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The Strokes 

Is This It? (RCA)

It's no major surprise that the Strokes are being hailed as the latest big thing to erupt from the storied New York music scene. The band easily evokes comparisons to the spare energy of the Velvet Underground, the punk ethic of the Ramones, and the lo-fi kitsch factor of Jonathan Richman. And as rooted in New York's musical past as the Strokes seem to be, they never sound anything less than vital and contemporary. In frontman/songwriter Julian Casablancas, the Strokes boast a presence at the microphone that blends Lou Reed's stoicism, Iggy Pop's mania, and Joey Ramone's magnetism into a single compelling stage and studio focal point. The rest of the Strokes (guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti) make a joyful noise that's grounded in the garages and art galleries of New York. They're fitting heirs to Television and the Voidoids, with less punk arch and more pure rock abandon.

"Last Nite" offers Stooges-like swagger with a distinct New York swing, while the title track and "The Modern Age" are core samples of Lou and the Velvets' best moments, compressed into two-and-a-half and three-minute nuggets of rock wonder and purity. The remainder of Is This It? teeters madly between its influences and its influence, making wild rock and roll history without contrivance or calculation. Everything about the Strokes is new -- the band has barely been together a year, and none of the members are older than 22. Even as they touch eras of New York rock that predate their births by a decade, they show an uncanny ability to transcend that which has come before, as they add their own names to an impressive roster. Unfortunately, "NYC Cops," one of the best tracks, was deleted at the last minute in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

More by Brian Baker

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