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Stereogum presents Stroked: A tribute to Is This It

[Stereogum; 2011]

By ; July 29, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The Strokes’ debut album Is This It is now widely regarded as a classic, and several hyperbolic claims were made about the album when it made the top 10 on practically every Best Of The Decade list. If those claims are to be believed, Is This It in 2001 brought guitar music out of its late-90s-early-2000s slump and paved the way for the current glut of what is generally called “indie.” All of the artists on Steregoum’s Stroked have risen to prominence in the ten years since its release, and some only in the last few years. The thing that makes Stroked an interesting album, though, is that none of these artists could really be said to fall directly in line with The Strokes’ vogue indie style, instead we have a hodge-podge of what’s popular in 2011, reinterpreting music from 2001, which, in the internet-age, seems like a lifetime ago.

Although all of the artists here put their own stamp on their songs, there are some who remain closer to the originals than others. Peter Bjorn and John’s “Is This It” makes that classic opening string of notes twangier, which complements Peter Morén’s vocals that trade in Julian Casablancas’ lackadaisical originals for an uptight one. Real Estate’s take-on “Barely Legal,” and in their airy, dreamy style it seems more like an updated version for the 2010s than a cover, which is a great thing. Amongst the others sticking with the guitar approach is Chelsea Wolfe, but her version is so clouded in gloom that listening to it, you struggle to remember how the original sounded at all, and when the song ends and you come out of that cloud, you forget quite what you just experienced. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Deradoorian’s atmospheric-reggae take on “Trying Your Luck,” which is easy listening and a breath of fresh air.

A lot of the acts here have attempted to turn the songs into bedroom-electronics-style versions, but none of them really work. Wiseblood’s “Someday” is built around crunchy automated beats and incorporates vocal samples, but both elements befuddle the track and the lyrics – probably the strongest of any song on the album – are lost. Austra uses their Feel It Break-formula on “Alone, Together,” but a lack of progression in the synth lines, and a sub-par vocal input from Katie Stelmanis (by her standards) don’t do the song justice. The Morning Benders take-on the big one, “Last Night,” and turn it into a limp chill-wave kind of interpretation. Perhaps it’s more of a disappointment because they decided to avoid re-interpreting it in the baroque-pop style they are known for, which could have been amazing. Of the electronic-infused acts, it’s newcomers Computer Magic who do by far the best job on closing track “Take It Or Leave It,” perhaps knowing that this will garner them some great exposure and taking the time to put in the extra effort. Layering several erratic lines of blips and keyboards to mirror the original’s frantic pace, and using compressed effect on Danielle Johnson’s voice, the song is essentially just a fresher-sounding version of the original.

Of course this review can’t omit mentioning two of the other great successes. Owen Pallett’s piano-and-violin reimagining of “Hard To Explain” is undeniably beautiful, something that the following track certainly isn’t. Heems of Das Racist takes on “New York City Cops,” but the similarities to the original are passing at best. Atop a grimey beat Heems references Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and Anthony Baez (amongst countless other things) in his quest to explain why he hates New York City Cops, all with his trademark humour.

Stroked, as all of these tribute albums are, is a pick and mix of styles, and has roughly equal amounts successful and unsuccessful contributions. Taking all of the songs into account, Stroked serves less as a reminder of a great album from a decade ago, and more as an advertisement for all the different styles of music in today’s musical climate.


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