Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: THE STROKES' "IS THIS IT"

Is This It is the debut album from American rock group The Strokes. Released in 2001 after months of hype buildup following a European tour and an EP release, Is This It catapulted The Strokes to mainstream success to become one of the most popular and well-received albums of this century.

The content:

Is This It feels like the inspired lovechild of early Radiohead and an edgier version of The Who.

Thought the album was sonically softer than I initially expected, it’s not difficult to fall into the trance of the album’s initial groove and swing. The bass, loud as can be, absolutely excels in carrying the band’s finger-snapping riffs and drumbeats.

As a result of the album’s under-produced recording and mixing, each instrument gets to shine equally, allowing for both distinct guitars/bass as well as cool, mellow vocals that all intermix for a high quality listening experience.

Speaking on terms of the music itself, its light, melodic riffs and surface charm serve as a fa├žade for darker, more reflective lyrics. The second track on the album, “The Modern Age”, ends with “Tomorrow will be different/So this is why I’m leaving.” Hidden behind a somewhat peppy riff is that gut-punch dose of irony of making a change in the face of a different change.

Another lyric from “Alone Together” takes the moodiness further. “Oh, “You drink too much”/Makes me drink all the same” builds even more on the band’s wordplay while consistently maintaining just enough cynicism to have an impact.

I think it’s both the landmark instrumentation and lyrics in Is This It that makes it so great. Even if it doesn’t hit on a first or second listen, the album’s ingenuity sinks in like a significant other; though it may not be love at first sight, by the third outing the album’s grooves will leave you swooning.

The impact:

More than 15 years after its release, Is This It is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of the 21st century.

The Slate, which named Is This It the greatest album of the decade in 2011, referred to the album as “a decade-defining record that set the agenda for how rock sounded and even looked throughout the aughts.” And, given the noted shift from “dad rock” to “arty arrogance” as noted by The Guardian (which named Is This It as the 4th best album of the decade), perhaps they’re right in their analysis.

Perhaps more unique about the album was the hype that built upon prior to the album’s release. After releasing just one three-track LP as a band, the band was almost instantly thrust into the spotlight, with a cover feature on NME and a wildly popular European tour, all before production on Is This It even began. 

For frontman Julian Casablancas, however, the fame didn’t come as easily as it seemed.

“Recording was painful; it sucked out my soul,” said Casablancas. “We only had a short period of time, and it was concentrating for 10 hours every day for a month and a half until 5 or 6 a.m., trying to focus on tones. I’ve never been so mentally fatigued as when I was finished with that album.”

The album also, to this day, retains its legacy for its starkness against the current rock trend of the time. The turn of the century right before Is This It’s release saw domination by both the nu-metal likes of Slipknot and Korn as well as the lighter pop-punk stylings of blink-182, New Found Glory, and other similar acts. 

Where Is This It comes in, however, is a revitalization of the classic 70s rock scene, straight down to the denim jackets, skinny jeans, and under-produced sound that stood against everything the industry of the time was about. It is safe to say, then, that Is This It stood out then as a different take on rock music, and continues to stand out simply for being genuinely good music.

Despite going against the grain, Is This It still saw immense commercial success, selling nearly two million units worldwide and charting both domestically and in the U.K.

The future:

The Strokes’ latest album, Comedown Machine, was released in 2013. A follow-up EP, Future Present Past, launched last year.

Though no official announcements regarding a new album have been made, in 2016 guitarist Nick Valensi revealed that the band was in the early stages of a new composition.

“We’re kind of just in writing sessions,” Valensei said.

The forthcoming album will likely continue with the band’s usual lineup of Casablancas, Valensei, rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, all of whom have maintained the band’s lineup since its inception in 1998.


Next week’s album: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

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