Different Strokes For The Strokes?

With the Strokes taking a break until February—and their songwriting largely on hiatus since 2001—the boys have bolted for the relative security of the side project. Of course, there’s guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and his well-received solo albums, most recently ¿Cómo Te Llama?. Then this summer—while Julian Casablancas, Pharrell, and Santogold shilled for Converse —we learned about drummer Fabrizio Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture’s new ventures.

Recorded material has recently surfaced from both of these guys and, surprisingly, it doesn’t suck, at least not entirely. Fraiture’s band is a collaboration with Regina Spektor and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner (who’ve gotten at least as much billing as the Stroke) called Nickel Eye (get it?). The un-mastered tracks from the forthcoming LP The Time of the Assassins (“available soon”) that just hit the band’s MySpace page are all over the board—from the post-punky Zinner-collab “Dying Star,” to the mournful folk on “Where the Cold Wind Blows.” While the songwriting isn’t bad, Nikolai’s voice leaves something to be desired. It’ll remind you of Cassablancas, except flat and without the sense of humor.

Fab’s band Little Joy (whose self-titled debut comes out on Rough Trade on November 4) is a better bet. Fontman Rodrigo Amarante sounds even more like Casablancas, particularly on the bittersweet “Keep Me in Mind,” but unlike Fraiture, the similarities only flatter the band’s natural talents. Little Joy, which also features Fab’s reported girlfriend Binki Shapiro(!), crafts an easy-breezy pop rock worthy of the band’s Los Angeles home—a calypso-loving Neil Young with a touch of AM radio (if such a thing is possible). Though the best sign that Fab’s side project may outlast his day job is that Little Joy is without pretense. These guys sound like they’re playing your backyard cookout for beer money.