Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Strokes-Is This It

When rock music entered the 21st Century, it was clear that something wasn’t right in the world of rock.  The mainstream was torn between the world of rap-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park along with post-grunge bands like Creed and Nickelback.  Though 90s acts like Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nine Inch Nails were still around in churning out hits and doing well live.  It was clear that in some circles, rock music was getting boring.  With every reaction towards the mainstream, there would always be something else that would shake things up. 

The early 2000s saw a revival of garage rock as bands like the Hives and the White Stripes brought something new to the rock scene.  Stripped down rock with just guitars, bass, and drums (or in the case of the White Stripes, guitar and drums).  One of those bands that would part of that revival as well as a resurgence of the New York City rock scene would be a band that brought a new excitement to the music scene.  They are simply known as the Strokes.

Formed by vocalist/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti in 1998.  The Strokes created a simple, stripped-down style of rock that had the aesthetics of garage rock mixed in with the driving rhythm of post-punk along with elements of late 70s/early 80s new wave rock and the roughness of the Velvet Underground.  With Casablancas as the songwriter and having a vocal style similar to VU vocalist Lou Reed.  The band presented their sound through an EP called The Modern Age that gained attention in the U.S. and British underground that led to a huge bidding war leading to the band being signed to RCA Records for their first album.

Written by Julian Casablancas and produced by Gordon Raphael, Is This It is a debut album by the Strokes that captures the band’s unique sound.  Featuring rhythmic, driving rock music with no frills or any kind of polished production that was prevalent in the rock albums at the time.  Is This It was truly a breath of fresh air as it was direct and to the point along with Julian Casablancas’ lyrics filled with witty ideas about life in New York City as well as what young people go through when they’re growing up.  The results isn’t just one of the definitive debut albums ever made but also one of the best albums to define the 2000s in style.

Opening the album is its title track with Fabrizio Moretti’s slow, steady drum beat and swirling, driving guitars from Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.  Led by Julian Casablancas’ cool, nocturnal-like vocals filled with lyrics driven by boredom.  Featuring Nikolai Fraiture’s loopy, melodic bass line, the song is a slow, steady ballad-like track as it’s driven by a smooth yet bopping rhythm.  The Modern Age is a bumping, mid-tempo track led by Moretti’s pulsating drum fills and Fraiture’s driving bass line to the dual guitar assault of Hammond and Valensi.  Casablancas sings in a more hollowed, growling vocal style as he sings about the world with a witty sarcasm.  Even as the song features a wailing guitar solo and ringing guitar washes as it’s one of the definitive cuts of the album.  Soma is a track led by wailing guitar lines mixed in with spurting washes along with a bopping rhythm from Moretti and Fraiture.  Even as Casablancas sings in a cool vocal style with lyrics that is filled with angst about the way the world works as Casablancas adds a snarl to the vocal delivery.

Barely Legal is a bouncy, upbeat song with a bopping rhythm and driving guitars as Casablancas sings in a cool growl.  Featuring racy lyrics about an underage girl turning legal, it’s one of the album’s key cuts as it features some amazing guitar solos that is looped with the frenetic drumming of Moretti.  Someday is an upbeat, mid-tempo track as it’s led by Moretti’s rhythmic beat with crashing cymbals along with some washy, spurting guitar lines with Fraiture’s driving bass line.  Casablancas sings in a calm approach to the vocals as he sings about love gone wrong as it has Casablancas bringing humor to the subject matter.  Alone, Together is led by droning guitar swirls that is carried by a steady yet robotic rhythm.  Featuring some wailing guitar lines and driving washes, the song also has Casablancas singing in a direct vocal style with some very dirty, sexually-driven lyrics as it is later followed by a chaotic guitar solo.

Last Nite is a mid-tempo track led by a bouncy rhythm from Moretti’s drums and Fraiture’s bass line with washy guitar tracks joining in.  Casablancas sings with a growl that reflects on a night that went wrong as it is filled with wit in its delivery.  Even as the song’s steady approach is included by Hammond’s swooning guitar solo that plays to the song’s minimalist tone.  Hard to Explain is led by a swirling, wailing guitar line that drives the song along with a fast-paced, pulsating rhythm from Moretti and Fraiture.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, Casablancas sings lyrics about the difficulty of living in the modern world as the song speeds up during the chorus with its swooning guitars.

New York City Cops, from the U.K. version of the album, is led by sounds of feedback that is followed by charging guitar assaults with droning riffs and a menacing, bopping rhythm.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, the song features spurting guitar washes as Casablancas sings some angry, biting lyrics about the NYPD as it’s one of the album’s standout cuts.  From the U.S. version is When It Started, a bouncy track with an opening, robotic drum roll that is followed by chugging guitar riffs and loopy bass lines that support Moretti’s steady yet pulsating drum fills.  Casablancas sings in a calm vocal style with abstract lyrics about how things went wrong in a relationship.

Trying Your Luck is led by swirling guitar lines with a steady, mid-tempo rhythm along with driving guitar washes.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, he delves into the world of melancholia about the world as he’s accompanied by a bouncy rhythm in the chorus.  The album closer is Take It or Leave It is led by fast, swooning guitar wails as it plays to the track’s fast-paced, frenetic rhythm led by Moretti’s drumming.  With Casablancas’ snarling vocals taking charge, he gets into a more confrontational mode as he sings about the ups and downs of life.  Even as the band gets more intense in the performance with wailing solos along growling guitar riffs playing along as it is a fitting way to close the album.

Released on July 30, 2001 in Australia, the album was creating buzz on the Internet internationally where it finally was released in the U.K. later that August.  A U.S. release was delayed due to the 9/11 attacks as the song New York City Cops was replaced by When It Started for its October release.  The album drew rave reviews from critics as it became a major hit album with the indie rock crowd.  Even as it served as an alternative to mainstream rock while the album was bigger in the U.K. as it helped set the new wave of British indie rock acts like the Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys.

Nearly ten years since its release, Is This It is still a vital and sensational debut album from the Strokes.  Anyone new to this band will definitely see this as the best place to start.  No matter what version of the album anyone can get.  As far as debut albums is concerned, this is definitely one of the definitive albums to get as it is up there other seminal debuts.  In the end, Is This It is a remarkable masterpiece by the Strokes.

The Strokes:  (Room on Fire) - (First Impressions of Earth) - (Angles)

© thevoid99 2011

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