When Albert Hammond Jr., the 28-year-old guitarist for the Strokes (you remember them… they dated Drew Barrymore or something), released his first solo record last year, it came as a bit of a surprise only in that, really, it didn’t. It sounded like the Strokes, mostly, which said quite a bit about the role Hammond played in the development of that band’s sound. But the record also lacked some of the bite we’d come to expect from them, some of that occasionally obnoxious but mostly endearing swagger, which actually said even more about the divisive Julian Casablancas’ talents as a frontman.
But Hammond, despite the similarities in tone, was obviously going for something ever so slightly different as a solo artist. His love of 90s indie rock behemoths Guided By Voices and Built to Spill shone through from time to time, as he flirted with a sunnier pop sound. It’s an approach he’s taken once again on ¿Cómo Te Llama?, further widening the gap between his own material and the Strokes’. The record also sees Hammond and his backing band (who he’s quick to give credit in interviews, if not in name) dabble in more adventurous instrumentation. There’s a more direct reliance upon keyboards than on the last record, and they’re used tastefully, rather than as a cheap way to encourage dancing, like so many of the bands the Strokes were competing with back at the turn of the century. All the dance-worthy moments here come courtesy of Hammond’s guitar work, like on the breezy, swinging, ‘Gfc’ (play along at home?) or the outstanding ‘G Up’. And the song structures have become far more interesting too, hinting at a much larger pool of inspiration than one might expect: ‘Lisa’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ flirt with a ska beats, while ‘The Boss Americana’ sounds exactly like its title would indicate.
There are still moments when ¿Cómo Te Llama? winds up sounding like Strokes-lite, but far fewer than last time. Hammond is developing a voice of his own, and while it’s not likely to incite any massive cultural shifts, it’s also not bogged down by sounding distinctly like it belongs in 2001.