Monday, November 2

Julian Casablancas- 'Phrazes For The Young'

. Monday, November 2

There are two schools of thought regarding The Strokes. Number one is that in ‘Is This It?’ the New York band made the most perfect rock ‘n’ roll album which saved us all from Travis, an album that will ultimately define this decade and its shaggy haired indie revivalism. Number two is that by taking parts of Television, The Ramones and countless other bands a bunch of rich kids manipulated the zeitgeist to their own benefit before releasing two substandard follow up albums and a batch of solo efforts that have rarely scaled anything higher than average. The truth is somewhere in the middle, ‘Is This It?’ is a perfect album and responsible for so much good and bad in the current musical landscape and with the band in the middle of reportedly tense writing sessions for their fourth album we are gifted the penultimate Stroke solo project from lead singer Julian Casablancas.

The whole ‘Strokes side-project’ thing started pretty well when Albert Hammond Jr released his pure indie pop debut album ‘Yours To Keep’ but very few wouldn’t claim that things have been getting progressively more inane from the individual members as shown by bassist Nikolai Fraiture’s frankly terrible band Nickel Eye. Since then there has been a heightened impatience for Julian Casablancas to come back and show us what he has been working on since the criminally underrated third Strokes album ‘First Impressions Of Earth’.

The first thing that strikes you about ‘Phrazes For The Young’ is just how much is going on. The instrumentation is thick with organs piling on top of guitars while drum beats squeeze in the last remaining space just behind the synthesizers. The songs are really long as well. Nothing on ‘Phrazes For The Young’ clocks in at over six minutes but there is no sense of structure or clarity at play here. It’s to the albums benefit but the stream of conscious styling certainly makes for a bewildering listen. The songs might make for terrible karaoke choices but there is a playfulness and invention on display here that uncovers things we didn’t previously know about Casablancas. La Roux-esque lead single ‘11th Dimension’ is something of a misnomer with its repeated riffs and big chorus. It’s a brilliant song but says nothing of the sonic landscape that Casablancas throws himself into on every other track on ‘Phrazes…’. Much of the album sounds like the score from a forward thinking episode of Tomorrow’s World from the 80’s on the topic of the future of Space travel, it sounds like the insides of a hallucinating astronauts helmet. It’s difficult to specify how off kilter much of ‘Phrazes For The Young is’. There is no one pace as the swaying lull of ‘Ludlow Street’ becoming the break neck ‘River Of Breaklights’ testifies and with everything sounding so dense and compact you almost have to block out certain elements in order to focus on others properly.

It strikes you half way through the record though that Casablancas is an eccentric genius. Where his Strokes pals have opted for pop-rock variations on a theme their front man has created something akin to Shaun Macgowan trying to narrate a sci-fi movie. Yes, Casablancas diction has become sloppy to the point of unidentifiable and at times he appears to treat the concept of melody as something best left alone however there are occasional pearls of clarity that bear beautiful gifts. Best of these is the statement “I know I’m going to Hell in a leather jacket, at least I’ll be in another world while you’re pissing on my casket.” The tendency to indulge is stretched to breaking point on ‘Glass’ however- Albert Hammond could probably write two more albums and seduce another supermodel in the time it takes to listen to the incoherent warbling of the albums penultimate song.

‘Phrazes For The Young’ is a template of what all side projects should be. Similar and recognisable but refracted through a prism of the bizarre the album is like listening to The Strokes through the back of a spoon. It’s a rewarding, though at times difficult, listen that establishes Casablancas as a warped visionary with a pure pop heart. Whatever happens the next music we hear from The Strokes will struggle to sound unique in comparison.



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