The Strokes – “Ask Me Anything”

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Year: 2006

Album: First Impressions Of Earth

Here’s something I thought I’d never say in 2016: First Impressions Of Earth is a good record.

When it was released 10 years ago, the record, along with everything else the Strokes has ever done, was chastised for failing to live up to the hype of Is This It. The record’s two major sins were 1) it didn’t sound like Is This It and 2) it didn’t save rock ‘n’ roll like Is This It did in 2001. It was considered a complete and uttermost failure. There were riots in the streets. Devoted Strokes fans, ripping off their leather jackets in despair, cried out to the heavens from their Lower East Side apartment rooftops. What is this shit?! “Juicebox”?! “15 Minutes Of Pain”?! Why oh Lord Why?!

Critics, once the champions of everything the Strokes did, immediately panned the record for its production and lack of sounding like Is This It. The overall mood was clear; they should have quit after Room On Fire, which wasn’t considered a complete failure because it sounded just like Is This It. The Great American Rock Revival Experiment was over. Let’s trade in our guitars for turntables. This was the end of rock ‘n’ roll.

10 years later, music critics still can’t come to terms that First Impressions Of Earth isn’t Is This It. Michael Nelson wrote 7,000 words on Stereogum and still couldn’t justify its existence. There was no reissue or planned acknowledgment by the band that this record even existed. The band, still criticized for not releasing something as good as Is This It every two years, was no longer considered An Important Rock Band, and you could argue that the unraveling began with the backlash of First Impressions Of Earth. No new records, no matter how good they were (Angles and Comedown Machine are both excellent) could undue the story taking shape. This was it.

For the past 23 years, I have been on the side of the critics, but then I actually listened to the record. Front to back. No interruptions. And it’s not bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty great! Seriously – go listen to “Ask Me Anything,” the band’s first and best attempt and ballad. Revisit that really weird bass sound from “Juicebox.” “You Only Live Once” is still their best album opener. “Razorblade” is a top five Strokes song for me. Listen. To. The. Whole. Record. Again. Will. Ya?

Will First Impressions Of Earth ever gain respect in our society? Recently I’ve become more hopeful. Last week, the band released a new four-track EP called Future Present Past. It’s full of good songs that reminded me of First Impressions Of Earth, and I was pumped. This was the most excited I’ve been about new Strokes in a long time. The EP title is the most telling part for me; Have the Strokes finally made peace with its past in order to move on? If so, then we all should do the same for First Impressions Of Earth.

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One Sentence Reviews Of Headphone Nation’s 40 Favorite Albums Of The Decade (So Far): 2010 – 2014

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Congratulations – you made it halfway through the decade. How does it feel? Did you come up with a good nickname for this decade yet? Is it as catchy as “The Noughties”? What were the highlights?

It’s easy to get caught up looking back at a particular year (or years) and try to pick out the few highlights that defined the year out of all the countless events. For any pop culture publication, it’s a cheap, bias way to get more hits, and it usually doesn’t do the year justice to what it was actually like.

But hey, we all love to make these lists, and we all love to read these lists.

One of the ways to define a decade is by the most popular (i.e. the easiest to define) musical trends of the time: the 60s were the age of Psychedelia, the 70s saw the height of Big Hair Music (heavy rock and disco), the 80s were the dawn of Indie and MTV, the 90s the mass takeover of Pop music (Grunge-Pop, Britpop, Rap-Pop, Noise-Pop, Trip-Pop, Boy Band-Pop, Riot Grrrl-Pop, it goes on), and the last decade saw the boom of the streaming revolution that we’re still in the middle of. Obviously there were more to these decades than those broad themes, but it gets the job done.

So what is the trend that will define this decade? Is this the age of Doomsday Disco (EDM, Reflektor), Mumblecore (what much of “Indie Rock” has become), or Black Stadium Rock (Kanye West and the realization of his Thriller-sized ego)? Or will we just clump together all this music, much of it angry and noisy, and call it “Great Recession Music”?

It’s too early to tell – we’re only halfway through this decade. There’s no telling to what we’ll be listening to within the next five years and what albums will come to define this decade. So to try and find any sort of pattern in the beginning of 2015 is challenging and probably not necessary.

But like I said, we all love these lists – so let’s have a little fun.

Below is a list of my 40 favorite albums released between 2010 and 2014 and the albums that have defined this decade for me so far. I tried to make things more interesting by describing each album using only one sentence. Of course you cannot properly sum up an entire album in one sentence – but it’s fun to try to anyways!

Please note – this is NOT a list of the GREATEST albums of the decade. This is just a list of my personal favorites, and I hope I introduce you to some great albums that you might have missed in this decade. If this were a GREATEST list, then there would be some albums that I wouldn’t have omitted and some that I would have taken off. For example, Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d city is without a doubt one of the best quality albums of the decade, but I have no personal attachment to it – I just like it because it’s good.

There are also lots of albums that I’ve heard are great but I’ve never sat down with and listened to all the way through (Frank Ocean, Grimes, Tame Impala, etc). When I do my inevitable End-Of-Decade list at the end of 2019, some of those albums might appear after I listen to them more.

Also, some of these albums on this list aren’t necessarily “good”, but there’s something about them that I absolutely love or can relate to. Maybe it’s because it’s from a favorite artist, or maybe I have a strong association with that album and where I first heard it or who/what it reminds me of. No matter the reason, these are the albums that I loved the most in this decade so far.

And yes, there’s a good chance that I left out one of your favorite albums. Please forgive me.

This list is in alphabetical order, and click on each album cover for a link to a song from the album.

 

Alright, let’s begin.

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My 31 Favorite Albums of 2013

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In alphabetical order.

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Arcade Fire – Reflektor

 

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Arctic Monkeys – AM

 

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Bill Callahan – Dream River

Stream the record here.

 

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Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap

Download here.

 

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Charles Bradley – Victim of Love

 

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CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

 

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Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

 

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David Bowie – The Next Day

 

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Dawes – Stories Don’t End

 

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Deafheaven – Sunbather

 

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DJ Koze – Amygdala

 

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Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

 

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Jason Isbell – Southeastern

 

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John Mayer – Paradise Valley

 

THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE ALBUM COVER AND TRACK LIST REVEALED!

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

 

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Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

 

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Kanye West – Yeezus

 

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Kings Of Leon – Mechanical Bull

 

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Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

 

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Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

 

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Mikal Cronin – MCII

 

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My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Stream the album here.

 

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The National – Trouble Will Find Me

 

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

 

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Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar

 

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Rhye – Woman

 

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Savages – Silence Yourself

 

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Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

 

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Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

 

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The Strokes – Comedown Machine

 

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Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the 

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Mid-Year Report: My Favorite Albums of 2013 So Far

2013 has been very kind to the inner rock and roll loyalist in me.

When I’m talking about rock and roll I’m not talking about four dudes playing loud guitars with no electronics, though there was plenty of that in 2013 which I also loved. I’m talking about the idea of an album crafted by your favorite band meeting some sort of expectation or a new band coming out of nowhere with a debut that blows you away. The past couple of years have been great for music, but there were only a handful of true classic albums that’ll stand the test of time, though I’m sure I’ll be eating my words in 2029 when I’m reviewing the reissue of a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s album.

But the first half of 2013 is already full of classic albums that we know now are fantastic. We had comeback albums from classic artist (David Bowie, Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine, The Strokes), career-peaking albums from established artists (Vampire Weekend, Kanye West), and we’ve heard albums that will finally bring bands from the underground and possibly into long(er) careers (Savages, Deafheaven, Kurt Vile). And even take away all the critically praised albums, there were plenty of other albums that were just great, albums that even if they weren’t life changing were still worth shelling out fifteen buck for.

2013 is already the year of the classic album, and I’m not the only one who is relieved to hear that. Here are my favorite albums of 2013 so far in no particular order:

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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I could go on all day about Vampire Weekend’s maturity from Columbia lads to adult New Yorkers and how this album comes full circle to their realization of all our expectations of this band destined to make the best popular music not made by Paul Simon. And believe me, I really want to. But I won’t. Partly because it’s too easy to judge Vampire Weekend based on how far they’ve come from Oxford Commas to Diane Young, which most other reviewers (including myself) have done.

But my main reason is simple and innocent enough – Modern Vampires of the City is just a great fucking album. Forget their quirkiness, forget their cleverness, forget their backstory – just focus on the music. Listen to every note, harmony, and lyric and hear how everything is crafted with the upmost care and that these songs are true works of art. Gone is any sense of pretentiousness and instead we have an earnest album from a band finally hitting their stride.

If nothing else, listen to “Hannah Hunt”, which as of now is my song of the year, and just sit back and be grateful that a band in 2013 could make something so great.

Read my full review here.

 

Kanye West – Yeezus

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Here’s something that won’t shock you – I love Yeezus. I love Kanye West being Kanye West at his most Kanye West, I love this anti-pop album that’s both abrasive yet instantly likable, and I love to see haters shake their heads at Kanye simply for being Kanye. Here’s something that might shock you – Yeezus it not the album of the year. Not even close. Well how about Kanye’s best album? Nope, that’s still My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

But still Yeezus is so far (and will be) the most fun album to talk about in 2013 and it will still stay fresh in our ears come around December. Whether you love or hate this album you probably already have a strong opinion on it, which makes Yeezus the ultimate pop album and Kanye the ultimate pop star.

Read my full review here.

 

The Strokes – Comedown Machine

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Comedown Machine is my favorite Strokes album. I know that I’m supposed to say that Is This It? is my favorite, but that album has been wrapped up in so much legend that I think we like the idea of that album more than the actual music. Comedown Machine is great because the songs are strong and The Strokes actually sound like a band again having fun playing with each other. If the band decides to split for good, then this wouldn’t be a bad way to end things.

Read my full review here.

 

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

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I’ve always liked the idea of JT doing a classic throwback blue-eyed soul album, but at first 20/20 left me uninspired. Now I’ve seen the errors of my ways. The most impressive thing about this album is how JT manages to sound modern yet classic at the same time. This is partly due to some fantastic production, but you have to give credit to JT for being able to appeal to rock fans and pop fans with the same song. The album is very hit and miss and most of the songs are too long, but when JT hits it’s a home run.

Read my full review here.

 

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Trouble Will Find Me is the sound of The National becoming the arena indie-rock band they were always destined to be and having nothing left to prove, so of course this is the most National-sounding of National albums – gloomy, beautiful, and depicting every day worries as if they were life or death. Even if it’s too moderate for its own good, a good National album is still better than most albums released in any given year.

 

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

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Radiohead had to follow up Kid A, Springsteen had to follow up Born To Run, and My Bloody Valentine had to follow up Loveless. It’s always a daunting task to make your next record when your last one is already hailed as a classic, which immediately puts a world of pressure upon a band that most of the times proves to be too much.

It’s one thing to release an album that has been in the works for nearly 20 years, but it’s a completely different for that said album to actually be satisfying. m b v sounds like the next logical album for My Bloody Valentine; a little different from Loveless but still capturing that signature swirling guitar sound that helped define modern indie-rock. Don’t worry kids, Loveless is still the band’s masterpiece, but what’s incredible with m b v is how well it stands on its own feet. There are only about two songs that remotely sound like “singles”, but no one goes to MBV for singles but for albums, and this album delivers. And if nothing else, many people will go back to discover Loveless, which is a beautiful moment for any music fan.

 

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Daft Punk’s place in electronic dance music history has never been in jeopardy, but for a while their relevance was. Their last album was made eight years ago and it was a dud and their contribution to the Tron soundtrack was weaker than anyone will admit.

So how does Daft Punk confront their weakening relevance in modern music? They made a classic throwback non-electronic dance album of course. Random Access Memories is full of dance tunes that sound like tributes to 70s and 80s dance music. An incredible list of contributors and some quality production can only do so much, but in the case of Random Access Memories they secure Daft Punk as relevant as ever. And if nothing else, “Get Lucky” is the perfect single for 2013.

Read my full review here.

 

Savages – Silence Yourself

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There were stronger albums made in 2013, but what separates Silence Yourself from every other album this year so far is Savages’s total confidence in itself, and this is their debut album! The album is a ruthless onslaught of post-punk confronting the modern sense of losing touch in a time when we’ve never been so connected. The guitars and drums match the intensity of Jehnny Beth’s vocals who also manages to write lyrics that stand tall among a genre that is mostly known for noise. Expect plenty of great things in the future from Savages.

 

Other great albums to check out:

Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

 

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

 

James Blake – Overgrown

 

Deafheaven – Sunbather

 

Mikal Cronin – MCII

 

Albums to (hopefully) look forward for the rest of 2013:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Self Titled (July 23)

John Mayer – Paradise Valley (August 13)

MGMT – MGMT (August 20)

Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks (September 3)

Arctic Monkeys – AM (September 9)

Drake – Nothing Was the Same (September 17)

Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull (September 24)

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2 (September 30)

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (?)

Arcade Fire – TBA (?)

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The Strokes – Comedown Machine [In 3 Words]

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Fun – The Strokes have always been known as a cool band, but not fun. This is the first Strokes record that actually sounds like it was enjoyable for the band to record (Julian Casablancas even recorded his vocals WITH the rest of the band!). It’s great that the band (appears) to enjoy working with each other, but any borderline fan hoping for another Is This It? will finally jump off the wagon. On a side note: hasn’t it been way past the point where people are justified to expect another Is This It? It’s been twelve years and some fans still hasn’t forgiven them.

I’m convinced after hearing Comedown Machine that there are two Strokes. There are the cool upstate New Yorkers who worshipped Television and Lou Reed and released a 70s rock album that was better than any actual rock record released in the 70s. Then there are the Strokes who made Comedown Machine (and Angels, First Impressions Of Earth and Room On Fire). The second Strokes are equally as cool, but instead they worship 80s new wave punk. The first Strokes broke up a long time ago. The second Strokes are still around making underrated music. Do not mix the two.

Julian-Casablancas – Even if it’s not actually the case, Comedown Machine is Julian’s show. The strong 80s vibe is treading Casablancas territory, specifically his 2009 solo album Phrazes for the Young, and on a lot of songs it seems that the rest of the band is just a supporting cast. Now the Strokes will always be the Strokes (Phrazes proved that) so this is still very much an undeniable Strokes album with that same New York vibe and the tightest rhythm section in all of modern rock music. Want proof? “Tap Out”, “All The Time”, and “Happy Ending”. But it’s also tracks like “Chances” and “One Way Trigger” that I love because it shows the band’s evolution throughout the years, and because I’m a sucker for anything 80s.

RCA – Comedown Machine is the last album of the band’s five-album contract with RCA, and the band wanted you to know that. The album cover provokes the idea that this album was made just for the sake of finishing their time with RCA, which started high with Is This It? but hasn’t matched that critical success since. Now that their time with RCA is over, it will be interesting to see where the Strokes go from here (or even if they’ll still be together).

Overall: At the end of the day, this is just another record by a great band that is used to making bold statements. The statement here is that there is no statement, and whether you like the album or not depends on if you can accept that the Strokes will never make another album as important (or as good) as Is This It?, and Comedown Machine could very well be the best Strokes record not released in 2001. Keep in mind that the writer of this review loves when rock bands bring out their inner-retro 80s.

You’ll Like This Record If: You accept that the Strokes will never sound like their 2001 incarnation ever again. Also if you like the 80s.

You’ll Hate This Record If: You cannot accept that the Strokes will never sound like their 2001 incarnations ever again. Also if you hate the 80s.

Essential Tracks: “Tap Out”, “All The Time”, “Chances”

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In Case You Missed It: New Music From The Strokes And Vampire Weekend, Ryan Adams Started A New Band, Timberlake Confirms New(er) Music, And More!

Yesterday was a field day for new music, and what makes it all better is that the new music is great!

The new Strokes album is streaming via Pitchfork!

Click here to listen to Comedown Machine a full week before its official release while there’s still time.

Vampire Weekend released two songs (studio versions!) off Modern Vampires of the City

“Step”

 

“Diane Young”

 

Here are some other big music news from yesterday.

Ryan Adams started a new punk band called Pornography (which is awesome).

Justin Timberlake confirmed that another volume of 20/20 Experience will be released by the end of this year.

Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) was arrested on drug possession and hit-and-run.

Lil Wayne is out of the hospital.

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Extra! Extra!: The Strokes Have Announced That They Might Release A Single Soon Maybe Possibly

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Any Strokes news is good news, so this morning I came across some good news. According to Consequence of Sound, the New York City band will soon release to the public “All the Time”, their first single off their untitled fifth album.

I haven’t heard the song yet and I already love it.

Here’s some more Strokes to keep you occupied until “All the Time”.

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