Tue 3 Nov 2009
Julian Casablancas- Phrazes For The Young
Marrying sunny melodies with despondent lyrics, The Strokes’ lead singer and mastermind Julian Casablancas has shed his gritty punk rock demeanour for more eclectic experimentalism with his debut solo LP. Perhaps it was a determined move to ensure his detractors had a harder job pigeonholing him, harder than they’d have to try with Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s sedate pop efforts or drummer Fabrizio Morretti’s joyous reggae-influenced pop jams. At first listen to the few Phrazes tracks leaked early, Casablancas’ output cried Ratatat to me. But the warped multi-tracked synthy guitar lines did more than just amble on aimlessly as Ratatat’s songs often can.
Casablancas’ pedigree is in pop heart and hook, and this details and fleshes out and validates everything he puts out. When it’s fast paced and flaunting the weird paradoxes as in opener ‘Out of the Blue’ it is absolute gold. In saying that, Phrazes For The Young is a bit patchy. During slower moments it becomes almost tedious. The introductory bars of ‘Left & Right In The Dark’ have a synth line that dances like vintage Van Morrison, but soon segues into highly catchy, original, playful territory. Casablancas announced recently that he hoped his opus would be like Thin Lizzy meets Cheap Trick. I can’t say I agree that’s how it’s turned out, but Phrazes is perfectly produced and very varied, and Casablancas has come up with a multitude of confoundingly catchy melodies.
Gritty single ‘11th Dimenson’ is the best, its sunny synths and twirling guitars are coupled with bubbling bass and percolating ‘80s percussion. I haven’t heard a more hum-able melody in a long time. ‘4 Chords of the Apocalypse’ is a slow rumbling blues number which sounds kind of dated – in a bad way – until it gets more gritty with trademark Strokes high-end guitar riffery that lapses into multi-tracked electronica again. ‘Ludlow St’ is captivating, armed at first with a curious desert storm melody, it shirks back to reveal a simpler, prettier pop song backed by a staunchly reverberating hip hop beat.
Some much-needed aggression soon rears its head in ‘River of Brakelights’ – Julian is accustomed to providing many balanced releases, after all he was behind the influential masterpiece Is This It? Penultimate track ‘Glass’ is a beautiful, layered, delicate song with the most bombastic, beautiful bassline and twinkling melodies in the chorus. ‘Tourist’ closes the album in elongated fashion with symphonic synth shards raining down on noodling guitar lines and a stomping beat.
Casablancas really knows how to utilise the technology he’s chosen and shows himself to be an incredibly progressive thinker. Phrazes is a modern, varied and layered release that Casablancas’ has been rather courageous with. Though it’s not quite what I expected, and certainly feels short in length, his sophisticated care comes through in his more eloquent delivery. Phrazes is also far superior and wide reaching in terms of experimentation in instrumentation and programming. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have to try, Casablancas is a natural talent and, to be honest, a visionary.