(I apologize for the lack of updates, especially in the middle of a list, but I was sick for over a week. So I promise, I’ll finish the remaining artists in a much quicker pace.)
I can’t remember when I first heard of The Strokes. It was probably sometime in the summer of 2001 when they just starting to explode, and their debut Is This It was creating a firestorm in the rock world. Although I like Is This Is It? now, I decided before I even heard The Strokes, I decided that they would be a band that would annoy me. The hype surrounding them just seemed too much. I had already experienced that with Nirvana, only to find out once you actually listen to the records and take away the the hype – the band was really just mediocre at best.
It wasn’t until 2003 when I actually first heard a Strokes song. A friend of mine made me a Mix CD and it contained both “Last Night” and “Someday”. While I found “Last Night” to be a pretty good song, it was really “Someday” that caught my attention. Julian Casablancas sang in a way that felt disconnected and insincere, yet somehow still managed to connect with the listener even if his voice was buried in the mix. Musically, I thought the song was really interesting. It seemed like a ballad, but the beat was extremely fast and propelling. One guitar played a single note repeatedly throughout the verses, and while the other almost veered out of control. Not too long after, I went out and got Is This It? and quickly became hooked. Two years later, I had discovered what everybody else already knew: The Strokes were the coolest and best rock and roll band in over a decade.
Looking back, it seems odd that this little album could have such a profound effect on the music world. There are no grand gestures on the album. Each song is a perfectly little garage-rock gem. If anything the only criticism you could make about the album is that The Strokes tried a little too hard to be cool and sound like The Velvet Underground.
But The Strokes aren’t important because Is This It? blew up, or because they both looked and acted cool. With Is This It? The Strokes proved in an era of boy-bands and stream-lined pop, that rock and roll could still exist – and that it was still vital. There was still some life left it in it. And ten years later, it still sounds as fresh and vital upon its initial release (even if I didn’t listen to it until years later.) Modern rock had become stale, and with grunge artists seemed to take their work and themselves too seriously. The Strokes bought back some of the fun back in rock and roll, by not caring. Even if the Strokes were known for their partying image, they didn’t seem to care about that either. “Fuck going to that party,” Casablancas would later declare, in “12:51” the first single off their sophomore effort, Room on Fire.
Though garage-rock had been around for decades, The Strokes were the ones that blew the door open for it to become mainstream just as Nirvana “broke punk” some ten years before. Lo-fi suddenly became the new standard for young bands starting out. Bands such as The Hives and Jet would never have gotten the attention that they did without The Strokes. Even Kings of Leon, who came out a year or two after The Strokes were unofficially billed as “the southern Strokes”.
While Is This It? remains essential, The Strokes have yet to live up to its (and the audiences) expectations since. I’ve yet to figure out whether they’ve tried too hard or too little since their debut.
On another note, I also think that any self-respecting hipster owes The Strokes a huge debt. They made skinny jeans, ray-bands and a smug attitude popular outside of New York.