The Strokes’ debut album ‘Is This It’ remains as one of the most consequential, powerful albums of the 21st century. It inspired a generation at a time where music was dwindling into only the most successful top 40 hits. It became the soundtrack to an endless amount of first dates, first kisses, first heartbreaks. Here at MG, it cannot be emphasized enough how important this album is to us – it’s what brought us together. We love The Strokes and cherish them deeply for this gift they gave to us 15 years ago – we only hope you feel the same. The following are our love letters to this album, and all the reasons we’ll still be listening 15 years on.
Favorite song: all of them at the same time (in all seriousness, i think the world stopped when i heard the modern age live – i think no matter how old you are or where you come from, everyone understands the feeling of ‘work hard and say it’s easy – do it just to please me – tomorrow will be different’ to some degree, and in their own way)
Favorite lyric: it would be wrong of me to go with anything other than the line i have tattooed, ‘fate my friend you say the strangest things’ – even though, ironically, i am not someone who has a strong opinion on whether or not fate exists, it has been a constant source of comfort and reminder that i am not in control of my life or the cards I have been dealt. to me, the universe is and will always be absurd, never unraveling it’s wrath on those based on whether or not they deserve it. it can’t be forgotten that things just are, one must be, and The Strokes have given me a way to remember everyone i’ve ever loved (some not here anymore) in a perpetual positive light. (bonus: Soma’s ‘when i saw her for the first time, lips moved as her eyes closed’, because who doesn’t have their own hazy Coppola-filmed dream sequence play in their head whenever they hear that line, am i right? damn you, Casablancas)
Describe what your life was like the first time Is This It came into it: i was a depressed fifteen-year-old in high school who thought nothing else made as much sense as this album. there is no other way to justify it – i just snapped. i instantly sold my soul to Satan (or something like that) and spent day and night wondering how something so separated from where and who i was could leave me feeling so completely understood. to be honest with you, i still don’t think i have the answer – or at least, not a tangible one. Is This It became what it is because it is so painfully relatable, even when we don’t want to admit it, especially when we don’t want to face that things have changed in such a permanent way and life seems unreal and can we just go back to your place? it is the sound of new york city concrete and violent, all-consuming anger, sometimes at yourself, mostly at everyone else. i have always held little importance to the notion that this album’s sole purpose was to ‘save rock and roll’, because i have never particularly cared whether a white man-led movement was saved or not. i do, however, feel like it helped fill in a void we were desperately in need of – one i didn’t even know i needed when i was a teenager stuck in suburbia. i have listened to this album repeatedly throughout every single year since then and felt something different every time and can say now, firmly in adulthood, that this cycle will only continue the longer i live. i have ex-boyfriends and old close friends and passed loved ones and people i don’t speak to anymore and streets i no longer walk on buried in every song on this album and sometimes, that’s nice – the ability to carry home with me whenever i need it.
(check out this stunning cover by Owen Pallett, best known for being the violinist and writing the string arrangements for Arcade Fire, including composing part of the score for Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). while some of the covers on this album are somewhat diamonds-in-the-rough, Pallett’s stood out to me the most – a strong testament to the fact that The Strokes are everlasting, in every single format)
Favorite song: Trying Your Luck, because it’s a tangible anthem to all of the uncertainty i’ve ever felt. and, melodically? it’s downright magnetic. i heard this song live for the first time this year and embarrassedly ugly-cried my entire way through it, because i suppose that’s how you’re supposed to cope with learning that your heroes are real.
Favorite lyric: “he knows it’s justified to kill to survive / he then in dollars makes more dead than alive” – Alone Together // there’s limitless ways to interpret this lyric, but it’s oddly prophetic regardless of the specific interpretation. it’s particularly interesting in today’s social and political climate, although its rhetoric is timeless.
Describe what life was like for you the first time Is This It came into it: i was young when Is This It came out, and for that, i suppose that i am grateful. yes, i am grateful that i matured and blossomed in a world saturated with the sound and emotion of an unrelenting, un-aging Is This It. the world (both 15 years ago & today) is frightening and heartless, but Is This It is, has been, and always will be a constant friend, confidant, and lover throughout all of the ugliness.
the first time i truly listened to Is This It – you know, the bone-rattling, earth-shattering listen that changes your life forever – i was a young teenager. at the time, my teenagedom was filled with safety & familiarity, but also a lot of self-doubt & pain. i feared just about everything about myself, and in this fear, i was hopelessly lonely. i was lost in that oh-so-empty vacuum beyond words, seeking companionship through song. i knew the songs from Is This It, as they’d been elevator music throughout my entire childhood, peppered randomly throughout memories. but i didn’t /know/ them.
the first /real/ listen left me with the same hallowed awe that man had when he first stepped on the moon. for years, i’d been listening, dancing, and humming along to these songs. for years, they’d been haunting me, beckoning me to listen closer as ignored them in favor of other, more glittery indie heroes. and then, one day, sitting in my bed, body limp, i played – really, truly blasted – Is This It from my laptop speakers. i listened to the words, to the zealous guitar. i let the bass hug me closer than my sheets, and let the drum beats bury themselves under my skin. i let it absorb me, penetrate my very senses. this album wasn’t a fantasy, a love letter to an alternate dimension where things turned out alright in the end; this album was real, raw, and true. it was all of the ugliness of the world i knew, made palatable and curiously comforting.
and in that moment, my universe shifted. never again would i truly be lonely, as i’d always have Is This It.
Favorite song: even though someday holds the most special place in my heart (and it’s my mom’s favorite strokes song- i made it her ringtone!) i would have to go with barely legal after experiencing the strokes live for the first time at gov ball nyc in 2014. they opened with this song- took the stage with raw energy, electrifying power that you could feel in the air- and the whole city turned an ear. i had never felt more at home when the chorus hit. everytime i listen to this song, i think back to how perfect everything felt to me and resonate to that time in my life. i just remember jumping up and down with tears running down my face because i was just so damn happy in that moment, and it will forever be a moment that i will never ever ever forget.
Favorite lyric: “now my fears/they come to me in threes” this line in someday has always resonated with me, and the way julian sings it always feels like it’s just for me. as someone who has been in an ongoing battle with anxiety, it is overwhelmingly calming to hear this line whenever i feel like i am losing my mind. three is also my favorite number, and hearing it in relation to fears is oddly comforting. the strokes have taught me to not be fearful – of the past, present, or especially the future – and this line always reminds me how far i have come.
Describe what your life was like the first time Is This It came into it: first impressions of earth was actually the first strokes album that i listened to front to back – and that album showed me what the strokes are capable of – but i knew my next listen would have to be Is This It. i remember buying all of their albums on itunes (i know, i hate my 21st century self too) and getting into bed and pressing play. little did i know i made a wise choice by laying down- the guitar solos sent shivers down my spine, i felt niko’s bass in my bones, and fab’s drumming knocked the wind out of me. but julian’s vocals brought it all back to a comforting reality. every song enveloped me with electrifying warmth. “does he warm the room when he comes”- this is something that only the strokes are capable of with recorded music. somehow five guys are able to transport you to a busy nyc street with a few chords. when is this it came into my life, i was 13 years old, trapped in massachusetts suburbia, and trapped in myself. the strokes taught me how find myself in music, be different, and to follow my own path (to the city, wearing converse, of course). whenever i needed to get away and think about who i really wanted to be, i always put on this album and just floated away. i didn’t even realize that i was following the teenage crowd until the strokes came into my life. i stopped dressing preppy, i stopped listening to top 40 music, and i stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me. the strokes were my wake up call, and i thank my lucky stars for them every single day. since i was only 13, i didn’t quite understand how the strokes “saved rock and roll”, but i did understand how they saved me, and countless others, and as a strokes fan, that is all you need to understand. to know that i am not alone in my anxiety, my sadness, or my loneliness, and that i have five friends to turn to at a moment’s notice, is a feeling i hope everyone gets to experience with this band.
Favorite song: every time i listen to Someday i think about how while recording Is This It, Julian said he wanted his voice to sound like “your favorite blue jeans” — worn in and comfortable. every time i listen to Someday i wonder how they managed to get it exactly right. i turn to Someday like a best friend, to confide and confess and from the second i hear the drum uptick that opens the song, i am filled with the haziest, super 8 film feeling, sun bleached, stretched out kind of happiness. Someday exists in the space between melancholy and saccharine, a bittersweet spell that understands and comforts me every time i listen to it. nothing can compare to slipping into its 3 minutes and 3 seconds of sonically distressed denim whenever i need to remind myself that while i might not be okay, i’ll be ‘alright,’ and that’s enough.
Favorite lyric: listening to The Modern Age has always felt like church and the line ‘my vision’s clearer now/but i’m unafraid’ has become like a prayer. infinite interpretations aside, this line to me is about acceptance and understanding, of the world and of the self. look at the world, look at you, see it all for everything that it is and yourself as everything that you are, see it all without shame and without fear. facing any and all of my insecurities and anxieties, this lyric always feels like my own quiet revolution.
Describe what your life was like the first time Is This It came into it: when i bought Is This It, i was a not-like-other-girls, hot-topic-is-my-favorite-store, special snowflake mess of an 8th grade girl. i remember clutching the CD on the ride home from the mall, running upstairs to my room, turning off my lights, plugging in my headphones, (my usual new CD ritual) except this time I ascended to an astral plane. The Strokes hit me sideways and knocked something loose at the base of my spine—i had finally discovered something that felt real.
Is This It captured all the anger, sadness, ache and saying the right things while still acting the wrong way that had built the middle school experience of this black girl that was always too white for her black friends and too black for her white ones. it was perfectly in the middle, not quite in and not quite out— just like me—and full of raw energy that electrified me. i had songs i could cry to, dance to, scream to; i finally had an outlet for all the angsty things that i thought listening to Paramore would let me to say. i’ll never understand how everything i had been waiting for throughout all of middle school came to me in a guitar rock album released when i was 4 years old but i’ll be forever grateful. critics love to say that Is This It ‘saved rock and roll’ but all i can vouch for is that it saved me, from myself. after spending that much time hiding behind emo bangs i cut myself trying to build an identity off of things i didn’t like but thought i should, feeling a real connection to The Strokes liberated me from any expectations i had of who i had to be. With this album as a backbone, i could cut the bullshit and be me— no longer the girl i created but the girl i was. Is This It was a new start and a new beginning, a far cry from the ending its meta title predicted. listening to Is This It for the first time was a baptism in my own name and it retains its transformative qualities even today, years later as every time I feel a need to remind myself exactly who it is i am, all i have to do is press play.
Favorite lyric: “Tomorrow will be different” / Modern Age. It’s so basic, so simple but conveys so much. Every listen always bears a new meaning and sentiment than the one held before. Maybe I had a great day, so it reminds me that tomorrow will be a different day filled with unforeseen adventures, so I have to really relish the moment and bliss that I have at hand. Maybe I had a bad day, and it reminds me that moments are always fleeting and things//feelings//people will always come and go. There is no forever, hard moments will pass and I will always have redemption of a new day. Sometimes I could feel both or neither, and it simply just reminds me that tomorrow will be different. I will be different, the world will be different and there’s absolutely no way of knowing what it will bring. With tomorrow, just comes the chance for me to be different. Different can be scary or can be comforting, but overall it is that very difference and change that have allowed me to transcend into capacities that I never before imagined I could.
Favorite song: My favorite song(s) always fluctuate as certain melodies and lyrics parallel my life situation, so it can vary day to day. However, I will have to say point blank, its Hard to Explain. It just resonates with my soul in the most beautiful and poetic of ways. The lyrics, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the drum lines. Its all just so perfect. And because HTE was on ITI and one of the first songs that changed my life, it continues to be a song embodied with memories of the last 15 years. Of how far I’ve come, the places I’ve seen, the people I’ve known and the feelings I have experienced. From being an angsty teen, screaming “I say the right things, but act the wrong way” to being a wanderlust traveler reminding myself that “I like it right here, but I cannot stay” to forever feeling my outsider perspective of “oh I don’t see it that way,” this song continues to be a shape shifter that will always mean so many different and new things as I grow and it grows alongside me. As a notorious over thinker and life planner, sometimes to me, my life just don’t make any sense and it just is my personal reminder that not everything has to be or can be explained, not everything has to be understood because sometimes there are things that simply just are and will always be.
Describe what your life was like the first time Is This It came into it: This answer is two fold. The very first time I listened to Is This It was at a family party. I was in the computer room (when that was still a thing) discussing music and bands with my cousin who was my best friend and would grow to be my fellow family strokes lover. I was very fortunate to have really cool, older cousins that clearly listened to very good music, and one overheard us and came in with ITI and said “You want good music? Listen to this.” We played it, and that was it. At that point, I was amazed at how much it stood out to me. It was music unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Having an attraction for the different and unique, as an appreciation for being a misfit most of my life in the many spaces I inhabited, for the first time I felt connected with a sound and feeling that seemed to mirror my life.
However, the first time I feel I REALLY listened to ITI, and my unprecedented love for my favorite band began, came a few years later. At the peak of my teenage years I battled through many dark and traumatic moments with family, friends and myself. It was an extremely scary, lonely and isolating time. I remember, one night at home, I played the album, (a burned copy my cousin had made us) and turned it on as loud as possible to drown out the yelling, the noise of things breaking and the sound of my own overwhelming emotions. As the first notes of ITI started to play, I felt like a puzzle piece of something that had been missing inside my soul was found and finally put into place. And for those moments, and really any moment I listen to TS since, their music became my best friend that was consistently present for me in time of need, good or bad, when no one else really ever was. It became my centering gravity, when the world around me seemed to be falling apart; comforting, consoling and telling me that this life is on my side. It finally felt like after years of loneliness, someone, somewhere knew how I felt, understood what I was going through and could tell me that it would all “work somehow in the end.” The greatest aspect of this album is that it just felt so raw and so honest. Listening to it allowed me to feel so many emotions that I had long suppressed, or didn’t even know I had. I loved that feeling, for the sake that something was finally allowing me to feel emotions other than negativity. That level of reciprocated understanding this album provided allowed me to feel love and permitted me to realize that not only does it did exist in the world, but I was capable of experiencing that magic. It was this new exploration of feelings that brought me back to realize my own vulnerability. And while vulnerability is often viewed negatively, I find it such a beautiful sentiment as it ultimately reminds you, and in my case re-minded me when I had long forgotten, that I was alive, human and there were forces in the universe that made me feel enthused and excited about the possibilities that life offered. Yes, we all know it saved rock n roll, but most importantly it saved me, from the toxic world around me and most importantly and literally on one occasion, my life. My upbringing made it difficult to believe in the notion of “home” being a physical location, but as a Pisces with a wild imagination and longing for fantastical paradigms, I sought refuge in different dimensions. ITI became one of those dimensions. With all the transformative capabilities ITI has provided, its overall magic was that it made me feel like I belonged somewhere in this world. No matter where I live, travel, who I’m with, all I have to do is press play and suddenly I’m home.
Feel free to leave a comment – or submit to us – your thoughts RE: Is This It. Seriously! We love to talk about The Strokes just as much as we love to listen to them. firstname.lastname@example.org
All artwork by our very own mega-babe, Megan.
The Strokes’ Is This It vinyl LP can be purchased via popmarket (at a killer price today!) – do yourself a favor and snag a copy if, for some reason, you haven’t already.
— MG Staff