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Is This It

music reviewmusic reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Is This It

Artist: The Strokes
Genre: Rock
Release Date: September 2001

Review by LarryG
4 stars out of 4

Especially if you're a fan of guitar based new wave music from the late 70s and early 80s, you should love The Strokes' debut CD Is This It. It's fun to try to figure which band The Strokes sound like on each song. But Is This It isn't just a well made record for music geeks that is only of academic interest. Is This It is very enjoyable rock and roll. Julian Casablancas is a cool, charismatic singer who writes catchy, exuberant songs. The Strokes play tight, energized music rocketed forward by the nonstop, jagged, intertwined guitar lines of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi.

While The Strokes clearly borrow from music of 20 to 25 years ago their sound isn't just a rehash. In fact, Is This It was one of 2001's freshest sounding rock records. A key element of Is This It is its musicians' energy. Hammond kicks Last Nite into action with a riff copped from the one Mike Campbell played on Tom Petty's American Girl but that's not all the song has going for it. I love Casablancas' Iggy Pop style croon as he icily dismisses his girlfriend's problems that no one(not even spaceships or her girlfriends) understands and walks out. Nikolai Fraiture plays a great, meaty bass line and Hammond does a short but very distinctive guitar solo that, not surprisingly, has been used for tv commercials. Fab Moretti's pounding drums set the tone and tangle with the guitars to great, edgy effect on The Modern Age. Valensi plays a good, steady riff and the song doesn't flag as he plays a Velvet Underground style solo. The filtered sound and cocky, smart ass attitude of Casablancas' voice often reminds me of The Fall's Mark E. Smith. I like that style but I especially like it on Modern Age when Casblancas gets juiced up and joins the song's anarchic Rock N Roll Animal attitude, even letting out a Lou Reed style "whoo". The Strokes are masters at building an irresistible, energized sound. Hard To Explain creates a very appealing momentum. The guitars, bass and drums are synched up and very fast and seem to get even faster as the song progresses.

Casablancas' provides a great contrast as he vocal hangs back languorosly before diving into his bandmates' pace on the chorus. Barely Legal has a similar, insistent Gang Of Four style but also has breaks for good guitar lines. Someday has the postive feel of an upbeat early rocker or at least very optimistic Iggy Pop. Over smart, lively guitars, Casablancas drops a little vocal attitude. He playfully responds to a pledge to "stay by my side" with "darling your head's not right" but also sings "yeah it hurts to say but I want you to stay."

The Strokes are clearly music fans with big record collections and lots of influences. Their most obvious influence is another band who, like The Strokes, came together in New York: the late 70s band Television. Television's appeal came largely from the inventive guitar playing of Richard Lloyd who, along with Tom Verlaine, played smart, idiosyncratic lines that snaked through Verlaine's songs. I find Is This It more fun than Television's very good but sometimes overly arty work but, as with Television, the best thing about The Strokes is probably the endlessly interesting guitar playing. The guitars make even the few songs on Is This It that are less than compelling well worth listening to. Nothing really happens on Alone, Together, except when Casablancas channels Lou Reed, getting intense and singing "it's just a fact to kill to survive." Still, the guitars create a memorable, tense atmosphere. Is This It's title track, which opens the CD, has ringing guitars and a sturdy bass playing at a leisurely pace that creates an inviting and textured but inobtrusive setting as Casablancas introduces his cheeky, seemingly effortless persona, admitting "I just lie to get to your apartment." Soma, a perky, somewhat empty headed rocker, is easily propelled by a giddy guitar line.

Is This It is the rare record that has fun, good music from start to finish. Casablancas has written songs that are concise and simple but smart. His lyrics are usual fairly minimal. They're mostly fairly unembellished snapshots of downtown life that express Casablancas' failure to understand women with frustration or bemusement. Casablancas is a fascinating front man who oozes charisma. With a very strong band, he's created one of the best records of 2001.



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