During the early aughts, a groundswell of garage based, mostly indie rock came bubbling up after the death of new metal. Bands like the Hives, White Stripes, and maybe most notably, the Strokes helped to usher in a new age of rock n roll. Hailing from NYC, the capital of American attitude, the five piece consisting of Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, and Fabrizio Moretti on drums released an album that was defined by its devil may care logic in quick, punctuated music that touched on issue of being reasonable, lost in thought, and more notably, fun times spent laughing about the memories, good and bad. I haven’t done one of these “Albums of My Life” in awhile so I thought it would be great to discuss one of the overall best albums of the last 20 years, without a doubt. Here are my thoughts on the Seminal album by the Strokes, “Is This It?” I hope you enjoy it.
At 35 minutes, this album is quite short, but what it lacks in duration is quickly forgotten because nearly every song is a classic anthem and perfectly exemplifies everything that was amazing about the early indie movement. The opening title track starts with a mild electronic beat before becoming a very evenly paced instrumentation section. It’s only made better by the slow murmurings of singer Casablancas. Much has been made of the bands seemingly lax relationship with how normal bands do things, but from the start they made that known, and have basically stuck to their guns in the following two decades.
Musically, the opening is a nice teaser for a more immediate next track “Modern Age.” It’s easily one of my favorite songs the band has ever recorded, the guitar part is contagious, and the song takes off like a coaster on Coney Island. It’s one of the more fun energetic tracks on the album, and overall is a masterpiece. It’s powerful, defensive and ready for attack. I think that’s what I like about it most.
Many of the songs on this album stay with you for way longer than they maybe should. Much of what was released during those years of the garage rock revival has been forgotten, like any fading genre, but this record always seems to get classier with age. As the album progress, we get a solid round or so of songs that would end up helping the band become such a well known act. “Someday” is filled with this sense of longing and regret, which I think is still relevant of the times. The lyrical content is used from points of frustration and apathy, but also of redemption and finding the strength to be the best person you can.
Following that we get the massive hit “Last Nite,” the song that was the first big break the band got on radio and (even then) music videos on MTV. I think the song is good but not the best in their arsenal. Having said that, it’s hard to be as great as you can be when the next track “Hard to Explain” blows everything out of the water. It’s a fast paced but beautiful song of remembrance. I have a friend who was going through a difficult time, with a lady, and he described to me the freedom of flying down the interstate on New Year’s Eve, blasting this song and being freed of all the burdens of the last year and the Strokes played it, seemingly just for him in that moment. It’s stuff like that that always stays with me. It’s the power of music, and while this album has many high points, “Hard to Explain” is not only the best track on the album, but more than likely the band’s best overall song. I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading
For years i thought TV on the Radio was going to be the next huge alternative rock band, like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and the others. That didn’t happen, and in recent years the band is virtually nowhere to be found. They've gotten plenty of critical acclaim, but never quite got to the place that earlier albums seem destined for. Each album has seen the band grow in not only the musical sense, but also grow from difficult experiences, death, depression, and use all of that to become one of the most interesting, thought provoking bands I've ever heard. In preparation for the band's upcoming album, today we're talking about the top ten songs from the explosive TV on the Radio.
10 DIRTYWHIRL: RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN
The slow chatter of a tambourine starts us off, while vocalist Tunde Adebimpe gradually opens up to expose us to his sultry and prominent voice. I like the song because among all of the awesome songs on Cookie Mountain, it's one of the better examples of a mid tempo jam. It also reminds me of a glorious autumn day while you sit outside and enjoy the weather. The background vocals are also well used. You might think that mousey sounding vocals might be a little bit much, but for some reason here it works.
9 LOVE DOG: DEAR SCIENCE
Such a lovely song. When this album first came out, this was easily the most played track for me. I love the slow, hazy opening. For some reason, so much of this band reminds me of a lazy sunday. When listening to it, you can't help but imagine a sweet puppy dog crying out for nurturing and love. I'm sure that that's not what the actual song is about, but as a father to badass animals, my mind is often on my babies. Getting back to the song though, it very well might be a song about the complexities of human relationships, and the story here is about a relationship winding down. TV on the Radio, as a band tend to be a little metaphorical in the themes of their songs, and the symbolism they often use brings the listener to a sort of vague understanding of what the song is trying to convey. This isn't a bad thing at all. Oftentimes, you don't need exact meanings in songs to feel empowered by them. You just need the music and tone of the piece.
8 DLZ: DEAR SCIENCE
Everything about this song is made for a late night chill dance party. The beats open up, and before you know it bodies are swaying together in gorgeous unison. I also love the opening line of “Congratulations on the mess you made of things.” The band was heavily anti- Bush during his presidency, and knowing that, it's very easy to see this song as a critique and criticism of not just his administration, but also of the whole political system. The song continues to have a great flow to it, and at times it feels like the musicians are trying to keep up with the urgent pace of the vocals. Dave Sitek on drums also gives more weight and tension to the situation. One of the better songs on this album, “DLZ” really helps to tie the themes and emotion into a nice arrangement before the conclusion of the album finds us.
7 CAREFUL YOU: SEEDS
When you listen to a song produced by band member Dave Sitek, you should always expect some fragmentation and abstract form of mixing. “Seeds” is no exception. Musically and rhythmically the track is dance house subtle, with Tunde’s voice keeping a measured course of vocal as the bass erupts over your speakers. I still don’t know what the French phrases are, but the regret surrounding it is clear. The lyrics speak to the frustration and complexity of caring about others, and the bridges that can be made or unmade by our reckless, carelessness when it comes to other humans and how we perforce them and vice versa.
6 KILLER CRANE: NINE TYPES OF LIGHT
Here we start getting to some real emotion. This song, or at least the opening, always makes me think of the last scene in Jurassic Park where Sam Neil is watching the pelicans soar through the air. The track itself, though, is very clean and beautiful. It's one of the best songs on the highly overlooked “Nine Types of Light” record. Among positive songs, this one is at the very top. It's full of hopefulness, and the themes speak of understanding, patience, and the ability to move away from the sad events that deter our lives. It also should be mentioned this was the last album recorded with Gerard Smith, who unfortunately passed away from lung cancer. Details about how long he was sick prior to passing are vague, but it's easy to hear the somber tone of their life in the tracks on the album. However, the song remains remarkably poignant, and the visuals painted in the lyrics are some of the best of the band's entire career. R.I.P. Gerard Smith.
5 STARING AT THE SUN: DESPERATE YOUTHS,
Likely the first song many heard by this band, and after more than a decade of having this song around, it's still a really great track. The simmering intensity never rises like you thinking would, but that’s part of the excitement at not getting what you’re expecting. Upon first listen, you might think that the song will eventually pick up, but it doesn't. The lyrics are pretty tight too, and it's here where you get a brief taste of what this band is capable of. One of my favorite parts of this group is the use of metaphors and symbolism in lyrics. “Know the trees because the dirt is temporary” has and continues to be one of my favorite lines in any of the band's work.
4. PROVINCE: RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN
Finally, we find ourselves at the David Bowie featured “Province.” For a long time I had no idea it was even Bowie. His voice has a way of being present and the listener not being aware that it's him. In this instance, his contribution really helps. If not for my wife, there's no way to know how long I would have been ignorant to this presence here. Having said that, even without him the song works. So Many of their songs are midtempo, but this one is purely triumphant and overjoyed. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but for me it's a song for celebrating life and victory. Preferably on a mountain at the top of the world. The background claps are a great but subtle touch as well. The band has so many layers and different things going on, that it's hard to not get swept up into sincerity and beauty.
3 FAMILY TREE: DEAR SCIENCE
After countless listens, this song feels less like deep love or more like deep thought or regret as the time flies by. It’s musical effect is still and poignant, and although you get the sense of love in the heart of the track, the shadows of the song are aware of the imminent danger of unknown passions and attitudes. It’s like a beautiful breakup that no one wanted but one that everyone knows is for the best. That type of thought is hidden in the messaging, and even as the track ends and we’re hopeful for celebrations, you never know what the future will hold, so protection of our loved ones, and of our “family trees” are essential to a full joyous journey through this thing we call life.
2 YOUNG LIARS: TV ON THE RADIO EP
This song has a weird, ominous vibe to it, but it still sounds exactly like the band we’ve come to expect. It's interesting that the track wasn't ever used on a full length album, because it's good enough, if not better than many of the still cool tracks on the full lengths. Another downbeat song that doesn't even reach an apex, “Young Liars” is song that doesn't make a lot of sense lyrically, but it's a cool ass track regardless. The interesting thing about this and though, is that they aren't really the same on albums as they are live. Live it's very emotional and bounce, and at all the shows I've seen them perform you're drawn to the upbeat dancing happening. They somehow find a way to make a relaxed downtempo album song into an upbeat, energetic live song, and while i'm not sure how they pull it off so flawlessly, I'm not complaining.
1 WOLF LIKE ME: RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN
Probably one of the best uses of a song I've ever seen in a tv show was during the firehouse drama “Rescue Me” where the episode closed with Dennis Leary's character sprinting down the street with this song noisily breaking barriers behind him. Beyond the usage in the show, it's an incredible song, and as you can see, my favorite by the band. For a band who does slower, more textured songs, this song is urgent, angry, and even more textured than the vast majority of their other works. It's a song full of dancing motives, and the lyrics are some of the most concise to date. It's not as subtle and metaphorical as other tracks, but here it really works. The song at once seems to be very much about transforming into a beast, and in a sense it is. The beast is probably not a werewolf though. I think the beast in the question is humanity's need to feed on the less capable, and how it's shaping our world to be a ruthless ugly place. Hopefully it's not too late, we can stop ourselves from “Howling Forever.”
In case you weren’t aware, last year was not the year anyone wanted, or planned for. It didn’t matter in the end that we all had plans, lives, and things we sought to accomplish. Regardless, billions of people found themselves stuck at home, with little more to do than an average day for the bums of the world. I bring this up, because during this quarantine time, as my wife and I called it from time to time, we found ourselves enveloping ourselves in a multitude of entertainment options, indulging in everything from new video games like Ori and Doom Eternal, hobbies like knitting, listening to records, and of course, reading.
Since I first started noticing books in my formative teenage years, I naturally gravitated towards Maine landmark Stephen King, whose “It,” I first read at the totally appropriate age of 13, leaving me with tons of nightmares I never mentioned to anyone. Had I done so I risked not being able to read more of this King Fella, or so my young mind thought at the time. Either way, since those years I've read over twenty of his novels, but we’re veering off point here, so I'll leave it at that.
All this comes back to me sitting at my new apartment, unsure of the state of the world. I found myself wanting to read King's masterpiece “The Stand,” which probably wasn’t the best option, given the circumstances, but I was already stuck in the house, so I dove in. Reading The Stand during this particular situation ultimately served as a more than welcome, ultra hyped up scenario, very much unlike the real life lethargy that was sweeping the world. I finished it in 6 days.
When you begin the book, the situation is dire, with millions at least having died from what's referred to as Captain Trips in the novel. It's more lethal than the Covid-19 strain, by far, but the anxiety of the uncertain remains very similar to the world stage in 2020. Work stopped, seeing friends stopped, you got calls here and there, but everyone was stagnant. Many in the Stand face similar situations in the opening pages of the book, which at 1200 ages is a behemoth to undertake. Granted, there wasn’t mass death and erracti violence and supernatural forces like what's described in the novel, but it was a very eerie, still time.
When we first meet the major characters of “The Stand,” you naturally gravitate towards Stu Redman, who’s down the line approach to life offers a mirror into the type of person who needs to work with everyone in order to survive. Now the book isn’t about Stu only, but through the course of this long journey, it's Stu who becomes one of the focal points of the book, trying to as swiftly and efficiently bring back some semblance of normal, or maybe a new normal, like what we’re going through now.
Now, in the real world, sides were already being drawn, chiefly among people who were pro masks and anti masks, with plenty of people choosing to ignore the evidence of their ears and eyes, much like another dystopian masterpiece, “1984.” That doesn’t really happen in the book, with everyone being very aware of the virus, but you can definitely see the differences among the two main groups in the book. Some were led by the elderly Mother Abigail, while the more unhinged types ultimately end up in Vegas, being casually manipulated by a figure known as Flagg, as well as many other things, in other worlds than this.
The book ends up taking on a life of its own, with both sides gradually trying to cement their own types of worlds. One side, the Colorado group, is seen purposely rebuilding their area in a way that's beneficial for all the residents, while the other side is more concerned with derailing the “opposing team's” goals through denial, violence, and plenty of fear mongering. Thank god this never happened in real life…
At first, at least for me, I viewed the dynamics between the groups as being the fight for good against evil, which it is in some context, but pigeonholing the characters like that creates an issue as your journey expands and continues through all the chaos. The crux, or the fact that the “bad” people aren’t inherently bad starts to wear on the reader as the muck and mire are showcased. Folks like Flagg, the main antagonist, are out for blood. Others like Trashcan Man, Nadine and Lloyd are all victims of their own circumstance. Every choice, event and action has led them there, whether they seeked it out or not.
As I briefly touched on, two of the most polarizing characters featured in terms of grey character morality, when I think about it, are Nadine Cross and Donald Elbert, also known as the Trashcan Man. The way King writes his characters, especially his so-called villains, shows the brilliance of the writer. When I met Cross in the book, I viewed her as a desperate figure looking for sanctuary and people needing help, while over time she morphs into a figure that you manage to despise while still feeling pretty crappy for her. Sure, her actions throughout might suggest a person angling for the benefit of evil, but she’s utterly confused as well. As Nadine’s journey to Vegas is documented, it becomes clear she's not the ring leader pulling the strings. Rather, she’s just a very important, albeit unstable piece of property of the ‘The Dark Man,” I at the very least felt bad for her, and as you experience her cruel, violent journey to Vegas, the feelings just get worse. She’s not a wonderful person, she’s just too weak to stand up for herself, until she finds her strength and meets her wanted end.
One of the many things I found myself struggling with was how I felt about some of the people In Flagg’s army. We meet Trash and it’s obvious he’s been pushed around his whole life. As a person who stutters and was bullied and consistently teased, it felt to me like very real trauma he was trying to work through. Perhaps it was the same with Nadine Cross. I’m not convinced that these people were always truly evil. Cross especially you can feel her excitement but also apprehension in what will eventually happen with Flagg. What ended up being awesome and ultimately justified was the way the characters themselves are changed as the story unfolds. The feeling of desperation through the book was also staggering to me.Even as I was stuck in the house dealing with numerous health concerns, “the Stand” still called to me, especially as we delved into the deep hearts of the multitude of characters presented here.
Really though, the character development is off the charts too. Trash, Lloyd, Glenn, and especially Nick Andros were all great characters on other sides of the pendulum. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad for a villain as I did Trash when he meets the Kid, which was fucking crazy in and of itself. I was on edge the whole time. You want him to kill the Kid so badly, but at least for me I kept trying to figure out a way for him to be safe, even though his being safe implies that the world is gonna burn.
Yet, the real world situation kept jumping out at me as I forced my stubborn path through this behemoth of a book. Going outside you were distant to strangers, scared of the invisible danger filling up our world, which brings us to the difficulty of finding something in a situation where everyone is afraid of everyone else.
This thought brings me to the segments of the book in the Boulder Safe Zone. Watching Stu, Frannie and the others try to get the world back off the ground was difficult, and you want it to work so badly, but you never know exactly what is gonna work and what won’t. The real life pressures helped bridge the gap for me in terms of what each camp was doing and how the stakes changed as the Stand evolved.
But even in the apocalypse, there are still romantic entanglements, moves and countermoves as parties navigated who to watch the world burn with. These moments in the book mirror what we were going through in a much more aggressive way, but that’s not to say that people didn’t get lonely during our covid lockdowns. I, as mentioned earlier, was inseparable from my wife for months, who was struggling with the pandemic and also Cancer. We were together, and fighting a very real battle, but many others had to go through it alone, with no loved ones or significant others to help them. In that way, we were appreciative of the bond shared during our months in the house.
I will admit though I was initially confused during some of the first half. I’ve seen the old Miniseries a few times and never even knew Rita was an entire separate character in the book. That ended up being way more interesting to me, if only because you get to see Larry really struggling with new reality. He’s a deeply conflicted character and not initially the all around great guy he becomes throughout the book.
In short, this was probably the 18 or King book I’ve read, and it quickly became not only my favorite King book, but one of the best I’ve ever read in my life. Absolutely beautiful and catastrophic in equal parts. It’s incredible and makes me love King the Man even more. I’ve read that great writers read constantly and get new ideas and this has been the same for me. I’ve been writing more and more of my own novel, picking little things up as I go. It’s both a privilege and a teaching lesson to read his books and figure out how to be a better writer. I can’t wait to see how this changes my approach years down the line. Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you enjoyed this!
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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