Is This It?

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Some argue that rock is dead. If so, then explain the buzz surrounding a certain rock band from New York, which has, in recent months, reached deafening levels. With only a couple EPs and some championing from the English press, the question on every boy’s and girl’s lips the world over is: “So, you heard the Strokes yet?”

Some others might still respond cynically by pointing out that the Strokes are essentially rich kids — now richer thanks to a multimillion-dollar contract — making derivative garage music and fueled by big-business PR.

True, but however you look at it, rock music at its very best — when it embodies all the reckless ambiguities, emotions and dangers of youth — is one of the few things that can actually bring young people together.

Which is what makes the Strokes the most important band to emerge from the United States since Nirvana, giving voice to an always cynical generation with some much-needed immediacy, timeliness and punch. Julian Casablancas’ vocals — distorted, vaguely sleepy and alternating between croons and screams — sit atop the band’s two-guitar, punchy garage-punk. With sly nods to the Stooges, Velvet Underground and the Ramones, the Strokes’ 4 a.m. streetwalking attitude is a huge contrast to today’s mainstream saccharine pap and prefabricated angst.

While the Strokes are obviously not the first “retro”-inspired garage act emerging from the U.S. underground, Is This It? distinguishes itself through the band’s songs — each of the 11 tracks a tight, dynamic and infectiously hooky gem — and a clear dedication to endless rehearsal.

Which shows that for once a band really gets what rock music is about, not just attitude and looks (which, mind you, the Strokes do have), but an insane dedication to be the best band on the planet.

To steal a Stone Roses quote, the Strokes are five guys taking on the world with the world’s approval. Is This It? is the first great debut of the 21st century and, like it or not, the Strokes are already well on their way.

E-mail Aaron Warshaw at [email protected].

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