The Strokes

Is This It (RCA)

Over the past year, the Strokes have fueled both a flaming grease-fire of hype and a wet-blanket backlash -- without even a proper full-length. After the band released its spring debut EP, This Modern Age, the barely booze-legal boys received a two-page spread in the U.K. culture rag The Face.Subsequent tours supporting Guided by Voices and the Doves increased the Strokes' profile, leading to ink in Details, the London Evening Standard, and the Village Voice. Rolling Stonecalled the group "New York City's best young rock band," and New Musical Express wouldn't let a day pass without kissing the group's ass online.

Any new act with such a tall stack of press clippings and a short stack of material is begging for culture vultures to swoop in and claw its shiny hype balloon; already, the anti-Strokes contingent has drawn blood in the New York Pressand on In the end, though, the quartet will be judged on albums like Is This It (set for release Sept. 25), rather than on its press kit.

After such a buildup, Is This It is a bit of a letdown, featuring songs that don't grab you by the collar or deck you with drama. Instead, the Strokes try for a subtler sound, with cool swagger woven into leather-jacket jangle pop. Set squarely between the arty pretensions and sparse arrangements of bands such as the Velvet Underground and Television, the Strokes busily mine their hometown's musical history. Frontman Julian Casablancas embodies a reckless and heavily medicated Lou Reed, tossing out lyrics like they've come to him at the last minute. He shifts effortlessly from ambivalent to possessive tones -- trading off between playing ultra-jaded and burning for you to spend the night. Musically, the Strokes have less fear of commitment. Tracks like "Last Night," "Barely Legal," "NYC Cops," and "This Modern Age" feature midtempo beats and ebullient rhythms that stake their hooks in danceably pastoral pop. What first comes off as calculating quickly becomes catchy, and, by the end of Is This It, the carefully crafted mix of detached vocals and volatile dynamics overtakes the attitude and lack of finesse. Is This It won't make the Strokes into rock's new Christ, but it should gain the band a whole flock of disciples.

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