50 Years of Music: 2001 – The Strokes - "Someday"

KEXP 50
03/30/2022
Jasmine Albertson

As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Jasmine Albertson look' back at The Strokes' 2001 song "Someday" and how it brought a sea change to rock music as well as her own musical awakening. Read or listen to the piece below.


It’s far too easy to take The Strokes for granted. Nearly twenty-one years after releasing their seminal debut record Is This It, the lo-fi rock-and-roll grit that the band perfected has become a constantly purveying sound that countless bands and nearly every teen with a guitar has likely at least attempted to imitate over the past two decades. But, what many forget, and something music journalist Lizzy Goodman made quite clear in her crucial 2017 tome Meet Me in the Bathroom, is that when the Strokes quickly and aggressively forced their way into the New York scene in 2001, mainstream rock was pretty much dead.

For the decade preceding Casablancas & Co.’s appearance, the massive presence of grunge and its non-showy, ultra-humble, anti-rock star philosophy made the concept of rock and roll’s pomp attitude and charisma completely passe. But The Strokes pushed through anyway, aided by their good looks and seductive devil-may-care demeanor, but helmed by incredibly catchy yet intentionally imperfect tunes, resuscitating rock for the new millennium.

As a young teen in 2003, who had spent her life up until then primarily exposed to Christian music and pop, I was unaware of this sea change in rock. I was just starting to dig into all the things I’d missed over the course of my 15 years on this planet and was livid at my parents for hiding so much incredible music from me in favor of singing love songs to a man in the sky. 

Luckily, the internet was here and my freshly-painted black fingertips furiously typed into the Yahoo! Search bar queries such as “cool albums” and “bands people like.” Inevitably, a square photo of a woman’s bare behind with a gloved hand elegantly placed atop appeared before me. The Christian girl in me was aghast at the image but the blossoming teenager quickly emerging was beyond fascinated. As quickly as the dial-up internet would allow, I flew to the local library website to place a hold on the album.

Slightly disappointed when the CD I received a week later was encased by a vivid blue and yellow psychedelic US cover rather than the risque black-and-white album art I’d seen online, I at least didn’t need to hide it from my mom. It was a balmy late-summer day and I had just finished driver’s ed. Finding any excuse to take the car out by myself, I offered to run errands and thus was unaccompanied when I immediately popped Is This It into the newly-added CD player of the gold Volvo whose age mirrored my own.

As those first memories with music tend to go, Is This It is now firmly rooted into my subconscious as one made for sunny days and aimless drives. The timeless nature of the record, which Julian Casablancas took great pains to sound like "a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record," is a large factor in its ubiquitous appeal and makes the self-destructive narratives about partying hard in the grimy streets of New York something even a suburban teen, who’d yet to even drink a sip of alcohol, find resonance in.

While I’d say the whole record is comprised of no-skip song perfection, there are a few that stand out. Certainly, “Last Nite,” is a perfect pop song, with its juanty up-tempo beat and howling sing-along chorus, and the record’s title track opens Is This It in a mesmerizing, world-building fashion. But, it’s “Someday” that strikes the perfect balance of cheery melody and melancholic lyricism that spawns a whole variety of intense, contradictory feelings.

Read by some as a conversation between two people, one spilling their many anxieties over loss of the past, bitterness over the ex that pointed out their ineptitude, desire to do better, and fear that they’re running out of time to do so while the other flatly responds with neither great encouragement nor malice, the song is chock-full of gutting lines. 

“Alone we stand, together we fall apart.”

“I'm working so I won't have to try so hard.”

“Promises, they break before they're made.”

“Maya says I'm lacking in depth.” (Often misread as “My ex says I’m lacking in depth” but both equally stinging.)

Put together, the song ironically shows the intense depth to Casablancas’ often overlooked skills as a lyrcist. Hidden behind one of the sunniest melodies on the record are some incredibly vulnerable ruminations on loss, fear, and despair. I imagine that’s why when Julia Jacklin slowed down and reworked the song in her 2017 cover of “Someday” for triple j’s Like A Version to make the musical arrangement fit the despondency of the lyrics, it caught on like wildfire.

 

As is so meticulously articulated in Meet Me in Bathroom (seriously, read it!), whose theory is that nearly every great rock band of the early-mid aughts might not have been if it wasn’t for Is This It, the importance of The Strokes cannot be overstated. And, while they did earn a long-overdue Grammy in 2021 for The New Abnormal, their cultural status as a legacy band that peaked on their debut feels somewhat demeaning. I suppose Ryan Schreiber said it best when he opened his 2001 Pitchfork review of Is This It with, “Hype. It's a bitch.”

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