strong curiosity on behalf of the receiving audience. However, when the front man of a new band just so happens to be coming from one of the most influential rock bands in recent years, the expectations, critiques and pressure are ready to run rampantly high.
I am still not sure which was more surprising, Nick Valensi debuting a new side project or the fact that it took so long. As a legendary guitarist of New York based rock band The Strokes, Nick has now become the last of the five band mates to launch a solo project. In the era of secret releases, Valensi’s new project took a risky, yet ultimately successful stab at the trend. From the initial secretive announcement of the band via enigmatic social media posts and a vaguely empty website, the cryptic letters and bold neon colors “CRX” branded across handles seemed to have many eagerly hooked long before any official announcement or release of music. Many questions were being asked by fans and music critics alike: What did the letters mean? Was this a Honda commercial? Were we all about to buy new cars? What are these bold neon colors? Is Nick opening a paintball arena?
In an interview with Pitchfork, (and you’ve probably heard about it as not one article since his new band’s launch will let it die) Nick went on to say that he was not the biggest supporter of fellow band members pursuing side projects due to his views on material and musical energy needing to be focused towards the primary band first. So in reality, guessing that CRX was a potential paintball arena did not really seem as far fetched as a potential new side project.
However, thanks to numerous Q & A’s held on the bands twitter handle and interviews to follow, Valensi has been very vocal about his change of heart (and his affinity for chickens) declaring that the bands fruition came from a desire to play more intimate venues and well, more frequently than what was being done with The Strokes at the time of conception. Nick went on to enlist a few long time friends onto the roster who are no strangers to the music world themselves including: Ralph Alexander (The Dose), Richie James Follin (Guards), Darian Zahedi, Jon Safley (The Reflections) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), who produced the debut album.
Now, if you’re looking for a strictly Strokes inspired sound, CRX is not the place to find it. Aside from both bands regenerating some form of modern revival of rock genres of the past (& of course sharing the mutual member), this new project truly represents a new skin for Valensi. He takes on a new role as front man and song writer, while trading in his signature guitar twin sound and beloved epiphone riviera (which was thankfully recovered after the second biggest scare of 2016, the first being Trump running for Presidency) for his white telecaster. He also introduces a new instrument to the limelight, his killer vocals, which up until now we have only glimpsed as a backing melody for “You’re So Right” on The Strokes 5th LP 80’s Comedown Machine.
From a power pop sound found in “Unnatural” to mellow reggae in “Slow Down” and ending on heavy metal undertones in “Monkey Machine,” the debut album has an ability to keep you on the edge of your
seat headphones? with its ever changing melodies. While lacking cohesion of a static and defining sound, what CRX seems to firmly grasp throughout ‘New Skin‘ is the successful way to utilize accomplished musicians’ individual talents to produce a fluid and flexible group sound that is projected with every passing track. If their debut indicates anything about the future of the band, it is that we should continue awaiting more surprises as these musicians have many more inventive sounds that are awaiting their time to be created and played for audiences to come.