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September 03, 2002 - Image 47

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-09-03

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The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Tuesday, September 3, 2002 - 3D

Live

From New

York

Strokes poised for stardom

By Luke Smith
Daily Arts Editor
Rarely does a band come along that gar-
ners so much hype and so much backlash
in a few moments. The Strokes are five
normal guys from New York with an
upper-class background and a penchant for
looking like they stepped out of CBGB's
circa 1973. Their debut record Is This It
supports nearly every chubby ounce of the
overbearing press' cellulite-chalked
hype. "It's beyond tired, but it real-
ly doesn't matter," bassist Nikolai
Fraiture told The Michigan Daily.
While the Strokes are the victims
of the iber-trendy fashion police, St.
the public's perception of their
image matters not to the band: "It's No
not contrived or formulated, we
were all friends long before we started
playing music, it was more we were influ-
enced by each other. We're just friends that
play music," said Fraiture. The Strokes are
making music rock again and brought that
rock to Detroit's St. Andrews Hall.
Hailing from New York City, the band
had a collective mind to yank their U.S.
release of their debut CD Is This It,
because of a potentially controversial track
in "New York City Cops." The band's deci-
sion to pull the track in the wake of Sept.
11 shows the Strokes consciousness as a
band. The Strokes approach in choosing
artwork mirrors their everyman status -
they stumbled across an image in an air-
port and then collectively decided to

replace the racy U.K. cover for the U.S.
release.
The Strokes' world doesn't revolve
around critical heaps of praise or how their
album is holding on the Billboard; the
Strokes' care about their fans and their
friends. "We care about what we think, and
people who we respect, we care about what
they think."
Despite the hordes of praise Is This It
has garnered, Fraiture was relatively apa-
thetic toward the critics
and their opinions. "A
lot of times, they proba-
STROKES bly don't even listen to
the whole album, don't
Andrew's Hall come to see the show;
they just write their
vember 11, 2001 review which they think
is funny or good for
them. It usually has nothing to do with the
band."
Beneath the underlying everyman char-
acteristics of the band, there is a romantic
story. The band has said that if they could
only take four people to a desert island
that they would take the other Strokes with
them. Nikolai Fraiture and Julian
Casablancas have been friends since first
grade. "When we were young, we'd build
forts, play with thundercats, GI Joes, just
like all the little kids used to." GI Joes?
Did you have a favorite? "Yeah, Snake
Eyes was pretty cool, but Sgt. Slaughter
was the man."
Their debut album Is This It hums some-
where between the Velvet Underground

and the Stooges, although never complete-
ly rips either band off. Instead, the Strokes
have combined their influences with
urgency - the urgency of a band who
wanted a contract so much that they stood
outside of Weezer shows handing out
fliers. Their efforts eventually led them to
sign on to a major label, after Rough Trade
Records. Their Modern Age HP dropped on
British soil in January of 2001, and state-
side, a super-sized bidding war ensued.
The Strokes were eventually lured to
RCA, who were in Fraiture's words "the
least of the worst. They were ready to
commit to us and give us financial backing
immediately." Money wasn't the lone fac-
tor in the Strokes big move to the major-
label sector of the musical food chain. "It
was very person to person, most of the
people at RCA were really cool, everyone
there is on a first name basis." Their debut
followed.
Julian Casablancas is the songwriter in
the Strokes. There is no debate, there is no
qualm, there is no problem. "He'll bring in
a main melody, like a guitar and vocal, or
a bass and vocal or bass and drums, and
from there we'll just work in the studio
usually until the sun comes up. That's how
we did all of Is This It."
One would expect that the other musi-
cians in the band would have a problem
with the internal-autonomy, but Fraiture
insisted it was quite the opposite. "Each
player, each person has their own individ-
ual place, and they know; everyone of us
know where we belong." This type of

The Strokes relaxing as they prepare for their show at St. Andrews.

team-mentale is something that several
bands should take note of. It seems that
there is no me-ism within the Strokes,
instead they ride the five horsemen of the
musical apocalypse.
Rock 'n' Roll's saviors the Strokes are
not. They know it, they are comfortable
with it and they like it. The Strokes main-
tain their everyman repute in the honesty
of their claims, "We just do what we like
to do, that's all."
What they like to do is bang out three
and four minute songs chapped with
urgency and bounding along on an album
that clocks in under 40 minutes. The songs
explore a series of fleeting moments,
moments which end all too abruptly like

the album-stopping track "Hard to
Explain." Is This It's tracks clip along,
sans filler and full of punch.
Already, the Strokes have been inappro-
priately sitgmatized as a band caught too
frequently engaging in fisticuffs. A recent
article story detailed a squabble with the
band and some guys on the street that was
"blown way out of proportion," according
to Fraiture.
While the band maintains that they
aren't a motley crew of pit fighters, when
asked who would do the defending if a
concert go-er took a swing at a Stroke,
Fraiture said there would be no need for
bodyguards, "We will definitely kick the
shit out of you."

v
NEW YORK'S NEW DOLLS:
Is This ItThe Strokes; RCA

By Luke Smith
Daily Arts Editor

Beneath an ominously emptier New York skyline, NYC natives, the
Strokes yanked a potentially controversial track off their forthcoming
album, (the track, "New York City Cops" was about corrupt police)
shelving its anticipated release for two weeks. With their street date get-
ting a 14-day delay it was just a little more time for hype's bright fire to
burn, while ashes cooled in the city.
The Strokes have arrived. And with them comes one of the most
poignant and relevant arrivals in recent memory.
The band's desperation clips along briskly and the Strokes dart
through the 11 tracks on their filler-less debut, Is This It. It is an exi-
gency reflecting more than this quintet of barely 20-somethings could've
ever expected out of their privileged upbringings. It's an insistence cap-
tured on tape in singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas' vocals; they (the
vocals) are a splendid mix of a young Lou Reed singing though a mega-
phoneon a quiet setting, his voice is a perfect continuation of New
York's rich rock vocal tradition.
Casablancas' bandmates bounce along through a series of rhythms,
sounding at times less and less like the straight-ahead rock band that
they are, instead dawdling in brief moments of soul.
The energy captured on Is This It is a salty sweet mixture of attitude
and fortitude, the album sounds like the band is sliding around on a
booze slickened stage playing for little more than a cold beer at their
set's end. There are moments of screeching desperation where the
Strokes find themselves begging for your ear and your time. Casablan-
cas' no nonsense voice reaches through jangling guitars, fuzz and driv-

IE STROKES
ing basslines dragging listeners down into the dark basement the album
bursts out of.
Although the Strokes are Casablancas' songwriting vehicle, the rest of
the band makes his musical engine run The tunes are narrative darts of
nostalgia crisp with tales straight from New York's streets.
"Barely Legal" jumps and skips along with the naive arrogance of
youth ebbing through its lyrics "I didn't take no shortcuts/I spent the
money that I saved up." Despite his more than pampered upper class
upbringing, we find ourselves pulled in by Casablancas' cry "I want it
all/I just can't figure out, nothing," and even better, we believe him.
Honesty and believability are Is This It's two best friends. The Strokes
are overtly candid, unpretentious and simultaneously arrogant.
Casablancas' beleagured and begrudged vocals sometimes sound com-
pletely bored and disenfranchised with everything in the world and in his
cynicism lies much of his honesty.
The constant driving of droning rhythm guitars allow the other instru-
ments space to take over and push their own melodies and counter-
melodies. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture's bouncing bassline on the title track
drives underneath Casablancas' distanced, impassioned vocals.
The biggest jabs thrown at the Strokes may be their willingness to
bear homage to their influences. Maybe it's a learned behavior, perhaps
it stems from New York's multi-cultural community that thrives on its
own diversity. Granted, the Strokes do take long drags from the fags of
The Velvets and Television, and at the same time they are flicking ashes
off their leather jackets with the Stooges. Perhaps there is so much of
New York's rich spirit entrenched in the Strokes that Is This It is the most
important and timely album of the year.
Perhaps.
RATING: * 7**

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