The Strokes are one of those bands that are forever frozen in their coolness. That, whether they like it or not or whatever direction they proceed to take their music in, they’ll always be associated with their early career, the debut album, and their relationship with New York. But it also means they’re forever relevant, continuously influencing listeners and other musicians and gaining new generations of fans.
So who are they? There’s Julian Casablancas on vocals, Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi on guitar, Fab Moretti on drums, and Nikolai Fraiture on bass. While each have gone on to do their own individual projects, experimenting as a band occasionally takes place and so, following the release of their current offering of The New Abnormal, here is a brief introduction into the magic of The Strokes.
Is This It
Released in 2001, the debut album by The Strokes is recognized as a defining feature of early 2000s indie rock- marking a shift in approaches to music while being at the forefront of a newly developed New York scene. The band combined sound and look for a hypnotically typically rock n roll demeanour: fuzzy/ unpolished recordings, contagiously laid-back on-stage and off-stage attitudes, and denim and leather and battered converses styled with casually messy hair scented with cigarette smoke. Is This It is renowned for being an influential albums that stands the test of time. It drew from bands of the past (The Velvet Underground and Ramones, for example) but it was also refreshingly new. Songs include “Last Nite” (the mainstream ‘anthem’), “Take It Or Leave It” (the closing track with incessantly catchy guitar riff), “The Modern Age” (encapsulating the turn of the century period), and “Someday” (sweetly sing-along in an innocently hanging out doing nothing kind of way).
You could also say that The Strokes were pioneers of vlogging. The 2002 tour video named ‘In Transit’ is a one-off self-filmed insight into life on the road during a summer in Europe. It’s full of joking around (waking up band members, trying on moustaches, spontaneous dancing), behind the scenes insights into interview awkwardness, and the general satisfying feeling of being a part of their gang. Ryan Gentles, the band’s manager, hangs out as a genuine member of the band- driving the van through the city in the opening sequence and joining in banter on aeroplanes. Overall the film captures the charm of the band’s early period before fractured relationships and inevitable aging.
Julian Casablancas’ vocals
Julian Casablancas is a prominent force of the band off-stage (as primary songwriter and, as the recent ‘5guys talking about things they know nothing about’ videos indicate, moderator) as well as on stage. Each member is regarded as having their own distinctive charm but The Strokes couldn’t really be The Strokes without the deep raspy vocals that stream lackadaisically from Julian’s harmlessly moody mouth. On stage, his voice is his only instrument in the band he’ll stand centre stage often fixated to the microphone. It’s this that gives it extra power, cutting right to the senses in the way that a fiery guitar solo can.
Room on Fire
Some people grew up with The Strokes, experiencing their emergence and witnessing the release of the albums in real time. Others- those slightly younger- discover the band at a later date and, in this case, Room on Fire (2003) is less a pressurized follow-up and just a core part of The Strokes universe. It has the raw quality of Is This It but there’s also a greater blend of emotion (“What Ever Happened”, “You Talk Way To Much”, “The End Has No End”, being energetically melancholic, for example) and statement guitar hooks (“Reptilia” and “12:51”,notably).
First Impressions of Earth
The Strokes’ third album is the band entering an arguably more ‘polished’ territory but it’s also compiled of guitar playing that flashes and paces like electric currents, such as in the singles “Juicebox” and “Heart in a Cage” and the solos in ‘Ize of the World’. It’s sharp and cyber-like and directs the listener forward. Lyrically, the album is largely compiled of pessimistic repetition (the ‘nobody’s waiting for me on the other side’ of ‘“On the Other Side”, the ‘I’ve got nothing to say’ of “Ask Me Anything”, and the ‘you’re no fun’ of “Fear of Sleep” for example), drawing upon fame and lifestyle changes, but it’s sonically energized and therefore ignites positivity.
Nardwuar Interview (2001)
Some artists revel in press attention or play with the media in order to elevate the perception of their music. The Strokes, however have never been enthusiastic about interviews or focused on reviews, which is natural when so much hype and misconception is thrusted upon you before a debut record is even completed. An interview that encompasses the early mentality of the band, as well as being entertaining in its awkwardness, is the 4-part ‘Nardwuar vs The Strokes’. Nardwuar is notorious for his imposing, exaggeratedly enthusiastic interview style but his one with Julian and Nick feels particularly antagonistic. Highlight’s include subtle come-back remarks such as “I wouldn’t chuck a bottle in anyone’s face… unless they asked me a stupid question” from Nick, the overall level of calm that is kept throughout, and the repetitive emphasis that the music comes first and people should form opinions from listening to the songs.
“Under Cover of Darkness”
“Under Cover of Darkness” is part of a ‘new chapter’ of The Strokes, taken from their 2011 album Angles. Five years after their last, the album is in a way a thought-out experiment as many of the elements (such as the vocals) were recorded individually and then merged together. The video to the lead single makes reference to previous material- a 2 second clip of the bit in the video to “You Only Live Once” where the band are drowning and, while exclaiming ‘everybody’s been singing the same song for ten years’, Julian throwing his microphone stand like he does in the video to “Last Nite”, (it was ten years after the debut)- but overall the song is sunny and snappy with Nick Valensi rocking the guitar in the way he does best.
Future, Present, Past is the EP released in 2016 which, made up of three tracks, was intended as representing a transition. Looking back at it now in the context of a newly released album, “Threat of Joy” can be seen as the past (musically and narratively with a jokey intro at the start containing Julian saying ‘You don’t have time to play with me anymore/ That’s how it goes I guess’), “Drag Queen” as the present (a scuzzy groove and more experimental vocals slightly more in line with their 2013 album Comedown Machine) and “OBLIVIUS” as the the future (tropes of the recognizable with additional influences).
“I’ll Try Anything Once”
Most classic bands have those stripped back rarities that feel like an intimate blessing. “I’ll Try Anything Once”, the b-side to “Heart In A Cage”, is the demo version of “You Only Live Once”- made apparent through the chorus being the same. But “I’ll Try Anything” is the simplicity of a delicate melody, a quietness, and Julian’s blissful vocals insightfully addressing society:
1) ’When I said, “I can see me in your eyes”/ You said, “I can see you in my pants‘
2) ‘Oh everybody plays the game/ and if you don’t you’re called insane’
3) ‘Oh, all the girls play mental games/ and all the guys were dressed the same’
Dreamy in its delivery, listening to it is like listening to a lullaby.
The New Abnormal
On April 10th and the 7 years after their last, The Strokes released their 6th album The New Abnormal. With the last couple of albums, there was a kind of disconnect between the members but The New Abnormal, while not anything revolutionary, channels the past in a nostalgic way while also merging sounds of the present: The intro of the opening track “The Adults are Talking”, the whiny distorted vocals and travelling guitar riffs of “Bad Decisions”, and the chorus of “Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing” stimulating affection while the synths of “At The Door” and the 80s’ inspired “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” keeping within the evolution. Maybe it’s because of the time it’s been released, when in confinement and craving warmth, but The New Abnormal feels like a much needed hug (made more so by the aforementioned ‘5guys talking about nothing they know’ videos, where the members are all interacting together from their individual homes) and a reminder of the enduring effect the band has on fans while being a gateway into the back catalogue for another generation.