Whereas fellow New Yorkers Interpol reawakened post-punk within the larger rock scene, The Strokes were largely responsible for this decade’s influx of garage-rock influenced bands. The Strokes’s debut album Is This It (2001) created a blueprint for what modern rock was to become in the following years after its release. Both simultaneously aggressive and laidback, Is This It develops a raw and minimalistic aesthetic that would be emulated by many others, but one that few others have come close to replicating.
The radiance of Is This It does not draw from its innovation or experimentation; in fact, the album is hardly complex in any manner. And if that is what you are seeking, The Strokes will feel overrated in every way imaginable. Where they do thrive, however, is in their ability to amass the odds and ends of their much-discussed musical influences (Television, Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground) and reinvent their work in a fresh, brash, and energetic manner.
This precise sense of familiarity meshed with fragments of originality makes The Strokes’s critical acclaim and mainstream success an understandable match. The band’s distorted, nonchalant intensity engages throughout its duration. Between drummer Fab Moretti’s driving backbeat (“The Modern Age,” “Last Nite”) or bassist Nikolai Fraiture’s simple, yet effective melodic bass (“When It Started”), the rhythm section is a quiet and understated killer providing the band’s backbone. Combined with a riff-heavy two guitar attack (“Soma,” “Take It or Leave It”), guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. provide support for the complacently cool voice of lead singer Julian Casablancas, whose partially monotone vocal style falls somewhere in between Tom Verlaine and Lou Reed.
Each of these individual components are adept in their own right, but it is the sum of the parts that is exciting, as the band’s influences take on a new life of their own. While this album barely strays from its origins, that remains a minor detail, as Is This It stands as an assertive and powerful revivalist masterpiece.
More from the War on Pop's Decade in Review:
#8 The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (2005)
#9 Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera (2001)
#10 Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
#11 My Morning Jacket - Z (2005)
#12 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
#13 Jay-Z - The Black Album (2003)
#14 Beirut - The Flying Club Cup (2007)
#15 Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Naturally (2005)
#16 Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)
#17 The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (2004)
#18 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
#19 Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (2009)
#20 Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
#21 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
#22 Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)
#23 Beach House - Devotion (2008)
#24 El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007)
#25 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)