Acoustic Sounds
The Strokes 'The Singles Volume 1' 7" vinyl box set
By: Tracking Angle

September 28th, 2023



The Strokes’ Legacy Project

With recent vinyl reissues, The Last Great Rock Band becomes a legacy act

As The Strokes' frontman Julian Casablancas goes through his mid-life crisis, a new 7” box set of the group’s first 10 singles and a lavish reissue of its 2001 debut LP Is This It hits the market. Legacy acts are the backbone of the music industry: the longer a band (or an artist) maintains its success, the wider the demographic it reaches. When the original fans get older, they’re better able to pay for more expensive concert tickets and a steady stream of deluxe reissues. And though 2020’s The New Abnormal made The Strokes relevant again in the present, The Last Great Rock Band is nonetheless entering its legacy phase.

These releases evidently target aging millennials finally settling down and waxing nostalgic about their younger, wilder days. Yet for fans and observers of any age, it’s fascinating and somewhat bizarre watching such a great band—a band that still feels so new—actively become a legacy act “already,” even though the timeline makes logical sense. Tracking Angle takes a critical look at The Strokes’ legacy and cross-generational standing: Malachi Lui dives into the new Is This It reissue, while Michael Fremer assesses The Singles (06.25.2001-09.06.2006) - Volume 01 box set.

Vinyl Me, Please reissues Is This It; review by Malachi Lui

The Strokes 'Is This It' Vinyl Me, Please reissueDon’t you miss rock ’n’ roll?

Don’t you miss bands, the ones that unequivocally define a time and place and style? Bands, with frontmen or frontwomen who can be at the top of pop culture and still completely not give a fuck? Great rock bands—at least as we’ve been told—feel like something more than just people with guitars, something at which you project greater importance.

That’s why the last wave of guitar bands, the post-punk revival scene in post-Brexit South London, didn’t feel like a return of historically defined rock ’n’ roll, because despite sonically checking all the boxes, it was pretentious nerd shit by and for people who think too much about everything. Timely, relatable, and necessary as it was, it wasn’t exactly reinvigorating, and the audience at a Black Midi show is either neurodivergent internet hipsters badly attempting to mosh, or post-punk or prog guys in their late 50s who spent too much time working in record shops. Not very rock ’n’ roll, right?

Okay, go back another few years and there’s The 1975 and Arctic Monkeys, but The 1975 isn’t really a rock band and AM makes lounge pop now. As far as their respective frontmen, Matty Healy does a very self-conscious act of traditional rock star gestures, tailored for the generation who never witnessed it before; Alex Turner’s had some iconic moments but just wants to be left alone now. Plus, Arctic Monkeys released their wildly successful first record in 2006—any past generation of young people would consider that ancient and antiquated.

This leaves us with The Strokes as The Last Great Rock Band that emerged from The Last Great Rock Scene of early 2000s New York City. The Strokes weren’t the only major band from that era, but they were the first to break through, the biggest, and really, the best. Not to mention that Julian Casablancas was the definition of cool in a way rock hasn’t seen since, though by insider accounts he’s a rather insular guy often skeptical of his abilities.

While millennials rightly claim The Strokes as “their” band, Gen Z loves them too, to the point that the narrative has greatly shifted: millennials who watched in real time maintain that they sorely lost the plot after 2003’s sophomore LP Room On Fire, while zoomers are statistically more likely to listen to the subdued “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” from 2013’s Comedown Machine, than “New York City Cops” or “Soma.” (Comedown Machine’s slick grooves are too addictive to warrant such a mediocre critical reputation. Angles is The Strokes’ only real clunker, but it’s got worthy moments.) Even the older fans indulge in some revisionist history, saying that Room On Firecriticized upon release for sounding too much like the first record—is just as good, if not slightly better than that first record, Is This It. I’d say Room On Fire truthers are just as valid as flat-Earthers. Interpret that according to your beliefs.

As it stands now, late 2000s Philadelphia emo was the last important, geographically concentrated American rock movement, but the early 00s NYC garage rock and post-punk revival was the last one major and interesting enough to be canonized, as it was in Lizzy Goodman’s 600-page book Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. Essential and thrilling reading for anyone with even a passing interest in rock history, with more information than you’d ever want to know about The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and others. Of course, the internet ensures that nothing like it will ever happen again, no matter how hard certain individuals try.

The Strokes—frontman Casablancas, guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti—met through private schools at various times growing up, though solidified as a group when Hammond moved to New York in the late 90s. While Casablancas’ father John ran Elite Modeling Agency and Hammond’s father Albert Sr. was also a musician, The Strokes weren’t exactly nepo babies. Their connections helped a bit—Albert Sr. paid credit card bills for the band’s gear just as his own father did for him, and Julian convinced models at Elite to attend the band’s early shows and generate intrigue—but they ruthlessly promoted themselves, Julian being particularly savvy. After the band confronted him three or four times, Ryan Gentles, booker at The Mercury Lounge, agreed to manage them. Filling up the 250-capacity Mercury was their goal, and Gentles was a peer rather than the older, more established managers which they’d rejected. In Goodman’s book, Gentles recounts:

“I really wanted to help them, so I started sending [the three-song The Modern Age] EP around. I said, ‘Give me fifty copies.’ They didn’t. They gave me one. So I made fifty copies at the Mercury Lounge and started sending them out. The phone started ringing. ‘Who’s this band you sent me?’ I knew I liked them, but I had no idea anyone else would give a fuck.”

Soon, Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis signed them in the UK after another booker at the Mercury Lounge played him 10 seconds of the EP over the phone. Travis brought The Strokes to England, all expenses paid, and The Modern Age EP took off fast. The ever-generous NME was particularly smitten: at the end of the band’s first NME cover story in June 2001, then-deputy editor James Oldham boldly proclaimed, “A band like The Strokes only comes along once in a lifetime. You should be grateful that they’ve come along in yours.” At a time when rap rock dominated the mainstream, major labels competed to get The Strokes. Gentles landed them a deal with RCA on the condition that the band owned the first record.

That first record was Is This It (no question mark for stylistic purpose), recorded with producer Gordon Raphael at his Transporterraum basement studio in the East Village. The studio had Pro Tools, though the recording was primitively miked and mixed mostly in real time. Casablancas sang through a Peavey practice amp, and Raphael’s sonic approach was to turn knobs until everyone was happy.

Like the sound, the music is back-to-basics, primitive rock and roll that revitalized the genre just as 1970s NYC punk acted against indulgent arena prog. Casablancas’ lyrics portrayed him as both participant and observer coming of age in turn-of-the-century New York, honest and unpretentious. The music is similarly unvarnished yet incredibly tight. People thought they sounded like Television, but really their favorite bands were The Velvet Underground and Guided By Voices (Albert Hammond Jr. said, “I hadn’t even heard of Television… I just knew ‘Oh, yeah, that guy Verlaine or whatever’”). Hammond and Nick Valensi’s dueling guitars are perfectly interlocked, Nikolai Fraiture’s bass playing doesn’t quite get the credit it deserves for being such a strong foundation, and Fab Moretti sounds like a drum machine, partly thanks to Raphael’s compressors but mostly because of how precise he is. None of it’s designed to be impressive in a traditionally “professional” or “produced” way, but the record—especially songs like “Soma” and “Last Nite”—knocks you over with its sheer energy.

There isn’t a bad song on Is This It, except for perhaps “When It Started,” track nine on the American CD edition and the B-side to the “Last Nite” single. The album originally included the bombastic “New York City Cops” (“New York City cops, but they ain’t too smart”), and by the time 9/11 happened, the album was out on CD internationally and on vinyl in the States. Unfortunately, someone working with retail emailed then-RCA product manager Dave Gottlieb complaining about the song’s “insensitivity” as the towers fell, so RCA delayed the CD another two weeks to replace it with the certainly inferior “When It Started.”

Another difference between the domestic and international editions is the cover art. The international editions feature the black and white “ass shot” taken by Colin Lane, while the American edition has a scientific photo that Julian Casablancas found later on. (“I found something even cooler than the ass picture,” Casablancas told Ryan Gentles when the international releases were already in production.) No matter which album cover or track nine you got, Is This It succeeded worldwide. Sure, it wasn’t a diamond-selling album getting pop airplay (these were the Napster/Limewire days too), but the youth of 2001 promptly cloned The Strokes’ leather jackets and skinny jeans en masse. Is This It paved the way for other talented peers to get signed, and also spawned hundreds of mediocre bands everywhere, to the point where the UK was swamped with a half dozen new “landfill indie” bands each week for about five years.

While Is This It sounds aesthetically lo-fi, I now have five different vinyl pressings which all sound completely different: the UK Rough Trade original cut by Ray Janos at Sterling Sound (from Greg Calbi’s digital master) and pressed at MPO, a later US pressing done at United with side A cut at Nashville Record Productions and side B cut at Welcome To 1979, the recent Sony EU reissue pressed at Record Industry from the Music On Vinyl plates on 140g instead of 180g vinyl, another standard US pressing cut by Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling, and this new Vinyl Me, Please reissue cut at Sterling from “remastered audio” by Ryan Smith. I basically have every important Is This It pressing except the RCA European original. VMP did a spectacular job with their definitive Room On Fire reissue in their Essentials subscription “track,” so The Strokes asked them to do Is This It as well. It’s finally released as the inaugural title in VMP’s new Rock track, and is the first Is This It vinyl pressing with “New York City Cops” and “When It Started.”

The NRP cut is opaque in the bass and midrange and glassy on top, and the Welcome To 1979 cut is too bright with little bass or textural nuance (sound rating for both: 6/10). Fab’s kick drum doesn’t have the thwack found on other pressings, Julian’s distorted vocals are harder to make out, and the guitars sound grainier and harsher. Passable if you find a reasonably centered copy (that’s the challenging part) for $15 or less, but don’t seek it out. The Sony EU/MOV cut at Record Industry is very “audiophile”: smooth midrange, softer on top, wide soundstage, and quiet vinyl. Bass is there but it’s not as detailed and the lower midrange somewhat lacks weight. Not bad at all—recommended for the price—though not to everyone’s taste. I appreciate it enough to keep it but it doesn’t get much play. (Sound rating for MOV cut: 8/10.)

Now there's three Sterling cuts to compare, and the differences are major. Ray Janos’ original cut, pressed at MPO in France for the UK copies and at United for the American original, is appropriately in-your-face. When Julian shouts at the beginning of “New York City Cops,” he’s right there. The whole record jumps out of your speakers in a way that no CD or hi-res file ever will. (Sound rating: 9/10.) I found mine in VG+ condition for $50 at a usually overpriced Portland record shop who thought it was a standard import copy. It’s worth closer to $150. At one point I had a second UK original with sticker damage on the cover, but it sounded a bit cloudier so I sold it. The one I kept must be a “hot stamper” worth $500 or more, if you’re Tom Port or one of his loyal customers who believes in that. A Janos-cut US original should also be good if it’s pressed okay, even if the UK is likely better.

Joe Nino-Hernes’ recent cut, right now the standard US pressing (probably manufactured at United, which is trying to improve), is passable but not really anything special. I’m not sure if he was supplied a subpar source, or if United messed up the plating or if it’s one of his rare misses. It’s competent enough but kind of thick and dull; nothing sticks out as bad, it’s just not a particularly engaging listen. (Sound rating: 7/10.)

Until VMP’s new Ryan Smith cut, pressed at GZ on clear vinyl with blue and orange splatters, the Rough Trade original was by far the best Is This It. This reissue is on par with the original, though not exactly better or worse. Its perspective is more “grown up” and reserved, though image stability is significantly improved as is bass texture, instrument separation, overall contrast, and top end transparency. (Sound rating: 9/10.) I love the original’s immediacy, but the more I listen to Smith’s cut the more I prefer it. It’s better in every technical aspect yet doesn’t lose the originally intended character. Your preference between Janos’ “they are here” original cut and Smith’s “you are there” reissue might vary, though this new VMP reissue is a no-brainer purchase for those unable or unwilling to shell out for the original. If $46-ish for the VMP is too much, then the EU pressing from the MOV metal parts is the second best in-print edition. You can’t go wrong with either of those reissues or the UK original, all of which are much better than the dynamically similar yet less exciting or texturally satisfying CD master.

VMP’s inclusion of “When It Started” might be jarring for those of us accustomed to the original vinyl/international tracklist, but I’ve gotten used to it. The clear with orange and blue splatter 180g pressing is flat and very quiet, with only a few light ticks. Note that the foil-stamped tip-on gatefold jacket has the American cover, because VMP is an American company and the band prefers that cover over the black and white “ass shot.” There’s also a liner notes booklet written by Erica Campbell, with enough context for novices but no insight for existing fans. Nonetheless, this reissue gets my highest recommendation.

Sony/Legacy’s The Singles - Volume 01 10x7" box set; review by Michael Fremer

The Strokes 'The Singles Volume 01'Danny & The Juniors were wrong. Rock ’n’ roll is not here to stay, and it will die. It’s been on life support for years, though defining precisely what is and what is not rock ’n’ roll can be difficult. Danny & The Juniors, or more precisely David Ernest White, who wrote the song and formed the doo wop quartet, was correct though, when he predicted in the song that “it’ll go down in history.”

In the 21st century, adding anything truly new to the genre’s rich legacy has proven to be difficult, but younger generations still embrace 60s acts like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and most importantly and perhaps improbably, The Velvet Underground—a band that was not at all popular during their active years, but who incite imaginations from Gen X to millenials to Gen Z.

If you were a sheltered white kid growing up with rock’n’roll in a newly built post-WWII suburb,  but remember musical times pre- Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley and the others, you probably thought them all the result of spontaneous musical combustion only later to discover Louis Jordan, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Muddy Waters, and all the R&B greats whose recordings preceded and led to what was later called rock ’n’ roll. It was kind of like learning that Columbus didn’t “discover America.”

From these 50s era beginnings, new, never before heard forms like “surf music” evolved. Hearing in 1960 The Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” was new and transformative, though the song had been written six years earlier by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith and covered a few years later in a totally different style by Chet Atkins. It was new to 45rpm single-buying kids.

There was an era of hyphenated or “specified” rock that included folk rock, swamp rock, glam rock, punk rock, goth rock, krautrock, etc. but these were clearly variants of understood forms and thus had less of a transformative impact. You might argue that heavy metal, which evolved in the late 60s, was so unique it couldn’t be proverbially hyphenated, but it too was an understood variant.

Grunge reinvigorated rock in the 90s, but it too was part nostalgia to Baby Boomer listeners who nonetheless welcomed its emergence—at least it was guitar driven rock that tore the place up. Each successive generation of rock regurgitators like Greta Van Fleet, Royal Blood, The Black Keys—and to a lesser degree, The White Stripes—added less that was startling and new even though it was welcomed because it at least kept the genre afloat. 

And then there is The Strokes. A cynic could say given the genre’s age and the VU-derivative sound, the band’s name might as appropriately refer to a vascular occlusion in the brain as to sex. But these were kids trying to appeal to the rock dreams of other kids and they surely did! In 2001, when the group released on Rough Trade Records its debut EP The Modern Age, it caught the attention of rock fans, the media, and record labels; a couple of majors might’ve offered more cash, but the band most preferred RCA’s terms.

Regardless, the first album—the first three albums, really—were consistently excellent examples of concise, intelligently-framed guitar-based rock that even the most hardened “I was there when it was invented” cynical Boomer can appreciate. Whether or not the oldsters are into getting up every two minutes to turn over or change the record, as you must with this box set of The Strokes’ first 10 7” singles, is another story. As I like to tell them at events when they complain about double 45rpm LP releases, “It’s good for most of you to get up!” I saw a review that said the digital version is the way to go but if you want to get your kids into this band, get the vinyl version.

The Singles (06.25.2001-09.06.2006) - Volume 01 box set (with standard, not jukebox-compatible spindle holes) culled from the group’s first three albums (2001’s Is This It, 2003’s Room on Fire, and 2005’s First Impressions of Earth) and associated B-sides begins with the Rough Trade versions of “The Modern Age” and “Last Nite”, both re-recorded for Is This It. Another single includes the later album recording of “Last Nite.” Given the rarity of the original Rough Trade “The Modern Age” UK single, that alone should entice hardcore fans. But there’s more for them and for completists including “When It Started,” not to mention home recordings of “Alone Together,” “Is This It,” and “The Way It Is.” The single for “The End Has No End” also features a spirited live cover of The Clash’s “Clampdown,” recorded December 2003 at Alexandra Palace in London.

The sound quality, in a conventional sense, takes a profound step up by the final single “You Only Live Once”/”Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”—yes, a cover of that one—which for the sound-conscious might be a good place to start. It’s clean, loud, and properly compressed yet immediate and in its own way a sonic treat. Howie Weinberg, “Mr. Loud” in my book, digitally mastered “You Only Live Once.” Bob Ludwig mastered the “Mercy Mercy Me” cover on which Eddie Vedder handles the Marvin Gaye role and it’s also a load of musical and sonic fun.

The original singles artwork is consistently eye-catching and excellent and adds to the set’s value as does the “get up stand up” physical exertion!

I was listening in the car the other day to Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius/XM radio and he lectured on the emergence of the 45rpm single and how it changed kids’ lives in the 1950s. He also rapped about “pure analog” (which none of The Strokes box set is) and how most kids would never get to hear it, and he went on about how singles were meant to be loud. These singles cut by Daniel Krieger at SST in Germany are not polite. They are appropriately loud and in that way authentic and enjoyable.


  • 2023-09-28 08:46:05 PM

    Anton wrote:

    If these babies are getting the audiophile treatment, it will raise the quality to low fi!

    I say that as a dedicated Strokes fan.

  • 2023-10-03 05:36:36 PM

    Rashers wrote:

    Enjoyable reviews - I found that Amazon Germany are selling the singles for €86 - it would be bad manners not to buy. I always hated both covers of "Is This It" - but really - the original cover is the original. If you buy the current European release - you get the "Ass Cover" - I presume this is the one with the MOV plates? There is also a 2015 European (Ass) version that seems to be the same as the Greg Calbi 2009 cut - did you get a chance to listen to it?

    • 2023-10-03 08:03:48 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      yes, the current european release with the 'ass cover' is what i referred to as the one using the MOV plates.

      greg calbi hasn't cut lacquers in a very long time. the 2015 rough trade EU pressing you refer to is an in-house cut at optimal, from the same 2001 greg calbi digital master that every pressing except the VMP is cut from. i haven't heard the 2015, but i'd expect it to be better than the later US pressings, maybe on par with or slightly inferior to the MOV cut.