Discography Dive: The Stroke’s iconic garage rock explores softer ventures in the 2010’s
Singer Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti makeup perhaps the most influential New York City-based post-punk band of the early 2000s: The Strokes. While the band’s style shifted slightly through their career, they managed to stay exciting at every step, but none as exciting as their debut.
“Is This It” (2001)
“Is This It” is The Strokes’ garage-rock masterpiece. It’s melody driven and sonically emotional, using tinges of pop to give punk a gentle caress. Casablancas’ voice boxed roar still manages to allow palpable sentiment to permeate through the countless layers of distorted guitar. As the band’s most successful album, “Is This It” appealed to rock listeners and non-listeners alike.
Songs like “The Modern Age” and “Soma” show-off Casablancas’ great vocal capabilities, stressing and releasing, going from mellow to excited with a lamentful grace. “Last Nite” is a great pop composition pieced together and held up by a stellar punk band. And “Hard To Explain” is reminiscent; it allows the band to indulge in their hyperbolic angst and passion.
At only 36 minutes long, “Is This It” so perfectly captures the feeling of a desire unfulfilled, symbolized further by the band’s inability to recreate such spontaneous magic.
“Room On Fire” (2004)
The main knock “Room On Fire” receives from critics is that it’s too similar to its predecessor. Given the greatness of “Is This It,” “Room On Fire” was still a relative success. The Strokes’ second LP allowed a little more sentimentality to leak through the messy nature of its garage-rock style, also shifting to a darker timbre that foreshadowed their future work. Somehow, the slight increase in emotional permissiveness slightly convolutes the album.
The album’s opener, “What Ever Happened?,” puts this maudlin sense on display with its weeping guitar and Casablancas’ swooning vocals. The album’s hit, “Reptilia” is a darker, more sinister version of “Hard To Explain.” “Under Control” has a surfy tint, venturing into more soft-rock with Casablancas’ desirous and delicate vocals.
“Room On Fire” was a solid follow-up to such a powerful debut, with The Strokes’ greatest ambition coming with their next release.
“First Impressions Of Earth” (2006)
“First Impressions” took The Strokes in a new, more artsy direction. This album is more menacing sonically. Its compositions come off as busy, with deep guitars attacking from nearly all directions. The themes of this record were more existential than any of the band’s previous work. Casablancas explores his own isolation, repeated mistakes and what he can expect after death.
This record features less distortion on Casablancas’ vocals; “You Only Live Once” exhibits this while also allowing Casablancas to sing with poppier sensibilities. “Ask Me Anything” is a point of experimentation on the record. There, Valensi puts down his guitar and picks up the mellotron to take the lead, and Casablancas is in a full lament with lines like, “I got nothing to give, got no reason to live.”
“First Impressions” is the band’s challenging reach towards a conceptual vision that, unfortunately, ended up being slightly quixotic.
After a 5-year gap that included an extended hiatus, and a decade after the release of their groundbreaking debut, The Strokes reinvented their sound with “Angles.” The LP would see the band transition from its garage-rock origins to a more contemporary, electronic sound, lending themselves more to indie rock. But The Strokes intrinsic punk-rock style still spills into the compositions.
“Machu Picchu,” the opener, makes the band’s shift in style immediately apparent. The song has a more traditional pop structure as Hammond Jr.’s signature distorted guitar supports the suave new electronic pedals. “You’re So Right” is aggressive and contains droning backing vocals, which were seldomly used in their previous work. The closer, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” is the ideal model for The Strokes’ fusing of styles with this record.
“Angles” was mostly lauded for showing signs of development in the band’s sound, and here, its vision manifested more clearly than “First Impressions.”
“Comedown Machine” (2013)
The band’s most recent studio album release, “Comedown Machine,” continued the Stroke’s transition to a contemporary indie-rock style. The songs got slower, Casablancas’ voice is rounded and soft, when in the past it was distorted and raw. It’s interesting to note that this album received no promotion whatsoever as the band decided to participate in a media blackout prior to its release.
“One Way Trigger” is the force on the album, harkening to 80s pop with Casablancas sporting a falsetto style. “Call It Fate Call It Karma” is the final track. Though Casablancas’ voice sports a brief voice box, the slow, double-bass’d movement hardly resembles The Strokes. Only in brief moments do The Strokes trace old steps on this record. Here, the band favors new sounds.
Although “Comedown Machine” was its latest album, in 2016, The Strokes released a 4-track EP titled “Future Past Present EP,” which offers a slight return to style while perhaps being the band’s most forward-thinking work yet. There were talks of a sixth studio album in the works, but over the last year or so, this endeavor lost its traction.
Listen to the best of The Strokes here:
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