That is it

January 8, 2009

After their debut in 2001, it became as trendy to lavish praise upon The Strokes as it was to color them awful.  The hype machine dubbed Is This It? the best album of the ’00’s.  The skinny tie re-entered well-edited menswear.  And that graphic t-shirt you wore in 2003 before college?  See left — The Strokes, 2001.

I always describe The Strokes as harmless.  Their rise to stardom seemed genuine, and a re-affirmation that, yes, a grunge-ish band, or a group of guys that maybe shower twice a week but produce great music can still come out of New York City.  They don’t curse much in their albums, they don’t address anything serious or likely to offend, and musically, they don’t take many challenges.  They are more Paul Simon than Pete Doherty.  It’s best summed up by a Pitchfork writer, Stephen Troussé (yes, that is the Pitchfork writer’s name.  Awe.), who writes

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy once told me he could imagine in 15 years’ time, he might be having a barbecue, and someone would dig out the Strokes’ debut from a pile of old CDs and, as the half-forgotten power-pop drifted across the summer lawns, he would realize, “You know what? That was a great little record! A perfect barbecue record!”

Neater still, The Strokes were the germ from which a few cheery saplings grew.  Albert Hammond, Jr., guitarist, has released fantastic solo work.  It clearly sounds like Strokes progeny (which I like) but it takes a slightly lonelier approach.  And a former colleague pointed me to Fab Moretti, the drummer, who released a self-titled album with his band, Little Joy.  Moretti met his singer, Rodrigo Amarante, at a festival and the two made a record.  It’s best described by that smooth-sounding Pitchfork writer:

Soon enough they [Moretti and Amarante] catch up again, jamming at Devendra Banhart’s pad up in Topanga … and decide to get a place down in Echo Park, work on some songs and see what happens. By now Fab has hooked up with this broad Binki Shapiro– crazy cute, with a voice like summer wine. The three of them spend their afternoons hanging out a down-at-heel neighborhood bar (it’s called Little Joy), mixing their own cocktails, strumming on ukuleles, and singing along to a jukebox stuffed with Brazilian bossa nova, Portuguese fado, Julie London ballads, some early Mazzy Star, one of those Spanish Jonathan Richman albums, and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded. And that’s it… and it’s pretty great.

That’s a really accurate description.  Little Joy should have been released in April or May of next year, because it would have been 2009’s Vampire Weekend — summer’s album.  Rodrigo Amarante sounds like a Rodrigo Amarante, with a voice of molé, and this Bikini Shapiro lass inherits the Nico role in The Velvet Underground & Nico as the first welcome female singer on a rock album in decades.

It’s simple, really.  Doesn’t have to be complex.

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