Tag Archives: The Strokes

Song of the Day: “Fell In Love With a Girl” – The White Stripes

An explosive song that clocks in at just under two minutes, “Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the coolest song to be released this century. Everything about the song – its violent riff, Meg White’s anarchic drumming, Jack White’s insane “ahhhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-ah!” screams – blasts out of the speakers and pummels everything in its path.

“Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the best thing Jack White ever recorded in illustrious career. Inside those chaotic two minutes is a culmination of rock itself: blues chord progressions played at Zeppelin-esque volume; the DIY ethos of garage-rock and punk; the unbridled energy of The Who and the fierce attack of The Stooges; the power-pop sensibility of The Beatles.

A lot was made of the garage-rock revival at the beginning of the century. Some bands were really good (see The Strokes’ Is This It), others I thought were decent at the time but eventually realized were terrible (see The Vines) and some were fashion statements with instruments (The Hives). And  then there were the ones whose music you heard before back when they were called Joy Division. (Interpol, I’m looking at you.)

But The White Stripes established themselves above the rest with one single swoop. Whereas other bands felt like they were trying too had, “Fell In Love With a Girl” seemed spontaneous and off the cuff. (For the record, I do think Jack White does try too hard sometimes. Remember Get Behind Me Satan?)

The rest of White Blood Cells didn’t reach the height of “Fell In Love With a Girl”. The rest of the songs found on the album were very strong, but “Fell In Love with a Girl” was and too intense and too badass to be pushed by the wayside. The only way for White to eclipse or circumvent the song’s power was to create something more repetitive and simple sounding and double-down on it. “Seven Nation Army” might be on its way to becoming the most famous guitar riff of all time, if thousands of sports fans have their way.

But I’ll never get tired of hearing “Fell In Love With a Girl” in all its glory. To quote Bob Dylan, “Play fuckin’ loud.”

 

Song of the Day: “Someday” – The Strokes

 

The Strokes are hardly an original band, but damn if they didn’t sound fresh and exciting on their debut, Is This It. Even fourteen years after its release, it still sounds incredibly cool.

Besides good songwriting, perhaps The Strokes greatest strength is the way that guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr play off each other. Throughout Is This It, they constantly play against each other, one tends to favor more melodic and slower rhythms while the other aggressively plays beneath. This unique approach creates an interesting tension in Julian Casablancas’ proto-Hipster songs. (I say proto-Hipster, because I’m almost certain that modern Hipster-dom can be traced direct to the success of Is This It.)

This sound is most evident on the album’s centerpiece, “Someday”, album’s sole ballad. Fittingly, Hammond and Casablancas both take a bit of a somber approach. But neither Valensi nor drummer Fabrizio Moretti are having any of it. Valensi’s dirty riff pulls the rug out from underneath the slick surface while Morretti pounds away. The result is one the best songs on an album that is already full of great songs.

Album of the Week: “Room on Fire” – The Strokes

 

room on fire

I have no idea if Iggy Pop’s The Idiot was an influence on Julian Casablancas when he was writing The Strokes’ Room on Fire, but the two records present their singers in transition. The Idiot, finds Pop wanders around Berlin completely fucked-up.  The night-life is still alluring, but he’s struggling to find a way out.  He sings about the club-life with a loving eye on “Nightclubbing” only end up on a train in “The Passenger” reflecting on the life that’s passing him by.

Casablancas’ mind-set seems similar throughout Room on Fire. He’s ready to move on beyond the drunken nights, even though he’s still in the thick of it.  “It’s just a phase, it’s got to pass/I was a train moving too fast,” Casablancas observes on “Automatic Stop”.  The Strokes’ debut was an ode to New York City night-life circa 2000 and 2001: distant, cool, ironic with a bottolm-less supply of parties.  Whether or not they invented modern hipster-dom, they certainly perfected through their image and the music found on Is This It.  Room on Fire contains plenty of parties, but Casablancas seems unsure whether he wants to be there or not.  If Is This It was a straight-up party-record, Room on Fire is the end of the night where you know a horrible hang-over is inevitable, and yet you keep drinking anyway regardless of the consequences.

“I said, ‘please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast,”” Casablancas screams on “Reptilia”.  Considering that he would eventually become sober a few years later, it’s hard not to interpret this line as a cry for help.  “Reptilia” is the band’s “Passenger”: the sound of a man caught between two worlds, neither of which sounds completely appealing to its narrator.  The music on the song is the most intense the band has ever recorded.  Nick Valensi offers a furiously glorious riff – it’s chaotic and melodic.  Underneath, Albert Hammond Jr’s rhythm is violent and unwavering.  Its pulls the listener along at a frantic pace and the effect is unnerving.

Signs are elsewhere throughout the album.  “We could go out and get 40’s/fuck going to that party,” Casablancas tells a girl on “12:51”.  Drinking and getting wasted still has its appeal, but he no longer wants to be in a crowd – he’ll meet girls in the bathroom.  Could it be that he’s tired of his own image or crowds in general?  Perhaps he’d like to just fade away as evident on “Whatever Happened?”  “I wanna be forgotten,” He muses.  “And I don’t want to be reminded.”  The song also name-checks Tennessee Williams – whose plays were filled with tales of alcohol abuse.  Is Casablancas wondering if his own life could turn into a Tennessee Williams type play?

It isn’t just Casablancas that is stuck between two worlds.  The Strokes as a band in 2003 faced a tough choice.  Retread the same sound on Is This It, or try something completely new.  To do either might prove unwise and potentially disastrous.  Luckily, they had the foresight to improve upon their sound and add some other influences without completely alienating their signature sound.  The ballad “Under Control” has a strong Soul groove, while “Automatic Stop” contains a reggae beat.  Nick Valensi’s synthesizer guitar tone on “12:51′ would foreshadow the 80’s vibe The Strokes would take on their latest album Comedown Machine.

Room on Fire might not be as groundbreaking or influential as Is This It but it might be the better record.  There’s more at stake in its eleven songs and its hardly Is This Part II as some critics suggested upon its release.  Like Pop on The Idiot, Room on Fire is a fascinating character-study of a narrator who balances self-destruction and self-realization.

 

Album of the Week: “Yours to Keep” – Albert Hammond Jr.

By 2006, it seemed that The Strokes had run their course. Garage-rock as cool as it was, didn’t seem to be as exciting anymore.  Despite their blasé appearance and attitude, there was always the sense that The Strokes were desperately trying to be cool.  Even so, their first two albums were invigorating.  First Impressions of the Earth proved that the Strokes had indeed tried too hard, and the result was met with a lack of enthusiasm all around.

One could easily expect that as the guitarist in a guitar band, Hammond might opt for a balls out rock and roll album where the guitar is front and center.  Yours to Keep is first and foremost an album where Hammond gets to show off his songwriting skills.  Where The Strokes simply rocked out, Hammond is melodic and poppy.  Hammond doesn’t completely abandon his band’s trademarks. but he uses The Strokes’ punchiness and concise songwriting for inspiration.

And that care-free vibe is all over Yours to Keep, whether’s its The Beach Boys homage “Cartoon Music For Superhereos”, to the Buddy Holly cover “Well…Alright”.  10 out of 12 songs are concise, with only 2 songs reaching over the 3 minute mark.  Only “In Transit” and “101” are close to anything that remotely resembles a song from The Strokes.  But even those two songs – which feature the most prominent guitar found – are slower than the average Strokes song.

The two biggest surprises of the album are the back-to-back “Bright Young Thing” and “Blue Skies”.  Both of these songs are low-key in arrangement and outlook.  “Blue Skies” is a mostly acoustic song, where Hammond seems to channel his inner McCartney in the chorus.  It’s so unassuming at first, that you might skip over it, but it’s a song that grows better with repeated listens.

Debut albums from band members of famed bands can either be extraordinarily great or extraordinarily awful.  But Yours to Keep doesn’t quite fit the mold, simply because Hammond is trying to make a grand gesture.  There’s no 360 turn found, and that’s exactly the charm and beauty of Yours to Keep.

 

What’s Your Favorite Album Of The Year So Far?

Since it’s now June and we are officially about half-way through 2011, I’d thought I’d take a look at some of the albums that have been released so far.  For me, so far the best album is a tie between Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues and My Morning Jacket’s Circuital.  What do you think?  Any good ones I missed?  (And I’m not counting Gaga just for the record.)

 

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade (Full List)

This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.

1.) The White Stripes

2.) Kanye West

3.) Jay-Z

4.) Britney Spears

5.) Danger Mouse

6.) The Strokes

7.) Radiohead

8.) Lil Wayne

9.) Green Day

10.) Death Cab For Cutie

The Strokes Confirm Lollapalooza And Possibly New Album (*Yawn*)

I probably would have cared about a new Strokes album in 2004.  Maybe 2005.  The Strokes captured a party lifestyle, and at the time I could relate to it. While Rolling Stone named Is This It, the number two album of the decade, I actually listened to it last night for the first time in a while, and found it kind of bland and unexciting.  It’s a fun album for sure, but that’s about all the praise I’ll give it.  I actually prefer Room on Fire, but even that feels dated.  The Strokes could have only existed in the early 2000s.  Like it or not, The Strokes pretty much ushered in hipster rock as we know it. I could be wrong, but I’m willing to guess only those in Williamsburg really care about a new Strokes album or tour.  In retrospect, both Room on Fire and Is This It sound more no different than any of the hundreds of bands they influenced.  The Velvet Underground and Stooges of the last decade they are not.  I’m not the biggest Jack White fan, but there’s a reason why he can command as much power in the music industry as he does.  When the White Stripes came exploded at the same time as The Strokes, The White Stripes could easily be seen as a gimmick.  But Jack White has proved himself to be versatile and also a working class musician.  Not something that I can see The Strokes doing.  

That is unless Albert Hammond Jr writes all the songs.  His first solo album. Yours To Keep was a minor masterpiece.

Julian Casablancas

I was just in Baltimore’s Soundgarden (which by the way is one of the best record stores in the Maryland area) and heard one of Julian Casablancas’ new songs from his solo album, Phrazes For The Young.  I’m not the biggest fan of the Strokes – I think they had a great debut, but Room on Fire more of a rehash of the same, with a couple of good songs thrown in for good measure.  The ones that sounded the best were the ones that didn’t sound like Is This It.  I just kind of wrote them off after that.  (Although Albert Hammond’s Yours To Keep was pretty good even if it sound like the Strokes.)  I just assumed that Casablancas would write another Strokes album with his name replacing the band.  Not that far fetched considering he wrote all the songs anyway.    

I was actually quite surprised by what I heard. Casablancas has a pretty distinct voice, so it was easy to tell it was him singing, but the music was pretty removed from the garage-rock rivial of the Strokes.  Instead of fuzzed out guitars, “The Tourist” was propelled by a drum-loop and that kept pounding, and keyboards. The bridge was pretty interesting as well – containing more keyboards and and synthesizers that sounded like they belonged on a Mega Man Video game.  It was quite eerie and catchy at the same time.  Not something that I was expecting from Casablancas.  I’m interested to hear the rest some point soon, but I ended up buying Elvis Costello’s Secret Profane, and Sugarcane instead only because that was what I came in for.