Is This It

Is This It

100 Best Albums So much lore attends The Strokes’ 2001 debut album that it’s easy to forget just what a straightforward, no-frills rock record it is. Forged in the furnace of messy Lower East Side nights, Is This It bottles the scruffy uncertainty of twentysomething city life at the dawn of the millennium. That’s right there in the lyrics of the opening title track (“I just lied to get to your apartment”), whose groggy unspooling defies the accelerated pace dominating most of the record. Yet once the band launches into the lockstep stab and churn of “The Modern Age,” it’s not hard to understand the album’s watershed status. Released at a time when guitar bands—and especially rock stars—appeared destined for a steep decline, these 11 songs offered a ready mouthpiece in Julian Casablancas, complete with distorted vocals and blearily recounted lyrics. Similarly streetwise and black-leather-jacketed, his bandmates echoed his sense of timeless New York cool, from fashion sense to musical references (The Velvet Underground, Television, Ramones). No wonder the band began to dominate photo spreads in the British press before they had even signed to a label, fueling old-school hype on both sides of the Atlantic. Clocking that outsized buzz with a smirking album title, The Strokes managed to fulfill sky-high expectations with songs that hit like instant classics while wearing their precursors on their well-worn sleeves. “Last Nite” unabashedly swipes the opening guitar salvo from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl,” while so many other fleeting touches function like Easter-egg homages to previous decades of rock. But this material is every bit as strong as what it’s referencing: observe the grime-caked jangle and nagging heartache of “Someday,” or how guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. gamely play off each other against the anxious pulse of “Hard to Explain.” Even if they present as disheveled, the band members are tight and intricate at every turn, especially when Valensi and Hammond link up for spidery dual leads. For a band so strongly identified with a particular time and place, The Strokes have enjoyed surprising longevity and universality in the decades since their debut. Though content to just be a great rock band rather than the appointed saviors of the genre, they nonetheless inspired the likes of Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines in the UK, and The Killers and Kings of Leon at home. And it all started here.

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