The Strokes‘ debut album Is This It was first released on 7/30/01. To help us celebrate this 10th Anniversary, we asked some of our favorite indie bands to cover each track. The resulting collection, STROKED: A Tribute To Is This It, is in the spirit of our previous free tribute albums for Radiohead’s OK Computer, R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, and Bjork’s Post.
Is This It was recorded in NYC at Transporterraum with Gordon Raphael. When it was finally released in the States in the Fall of 2001, a decade after Nevermind, it helped not only put contemporary New York City in the forefront of music lovers’ minds, it offered an easy reference for people to dig backwards into the Big Apple’s rock ‘n’ roll past. For certain younger fans, it was maybe the first time they carefully considered Television (the late ’70s), the Velvet Underground (mid ’60s to early ’70s), and other lesser known garage and rock and whatever bands that inhabited a dirtier, grubbier Manhattan. The title’s pure Richard Hell. The original sexy album cover a minimalist echo of New York Dolls (via Roxy Music). It’s no coincidence that 2001 NYC — eventually, especially Brooklyn — ended up being known for its post-punk revival. (See, for instance, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Black Dice, Vice Records’ No New York nodding collection Yes New York, etc.) Is This It was a history lesson, but one with enough new ideas to also offer a roadmap.
In a strange way, Is This It sounded like something entirely new and entirely familiar at the same time. That’s one secret to its appeal. That, and the simple head-nodding hooks on modern classics like “Last Nite,” “Someday,” and “Hard To Explain” are so immediate. It’s a clean, but scruffy collection. It’s honed and tight, but also just loose enough — loose mostly in the presentation. People watching MTV in ’01 won’t forget the first time they saw the way Julian Casablancas didn’t seem to give a shit in the “Last Nite” video. Or how the bands’ minds appeared elsewhere when they performed on Late Night Television. It’s a kind of charisma you can’t teach or practice, one that felt as natural as their messy hair.
The Strokes maybe never topped Is This It, but you can’t blame them for that. Part of the record’s appeal is also the youthfulness of it, something you can’t replicate even a year later. That said, they definitely found a way to bottle it on the album itself: If you listen to it now, 10 years later, it sounds as fresh (and vintage) as ever. Which is maybe why its sound continues to surface in 2011 among both shaggy rock groups, yeah, but also kids with keyboards in their bedrooms and folks wearing sunglasses behind their laptops.
Peter Bjorn and John - Is This It
Chelsea Wolfe - The Modern Age
Frankie Rose - Soma
Real Estate - Barely Legal
Wise Blood - Someday
Austra - Alone, Together
The Morning Benders - Last Nite
Owen Pallett - Hard to Explain
Heems - NYCCDeradoorian - Trying Your Luck
Computer Magic - Take It Or Leave It
Click on the title for Stereogum’s official download links :)