by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)
The Strokes are one of the first bands that come to mind when thinking of bands from the 2000’s. With their debut release Is This It, they created a potential album of the decade that gained mainstream attention, as well as a huge fan base stretching across the world. The band became the epitome of cool, like other New York artists before them, and inspired many other bands to follow the indie rock path. It could be said that without their first album there may not be so many indie bands over saturating the genre today.
Moving forward the band continued releasing good quality records, but never quite matching their initial effort. With different members working on different project, and some poor rating from critics, fans may not have had as many releases in recent years as they would have liked. However, with new material being a possibility next year, it is worth looking back at all releases and reflecting on some of the best moments from the NYC rock outfit. Also, with critics scores damaging reputations on some of the later albums, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the Strokes haven’t made some great songs released since 2001, in fact, narrowing down their discography to ten tracks was no easy task.
10 – Chances
Kicking the list off is an admittedly controversial choice, however, this track is from the band’s last full-length album Comedown Machine, the album that faced the worst reception upon its release, and is a bit of a hidden gem. While this album takes a different approach than some of their earlier work, it shows their growth into new genres and their desire to experiment with different sounds. Chances stands out as an example of the new sound gone right, the result of this experimentation is a synth-induced ballad that keeps the charms of Julian Casablancas’ vocals even through all the effects. This one may be an unpopular opinion but it feels wrong writing off Comedown Machine completely.
9 – Electricityscape
Next is a standout moment from First Impression of Earth, their third album which signals a massive transitional phrase for The Strokes. Coming three years after their sophomore record, and creating a five-year wait until the next time we’d hear any new material, this album often sounds conflicted. The one definite moment of clarity on the album comes with Electricityscape, which sound like the band not catering to anyone. With this track, it doesn’t feel like they are pushing a new sound too far, or trying to create something that feels safe, it seems that this is the balance of old and new that they were looking for, but could not quite grasp throughout the album.
8 – Reptilia
Reptilia is The Strokes’ most commercially successful song and it is easy to see why. All of the ingredients of a Strokes track are here; a catchy riff and baseline, a gravelly vocal performance and, of course, an intricate solo courtesy of Nick Valensi. This one is on every indie kid’s playlist and will always seem to have that reputation. The overplaying of the song may have taken away some of the initial joy of listening to the track, but it still stands out as one of their best. Combining Casablancas’ signature charm with a very tight performance from every other member of the band makes for one of the most memorable moments from The Strokes, as well as an easily identifiable hit that shows musicians in their prime making a hit to be remembered.
7 – Hard To Explain
Moving forward from Reptilia, there was a tough choice. While Last Nite is the other most easily recognisable and commercially successful song released by The Strokes, it misses out narrowly to Hard To Explain. Both are great tracks from a near-perfect album, however, Hard To Explain just has that X-Factor that really makes it stick in your head, without risking being overplayed, which cannot be said for Last Nite. The track offers a bit of variety within Is This It, with a quick beat from a drum machine creating a different sound, accompanied by some great confrontational lyrics to top it all off.
6 – Meet Me in the Bathroom
An underrated track often overlooked by Reptillia and 12:51 which appear on the same album. The track presents an easy going and optimistic approach, with Casablancas at his most cool and relaxed, telling stories of the past over a signature Strokes setup of quick-paced drums and rhythm guitar. Standing out as a fine example of how The Strokes can create a mood on a song, as well as a memorable melody and also switching it up from other tracks enough for it to stay on your mind. It’s no surprise that Elizabeth Goodman’s all-encompassing book on the New York rock scene during the noughties shares the same name.
5 – Automatic Stop
Another pick from Room On Fire, a great follow up record to their debut, that sees The Strokes sound amazing as always. The two guitars intertwining with some powerful vocals, all being kept grounded by a solid baseline and simple and steady drum beat. Automatic Stop makes for great music to reminisce to, filled with lyrics looking back at a relationship, or maybe just what could have been. It takes a lot for a track to stand out on an already solid album, but Automatic Stop nails it and stands out not just from the rest of the album, but from all releases from The Strokes.
4 – Barely Legal
One of the band’s best track that is sometimes forgotten about, Barely Legal draws on common themes from their debut project, such as romance and nostalgia and really amplifies them. This makes for a dreamy moment of reflection in the midst of a band in their prime making great songs one after another. Depicting a relationship in a truly Casablancas way, unlike most songwriters, still feels confrontational and undecided. This makes for one of the most relatable tracks from The Strokes, writing about personal experiences in a way that allows the listener to paste it to their life, acting as a soundtrack to a certain time in their life. This highlights one of the thing that makes Is This It retain its position as one of the classics from recent years.
3 – Under Cover of Darkness
Into the podium places we have a first and only appearance from Angles. That is not to say that the album is bad, in fact it’s one of their better releases, but as far as individual songs go the competition is tough. Leaping forward a decade from Is This It, this track sounded like one of the more distinctively ‘Strokes’ moments on the album, following that old reliable formula that produced some of their other great hits. Under Cover of Darkness uses this formula to its advantage but also adds to it, showing a different side of The Strokes that would be continued to be explored in years to come. Throw in a more raw performance from Casablancas and you’ve got yourself a well-polished indie rock hit.
2 – Someday
This song is one of the few that you will hear, from any artist or band, that captures such an inexplicable nostalgia from its opening seconds. Someday feels like a classic from the first time you hear it, without sounding like a recycled sound from some band before them. This feat alone would earn a spot on the list, but paired with some of the most iconic lyrics ever produced by The Strokes, the song really captures the ethos of the band; a casual level of cool that rank them with some of the great bands from the past.
1 – Soma
The number one spot goes to the essential track from the entire discography. Soma shows a band in their prime, and while often overlooked, this gem is everything that a Strokes song should be. This track features arguably the best vocal performance that Casablancas has given in his musical career and takes references from Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World and modernises them in a way The Strokes do in an original and interesting way. Soma plays a key role in cementing Is This It as one of the best albums of the decade, cementing The Strokes as one of the great indie rock bands and earning a spot on top of this list. This song truly epitomises the originality that was brought to rock music with Is This It and is everything good about The Strokes. The catchy tracks, the personal yet distant lyrics, the raw performances, the effortless cool- it’s all front and centre on Soma; the best song by The Strokes (so far).