A strong start. That's all we're really looking for in a band, right? A solid, strong start. This time on the TMS Listening Party we will be sharing some of our all-tim favorite debut albums. This list runs the gambit, but is in no means meant to be a definitive list. Let us know what we missed. Seriously. We want to know. -DW
Biggins didn’t realize it was gone for about a week or so. When he did, he knew I stole it. To plead my innocence (while not totally lying), Shane took it off my hands. After that, it got passed around — or stolen among friends — again and again. And truthfully, it never crossed my path again.
But I really wish it had. The item in question is a t-shirt. Sadly, I’m not sure if Biggins ever got it back.
In retrospect, it was in poor taste to steal that shirt. Not because we all didn’t love giving Biggins a hard time, like when Dylan and I kept putting hot sauce in his water at El Camino, or that time Joe put salsa in his hat, or when Shane stole his new Christmas underwear and put them on over his pants and proceeded to wear them in front of everybody for about an hour before Biggins noticed. All hilarious. Stealing the shirt was just as hilarious (and arguably more rewarding), but was indeed in poor taste.
Why? Because Biggins was the one who introduce me to what became my favorite modern band for at least a decade: The Strokes. And that shirt I stole… was his Strokes shirt.
In 2001, sometime before the shirt heist, we all found ourselves at my (parent’s) place. Like all the cool high school kids we had CD players with thick CD binders. Among the CDs that Biggins had that day was The Stroke’s debut album Is This It.
I slipped on the shitty headphones and pressed play. The first track of the first album.
It started with 4 seconds of silence — as if The Strokes knew they had something special, and gave the listener a brief moment to brace themselves in anticipation.
At 4 seconds in, the first verse starts. Simple drums, then a guitar riff and vocals come in simultaneously. Just three elements. Then the 2nd guitar strums in for the chorus.
The lyrics are cool. The tune is catchy. The instruments are basic. The arrangements are simple. The melodies are interesting, and somehow in less than a minute, I’m completely drawn in. Guitar 1 is doing something different from guitar 2 is doing something different from the vocals all being held up by the drums. All working together in harmony.
Then at 0:53 seconds, the bass comes in...
As a young musician (and a bass player at the time), the bass line of the first track of the first album by The Strokes changed how I listen to, analyze, seek, and make music.
When it kicked in, it was like my ears fully opened. My eyes dilated. I sat up a little straighter. My head tilted a little the way a dog’s head does sometimes.
Suddenly, with the simple addition of a bass line, the song got exponentially more interesting. It was melodic and unique. It was not at all what I expected to hear.
The opening track of Is This It is called Is This It. Thankfully, that wasn’t it. The rest of the album, simple rock song after simple rock song, had me fully engaged. I found myself studying each part, trying to dissect how the instruments worked so seamlessly together while seeming to have a voice of their own.
The entire album was peppered with stellar tracks. Track 5, Someday, is one of my all time favorite songs. Particularly the lines “I’m working so I won’t have to try so hard, tables they turn sometimes. I ain’t wasting no more time” (the first 1/3 becoming somewhat of a mantra of mine).
Each song somehow revealed new ways of layering 2 guitars, a bass, vocals and drums. Each song was, and still is, great.
To date, The Strokes have slowly released 4 more records. I love them all. But as bands do, they started broadening their musical tastes and exploring different techniques. The motif that still holds their catalogue of music together is the cohesion of instrumentation. Each playing distinct parts yet melding together to create a solid song that’s both simple and complex.
Through their evolution, I still find myself coming back to Is This It on a regular basis.
Back in 2001, I had the decency not to steal that CD from Biggins, though I was insistent on borrowing it for a very, very long time.
(Actually, no, I think I did steal it).
Greg Beck is an artist, designer and do-gooder from Toledo, OH who currently lives in NYC but is planning on moving to Mars. You can follow him on Twitter.