The Strokes are still rocking the indie music scene two decades later
By Ansharah Shakil, March 20 2023—
Twenty-two years after their spectacular crash into New York’s 2000s music scene, the Strokes have released The Singles — Volume 01, composed of the 10 singles released from their first three albums and their B-sides. The vinyl is sold out on their website, which is designed as though permanently stuck in the 2000s, though I can’t say whether that’s a purposeful decision or the result of a refusal to view any current musicians’ websites. Either way, the floating dragons are an ingenious decision.
On streaming services, the album consists of 21 songs. Every B-side is labelled as such, and the songs are separated into 10 discs as they would be in vinyl form. It includes a few fan favourites previously not available on streaming services “Hawaii,” covers “Clampdown,” and the demo “I’ll Try Anything Once,” the touching, stripped-down version of one of their best singles. Alongside these are home recordings that are dream-like in their evocation of the past but incredibly real for their lack of polish, and Rough Trade versions that invert singles with Julian Casablancas’ trademark careless adlibs tossed in. The bulk of the album is the band’s popular earliest songs, leading one to wonder if the album is as stuck in the 2000s as the website is.
When these songs were at the height of their popularity, they existed as CDs, but The Singles is not even available in CD format. In this way, the album seems to hammer in the proverbial nail in the coffin of CDs, MP3 players and iPods as a music medium. At the same time, it embraces the forms of listening to music before streaming services became the norm. The careful separation of discs and heedless album length makes it impossible to forget how these songs were originally listened to compared to now. It begs the question, are the Strokes really stuck in the 2000s? Or is their music more relevant than ever?
Riotous, reckless and relatable, the Strokes inspired a generation of future musicians and disillusioned youth. They had gritty songs of noble and self-important pessimism “I Can’t Win” or biting and abrasive fire “Juicebox”. They launched themselves into fame with incandescent indie rock and dipped their toes into electronica and new wave. They were hailed as free, wild-haired and skinny jean-clad emblems of New York, and New York was always alive in their lyrics even when they were disparaging it. “New York City Cops,” taken off their debut album post 9/11 for its refrain of “New York City cops, they ain’t too smart,” became known as an anti-establishment anthem. The Strokes performed it in front of cops at a rally for Bernie Sanders in 2020, indicating its continued importance.
The band never had one big hit. Rather, they had one big record, Is This It, one of the most prized rock records in history. Nineteen years later The New Abnormal arrived, the title of which perfectly describes the year 2020. The New Abnormal, containing poignant and 80s-inspired songs that reminisce on the past, was a critical success.
Once again, the Strokes catapulted into a music scene rocked by worldwide disaster. Just like Is This It reverberated inside the minds of a lost generation in 2001, The New Abnormal, continuing to contain brilliant social commentary, was a balm to a nostalgic and adrift generation in 2020 who were all wondering: Is this it, the new abnormal?
The continued release of music by the Strokes challenges that lyric. This isn’t it, and maybe the Strokes were right instead when they sang “the end has no end.” Their place in music is not gone yet, and their music is not only viewed with the question of whether it eclipses the glory of Is This It.
Over two decades later, their legacy is a nod to nostalgia and a determination to move forward. The Singles — Volume 01 is a reconciliation of past and present. It calls back to the oldest and greatest hits of the Strokes, but its existence on a streaming service proves the band’s existence in a changing world. The title itself suggests a later second volume to The Singles including singles from The New Abnormal and promises to keep the memory and future of the Strokes alive.