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The essential Strokes 
By
Jon Dekel

Published

August 2, 2016

Genre

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The Strokes' debut album, Is This It, turns 15 years old this year. Which means it's been as long since Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., Fabrizio Moretti, Nick Valensi and Nikolai Fraiture appeared, as if ready-made from a GQ editorial on '70s punk style, the visual and sonic antithesis to the synthetic pop that dominated turn-of-the-millennium pop culture — sprouting a new rock revolution and popping pop's puerile hold on millennial youth.

To mark this occasion, here are the group's essential tracks:

Song: "The Modern Age"
Album: Modern Age EP/Is This It

Formed in 1998, by the end of 2000 the Strokes were still just another group of New York City kids playing gutter clubs hoping someone would take them seriously. Led by Casablancas’ '70s post-punk musical aesthetic and Sinatra meets Reed vocal style, the band went into the studio with Seattle grunge survivor Gordon Raphael, emerging with The Modern Age EP. The title song, with its gorilla stomp verse contrasted by controlled minor-chord chaos chorus proved the perfect calling card, especially overseas, where a bidding war ensued. The rest, as they say, is music history.

Song: "Last Nite"
Album: Is This It

Most 30-somethings know exactly where they were when they first heard "Last Nite." Beyond an introduction to North American audiences, the song served as a musical incendiary device: catchy enough to get stuck in your head, loud enough to scare your parents but bouncy enough dance to. And they used real instruments! In retrospect, "Last Nite" was as close to catharsis as the post-Nirvana generation would get.

Song: "Someday"
Album: Is This It

The perfect union of Casablancas’ '60s crooning and the band's patented two-guitar counterpoint was never as beautifully simple than on “Someday.” It’s the song you play to people who don’t “get” "Last Nite." Timeless in its elegance, yet with enough grit to keep the formula fresh, it cemented the Strokes as more than a one-trick pony.

Song: "Reptilia"
Album: Room on Fire

Rushed to production and born of heartbreak, the Strokes’ sophomore album, Room on Fire, was discarded as an imitation of their breakthrough. Freed of that context, the album houses some of the band’s best songwriting, with Casablancas working as maestro, orchestrating all the moving parts. "Reptilia," is a perfect example, as each band member showcases their improved chops while the tension builds before Casablancas manifests the best EDM drop in modern rock music history, then lets it loose in a euphoric expression of frustration.

Song: "Under Control"
Album: Room on Fire

The ballad to end all ballads, "Under Control" is the song Julian Casablancas was born to write. It’s a defiant love song which doubles as a metaphor for his disintegrating band and personal life, all wrapped in a riff and top line that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Smokey Robinson album. Best listened to while hugging your best friend under a disco ball.

Song: "12:51"
Album: Room on Fire

When it came out, "12:51" was notable for its Tron-inspired music video, and really it’s not the best of the group’s songs but it's essential anyway. Just a bit of fun that feels like it needs to be here.

Song: "Under Cover of Darkness"
Album: Angles

Following the group’s notoriously uneven third album, First Impressions of Earth, the Strokes took a long break to regroup, refocus and negotiate songwriting away from Casablancas, who had, until then, been its solitary songwriter. Their return, Angles, proved a muted success, as the band struggled refining its sound. But there’s no denying that the album’s first single, "Under Cover of Darkness," was a burst of pure Strokesian genius. Everything one loved about the Strokes is here; the bouncy drums, dual guitar attack, modern nostalgic feel and Casablancas' croon all feel free and sharp. If you don’t like this, you don’t like the Strokes.

Song: "New York City Cops"
Album: Is This It

Is This It was supposed to come out on Sept. 11, 2001, anchored by a rebellious punk-rock punch of a song whose chorus declared “New York City Cops, they ain’t too smart.” But fate had other ideas. As a result, the song was left off of the U.S. version of the album, gracing it with a mythic quality, which, along with the Spinal Tap tribute cover, makes the U.K. version of the album the definitive one.

Song: "Hard to Explain"
Album: Is This It

Widely regarded as the defining Strokes song, "Hard to Explain" feels otherworldly. Like all the greats, it seems like it was just floating in the ether, waiting for someone to discover and record it as is, maybe even make a whole career out of it. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel like it was made by humans, yet it's beautifully flawed in a way that almost defines human achievement. When the laundry list chorus hits, God help you if you’re sitting down because you’re about to get the hell up and pump your first like everyone’s watching.

Song: "Take It or Leave It"
Album: Is This It

From the moment the guitar harmony intro kicks in, “Take It or Leave It” feels special, like the end of a journey you want to start again. No bitterness or heartbreak, just a well deserved treat for making it to the finish line.

Song: "I'll Try Anything Once"
Album: Demo

This demo for “You Only Live Once” has a hermetically sealed quality, preserved to showcase Casablancas’ erstwhile songwriting at its peak. With nothing more than a Fender Rhodes and his low-end croon, Casablancas captures the dissonance of your early 20s with alluring simplicity. Listen to the song below and remember why you loved anything in the first place.

More to explore:

10 essential LCD Soundsystem songs

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