The Top 10 Best Songs by The Strokes

I’ve been kickin around some of The Strokes albums lately and after repeated listenings, here are the ten songs I’ve found to be their greatest (so far).

12:51 (from Room on Fire)

“The world is shutting out… for us.”

The upbeat melody and carefree feel make this one of the Strokes’ most addicting songs. And its tragically short running time just makes you want to play it again and again. 12:51 is pure pop ambrosia with a guitar effect that is sonic ecstasy. It reminds me of the way I felt listening to The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 in high school: cool, relaxed, free of responsibility and immune from consequences.

Bonus points for effective use of handclaps and Tron-inspired video.

What Ever Happened? (from Room on Fire)

“I come together in the middle of the night.”

This first song from the band’s sophomore release can either be read as a reaction to a bad break up or the casting off of expectations and presumptions (or possibly both). The song lacks a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, instead feeling like a dramatic bell curve bookended by the same plea. It opens with Jules almost begging to be left alone before breaking into a sensational mind-grabbing riff that leads straight to defiant crux before retreating back to where it started.

By the time its all done, you’ve found another song to play on repeat.

Barely Legal (from Is This It)

“You ain’t ever had nothing I wanted
But I want it all”

Musically and lyrically unadorned and straightforward, Barely Legal is the compellingest song from a compelling album. Composed of simple sardonic and candid one-liners, this song is a musical tirade, bitter and catchy. It’s one for the misanthrope in all of us.

Bonus points for effective use of guitar harmonics.

You Only Live Once (from First Impressions of Earth)



“Sit me down
Shut me up
I’ll calm down
And I’ll get along with you”

When Jules belts those lines, with a wailing guitar counterpoint, its a powerful moment. You Only Live Once launches the band’s third album and, from its sound, they are clearly growing up. Musically and emotionally complex, the song hits with an existential cynicism based on the notion that everything and everyone that has ever existed will eventually be gone. But even that depressing notion can’t stop the rock, so you might as well enjoy it, because you only live once.

Reptilia (from Room on Fire)

“The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair”

This song takes feeling of bitterness, anger and servility to a whole new level. Then there’s a guitar breakdown. Then it repeats.

The Modern Age (from Is This It)

“Work hard and say it’s easy
Do it just to please me”

The song that started it all. All the dogged hype that is. Much of the negativity that exists toward the Strokes is really more a reaction to the ridiculous behavior of the musical press at the time leading up to the release of Is This It. Hell, even I avoided the band for years because of it. But as evidence that the attention was not all undeserved obsequiousness, this song one day got stuck in my head and the next thing I know, I’ve got it on my iPod, singing along with the windows down.

Someday (from Is This It)



“When we was young, man did we have fun
Always, always”

Someday is a perfect pick-me-up. If you’re feeling somewhat down, a little under the weather, or maybe just stuck in traffic, this song is guaranteed to improve your disposition, if only for about three minutes. The video makes being in a band look like so much fun that I want dust off my guitar and start my own again.

Razorblade (from First Impressions of Earth)


“Oh no, my feelings are more important than yours.”

Being one of the more traditional songs in the group’s repertoire doesn’t stop Razorblade from being any less catchy. Its conventionality probably contributes to its catchiness. The border-line beeping guitar effect is a new effect for the band and its emphasis in the mix really serves to pull you in.

Juicebox (from First Impressions of Earth)



“Why won’t you come over here
We’ve got a city to love”

The Strokes learn to grind on this first single from First Impressions of the Earth. Powered by a throbbing, revolving bassline and quick-tapping, tension-building ride on the cymbal, the song feels like a high-speed ride in a sports car changing gears as it whips through sharp turns and shoots down straightaways.

Juicebox rivals Reptilia as the band’s hardest rocking song (and perhaps their most overtly incensed).

The video features David Cross as a jerkass radio announcer who introduces the band as “Stroke.”

Last Night (from Is This It)

“In spaceships they won’t understand
And me I ain’t ever gonna understand”

A feel-good song with ironically downtrodden lyrics. Sure, it’s based largely on a (admittedly) lifted riff from Tom Petty’s American Girl, but it has its own kind of nonchalant independence. Though the song might be concerned with a disaffected relationship, the energy is such that it’s impossible not to tap your toes along with.

*Bonus Song: because ten just aren’t enough*

Red Light (from First Impressions of Earth)

“An entire generation that has nothing to say”

First Impressions’ closer is a syncopated head-bobbing melody that marches along merrily until an unexpected end that leaves your ears demanding more. The almost videogame-esque guitar treatment is a real treat here, yet the overwhelming sense of the song is trademark nihilism. The worldview here really is bleak, but as with most Strokes’ songs, you can’t help but feel a little cheerful as the invectives spew.

Then without a hint of coda, Red Light stops, leaving these words lingering: “Oh, the sky is not the limit and you’re never gonna guess what is…”

The Strokes – The Modern Age: Youthful Exuberance

strokes the modern age

This is it. The Strokes inaugural recording. I discovered it the other day while browsing the XL Recordings page at eMusic, which at the time this was written, was the only place you could find it (unless you want to pay collectors’ prices for a hard copy). Sadly, it seems to no longer be available.

Released in 2001, this eleven minute EP features rougher, less unpolished versions of three songs that would later appear on the band’s formal album debut (The Modern Age, Last Nite and Barely Legal). The record shows an early version of The Strokes hitting the ground running, as the three songs here are the three best from Is this it? and the ones that, seven years later, have achieved a universal timelessness.

The entire running time brims with the energy of ingenuous earnestness, before the band was to be hyped as the new-millennial “saviors of rock music”.

The early rendition of The Modern Age cruises at a faster tempo than the final version, but its lo-fi essence is already well formed. The chops are in place though; the song features a pretty mad, if brief guitar solo. Last Nite feels surprising similar to the album version, the principle difference being in Julian Casablancas’ delivery.

If you’re already familiar with Barely Legal, don’t try to sing to this version, despite the temptation. A number of lines contain different lyrics. This redition is also about 45 seconds longer thanks to an extended guitar solo and breakdown.

This disc may be short, but it shows the Strokes already fulfilling their potential.

Free Listen: The original version of Barely Legal:

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Kelley Polar – Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens: Disco auteurship

Is that not a magnificent album cover? It’s almost worth picking up Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens just to have that, especially if were available on vinyl, which sadly it is not. The image is a generally well-regarded photo of the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It’s a striking visual, but more notably, its use here is a near perfect metaphor for the immense space between the sounds of Kelley Polar’s 2005 full-length debut album.

Polar (aka Mike Kelley) is a bit of musical prodigy, having picked up the violin at age 3 and become an award-winning viola player by 18. He studied at, and was expelled from Julliard, but not for lack of ability.

He has a self-confessed obsession with 1970s-era disco orchestral music, particularly, for obvious reasons, their string sections. So it’s no surprise that this record has a heavy disco feel to it. Though you’re not likely to think Love Songs is a throwback or “homage” to polyester suits. Disco is very much present, but more as a foundation to be built upon, holding together tendrils of pop and house.

Make no mistake, at first listen, Love Songs feels like a classic “bedroom auteur” boy-and-his-keyboard style electronic album. But within the first ten seconds, it’s clear that its spiritual home is closer to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall than The Postal Service.

That is to say the music is quite catchy; it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

This is one album that is sure to be on heavy rotation for a long time.

KelleyPolar.com

Infographics, nuclear weapons and Ratatat

While perusing the Internet this morning, like you do, I stumbled upon this very compelling video at YouTube. I was drawn to it initially because the song used for the soundtrack is Ratatat’s Gettysburg, and I’m a sucker for anything Ratatat related.

The video is a taut and thorough overview of the current state of nuclear weapons technology and proliferation in the world. It showcases all the nations that currently possess armed-and-ready weapons as well as the number of weapons that are operational (Russia has the most with 5830 active). It goes on to simulate a 150-kiloton detonation centered on the Empire State Building.

It effectlively crams a lot of information into a scant three minutes and the somewhat frantic beat of the music impressively augments the visuals. There is no advocatcy message however. The video is strictly informative and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions.

The video was produced by GOODmagazine, which has a number of similarly styled videos on it’s own YouTube channel. GOODmagazine describes itself as a non-profit media outlet for “people who give a damn.”

You can pick up Gettysburg, here:
ratatat classics ratatat gettyburg at itunes