Is This It? Examining The Strokes’ Debut LP 15 Years Later

Featured image courtesy of the artist

Written by Dan Cousart

In early 2001, the music world was in a very, very dark place. Nu Metal and Rap Rock were the popular genres, and baggy pants, frosted tips and track suits were in style. Nickelback and Linkin Park were filling stadiums. Just when things couldn’t seem to get much worse, a rag tag band of five New York twenty-somethings who had an affinity for cheap beer and smoking cigarettes came out with a record that would change the course of rock history. The boys called themselves the Strokes, and their debut record was called Is This It.

Is This It was no ordinary record. While most popular records at the time were very produced and featured very heavy distortion were very influenced by the 90s, Is This It was cut without any effects on the guitars, the drums are as plain as can be, and the overall sound drew from the Velvet Underground and the Clash. The record sounds as if it could be recorded in a basement, and that’s part of the appeal. “Is This It” is only 35 minutes long, and is a straight sugar rush all the way through. To many people’s surprise, the record would make the band a global hit, and seemingly make 1977 cool again.

Fronted by singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, the Strokes had a very unique, stripped down sound. Julian would sing out of an Ibanez guitar amp to distort his vocals while the rest of the band would chug through a set of tight nit punk/garage rock. The guitars were a very integral part of the Strokes’ sound. Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. would variate lead playing and create a very unique guitar interplay. “The Modern Age” and “Barely Legal” are great examples of their uses of each other and the rest of the band. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture has his moment on the record with “Is This It”. The song is driven around his bass line and his use of the upper neck of the bass guitar. And Fab Moretti, well, on this record his big contribution is that he keeps the whole band together. He maybe makes two drum fills on the whole record, but that is what adds to the static tension of these songs.

Is This It is based around a no BS attitude. Just plug in and play. That’s what the world was missing at that point, and that’s what made the band so popular. Is This It captures that raw Rock n’ Roll spirit that was missing since the early 90s. Just listen to “Last Nite” or “Hard to Explain”. It didn’t matter that they didn’t sound commercial, they made great songs. “Why does everything that has to be big and popular suck?” Casablancas asked. “I got a problem with that, so I’m trying to do something about it.” They had a mission, and they went out and made it happen.  Is This It, along with Radiohead’s Kid A and the Killers’ Hot Fuss completely shaped the musical landscape of today. There wouldn’t be a Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys or Kings of Leon without the Strokes. Bands like The White Stripes would not have become popular without The Strokes. You can hear their music in most bands who call themselves “Indie” today. Their influence is simply inescapable.

Is This It takes you on a musical journey. Though it has a few popular songs like “Someday” and “Last Nite”, the whole record is an experience in and of itself. It takes you up and down through the seediness of New York living, and the heartbreak of adolescence. It’s raw, fast, and irresistibly cool. Is This It captures the imagination and leaves you wanting more, so you might say that the Strokes did pretty well for themselves. Their debut is constantly cited as one of the best records of the 2000s. It changed the way many people looked at Rock n’ Roll, it certainly did for me.  Who knows, you might even find yourself getting some high tops and a jean jacket.

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