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Stereogum Presents... "Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It" by Various Artists

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Reviewed on 21st August 2011.


Stereogum Presents... "Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It"

By Various Artists

It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since the release of The Strokes' debut album 'Is This It.' A surge of great singles in the early noughties from The White Stripes, The Hives and The Coral saw indie guitar pop re-enter the public consciousness in a way not seen since the mid-nineties, but there was one group scaling the heights of popularity like no other. They were The Strokes, 5 immaculately dishevelled New Yorkers armed with an arsenal of instant pop classics.

Game-changing hit single Last Night had the indie scene bouncing and the album, Is This It, was quickly hailed as the year's best by TIME and the NME. It has since garnered further acclaim. Named by some as the best album of the decade, its influence can be seen in many artists recording today. To celebrate Is This It's tenth birthday, Stereogum have compiled a free tribute album of covers recorded by some of the website's favourite bands and musicians.

Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It opens with Peter Bjorn And John's version of the album's namesake. Their interpretation is a carefree, lazily cool affair which sees the song's riff transformed into a piercing barrage of treble-soaked stings. As the song comes to a climax, an explosive guitar solo springs forth, giving the Swedes' cover a dramatic, stadium-sized ending.

Frankie Rose, formerly of New York band Crystal Stilts, turns Soma into an otherworldly experience. In stark contrast to the original's borderline aggressiveness, this Soma finds trippy synths floating over a mechanical drum beat as sparkly, reverb-drunk guitar lines flirt with Rose's angelic vocals. Truly fantastic, this is the kind of cover you really want to hear; a completely original take on a well-defined song.

Similarly, Austra's sparse cover of Alone, Together takes The Strokes' blueprint and transports the song to surprising places. The song opens with haunting chimes and bass accompaniment before a drum machine picks up the pace. Spacey synths welcome in a euphoric chorus, sung with pathos by Austra frontwoman Katie Stelmanis whose unique voice is pleasing to the ears.

The Morning Benders turn Last Night into an audaciously sun-soaked, bubblegum-pop blowout which works extraordinarily well in its new skin. Vocals immersed in auto-tune do little to deter us from the band's interesting interpretation of one of The Strokes' most famous songs, and again it's nice to see a band willing to take apart and rebuild a song to their own design.

Of course, some of the songs here don't work quite as well as the originals. Chelsea Wolfe's dark version of The Modern Age is so far removed from the original that it could be a completely different song altogether. She sacrifices the upbeat urgency of The Strokes' recording for a disorientating, depressing soundscape of echo and reverb and it doesn't work.

Likewise, Real Estate's Barely Legal slows things down considerably and begins to drag by the 2 minute mark. This song starts well, the summery acoustic vibe providing listeners with a very different take on the original, but the New Jersey group's lethargic temperament doesn't work well for long and we're soon itching for something better.

And the less said about Wise Blood's bizarre, tuneless Someday the better.

The political tone of New York City Cops is strengthened by rapper Heems who dedicates his version of the song to the long list of young men and women who have been "senselessly killed by the NYPD while unarmed." It's a thought-provoking song and one of the most radically different interpretations featured on Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It, but it is also one of the most enjoyable and memorable thanks largely to its mammoth drum beat and affecting lyrics.

It's rare to find anybody complaining when there's a free album up for grabs, but Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It is a fine collection of covers worthy of your time, especially if you happen to be a huge fan of The Strokes. Every song, for better or worse, has had new life breathed into it, with some proving good, if not better, than the originals.



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Chelsea Wolfe