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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Playgrounds: Fun and interesting applications of Last.fm’s technology

The vast array of listening information available at Last.fm probably had a great deal to do with CBS’s decision to purchase the company. Though I’m wary of the deal, I’ve not lost all hope for the site. The Audioscrobbler technology behind it is some pretty fascinating stuff and the data it collects is open and available be analyzed, interpreted, shared and displayed in a lot of diverse applications.

Hopefully, now that CBS’s hand is in the cookie jar, this aspect of the service won’t change. As long as the data is accessible, here’s a number of cool things that can be harvested from Last.fm.

LastGraph

last.fm waveform 2007

My waveform for 2007, through the beginning of June.

Lee Byron’s work on Last.fm data visualization made a fairly large splash on the net recently. The multi-colored waveforms showed undulating music tastes as artists’ popularity expands and contracts over time. It’s fascinating stuff.

And of course, after a moment of exclaiming "cool!" and "pretty!" the question on everyone’s mind was "How do I get one for myself?" Since Byron’s page was more of a demonstration and proof-of-concept, there was no way for someone to enter their username and get a graph of their own listening habits, leaving many visitors disgruntled.

Enter LastGraph, which does what all those disgruntled users were requesting, for whatever username you want. Results are offered in PDF and SVG formats, which are vector based, so you can zoom very close to see small-scale changes in data. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to track an individual artist within the ebb and flow of your listening. Specifically, I’d like to hover over a line and see that artist’s trends highlighted. That’s not going to happen with a PDF though. Oh well.

The site is running kinda bare-bones right now and there is a queue system in place. You may have to wait several hours before your PDF is ready to download. So be patient. It’s worth it. The site’s performance has much improved since it launched.

Also note: the PDFs produced by the site do not render in Mac OS X’s Preview app, so be sure to view them in Acrobat.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time


This chart shows my listening habits during the past 121 weeks (roughly the beginning of March 2005). Click to see larger.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time generates a single graphic that displays a variety of data. The bar graphs in the background represents the total of each weeks play counts. Your top 50 artists are displayed, in rank order, on the right. The line graphs show how each of the top 50 have grown over time.

This can be useful for determining trends in your tastes and habits. In my case, before the 52 week mark, I see a lot flat-lined activity, especially among my top ten, that suddenly takes off. Also, I notice that Susuma Yakota, who I had never heard of before January this year, is in my top 50 and that he got there rather quickly. There is a very steep curve for him starting 23 weeks ago.

Tuneglue relationship explorer


Click for full size.

Tuneglue creates a web of related bands and artists. Start with one artist or band, expand the results to find similar artists or bands, then do the same to those. With four or five clicks, you’ll have a large interconnected web of new bands to explore based on similarities and relationships to your tastes. It’s a neat visual metaphor of musical interest and a good jumping off point for new music recommendations. The lack of sound samples limits its usefulness as an exploratiom tool, though the map is still fun to play with.

One killer app of the site, however, is missing. I talk of course, about a "six degrees" linker. It would be very cool to input two artists and see how many jumps are necessary to connect to two. For example, it takes four jumps to connect Mogwai to the Strokes (Mogwai » Radiohead » The Beatles » The White Stripes » The Strokes, according to Tuneglue). I figured that out on my own, but it would be nice of the site to do it for me.

Last.fm tools by Anthony Liekens

cloud of recommendations

This site features a number of Last.fm related tools. My favorite is the artist recommendation cloud, which generates a number of suggestions for musical exploration based on your top artists. Higher recommendations appear at a larger type size. Recommendations can be based on stats from your overall list, the past 12, 6 or 3 months or the past week.

Also be sure to check out your eclectic rating. I scored an 80 out of 100.

How compatible are your tastes with a radio station?

sekrit

Last.fm user profile bbc6music is, you guessed it, created by the songs BBC Radio 6 (6music) plays on air. Though not every song that the station broadcast gets uploaded to Last.fm, the user profile still manages to add about 100 play counts per day. As of August 2011, the station has an accumulated track count of nearly 380,000. The most played artist is David Bowie.

Mainstream-o-Meter

mainstreamnes

Finally, there’s the Mainstream-o-Meter, which compares your top stats with the overall most played artists site-wide. Each of your most-listened-to artists are given a weighted score which is then used to calculate your overall "mainstreamness."

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Last.fm is certainly a vast treasure trove of information, so hop to it and get exploring.

Yeah, What They Said 5/30

Yeah, What They Said, pointers to interesting stories. Some people call it “link sharing.”

“Same great Pabst taste, without the beer.” PBR bottled water, available in China:

Pabst Blue Ribbon Bottled Water from Dave Nemetz on Vimeo.

Pi (π) played on a piano
Each digit 1-9 is assigned a note and 0 is a quarter rest.

Cumulative advantage
Some things remain popular because they are popular. As the popularity of something increases, the likelihood that its popularity will continue to increase becomes greater. “If all those people like it, it must be good.” The notion has been common sense for years, but now there’s scientific data pointing toward it.

Album Covers Separated at Birth
There are no new ideas. Pages and pages of album covers that are strikingly similar in concept and execution.

A tip calculator for iPod. It’s not free, but it looks cool. I used to have a tip calculator on an old cell phone and have been missing it for years, so this intrigues me.

Day Trip: Atlanta, Home of the Braves
I live in Atlanta, so I enjoyed this visitors’ travelogue about a day in the city, even though it’s mostly about baseball and other trivia. Did you know that the kazoo was invented in Macon? Oh, and no one calls it “Hotlanta” unless they’re being deliberately obtuse.

The Strokes have produced a music video short film for their single You Only Live Once. It’s very “sci-fi” and a good song to boot:

Why December is the Most Musical Time of the Year

I recently had the realization that December is the best time of year to discover new music. This notion came as a recognition of a couple of trends that have been building for the past few years.

Firstly, I’ve by-and-large stopped paying attention to the cutting edge of artists and albums. In fact, unless an artist already has a trusted relationship with me, I’ve essentially been ignoring them, no matter how highly recommended or heavily buzzed they may be. When you have 14,000 gems in your collection already, there’s not much incentive to grasp onto every new upstart trend. However, it’s not that I’m staid; I really do enjoy discovering new, interesting and talented acts. I just tend to wait until the glow has faded before checking them out.

The result of this practice is that I tend to be about a year behind the scene, save for those trusted artists. While the bloggy-blogs are talking about what’s hot right now, I’m busy investigating last year’s music, or off on my own musical tangent.

The other effect is that I usually end up avoiding artists whose “buzz” makes them seem momentarily more appealing than they rightly should. That is to say: I avoid peer pressure.

Take, for example, The Strokes. I didn’t start listening to them until well after their status as “saviors of rock” had eclipsed. Once the buzz had died down, I was able to evaluate their music on my own terms. In the absence of external influences, I believe I found a truer appreciation of their music.

Contrast that to Arctic Monkeys. About a year ago, this group of British teenagers came out of nowhere with a heavily-buzzed debut record. With favorable online musings and a hearty recommend by KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, I decided to give it a listen. I guess I got caught in the excitement, because I initially thought that the album was pretty good. Not mind-blowing, but competent enough to hang on to.

After being sidelined by the tunequest, I picked up the album again a couple days ago and honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking because it wasn’t really as good as I remember it being. While the boys are technically proficient and produce some moderately engaging rock music, everything from the album cover, to its name Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, to the songs’ lyrics reeked of a kind of amateur misanthropy. I couldn’t help but be struck by the idea that the band is a new-millennial Silverchair.

So perhaps I was lead astray by that one.

Which brings me back to December. Throughout that month and into January of the next year, everyone begins compiling their various “best of” lists, whether it’s Rolling Stone, a blog post, or even a torrent file of great songs or albums. With an attitude toward the retrospective, these lists act to filter the explosive amount of new material released each year. As time has passed, each list presents a more critical look at each record than would normally be given when the hype machine is in full effect. As the long tail keeps demonstrating, the number and variety of lists is breathtaking, from Rolling Stone’s more mainstream list, to ArkivMusic’s best classical, to any random blogger’s most underrated albums of the year.

And so it is right now. It’s the end of the first week in January and my list of bookmarked albums looks daunting. But I have to remember that I have the rest of the year to explore it. Early indications say 2006 was a great year in music.

And by 2008, I’ll have a whole new list.