Phrazes for the Young – Julian Casablancas

Phrazes for the Young

Julian Casablancas

2009

RCA

Released on this past Tuesday, Phrazes for the Young marks the first solo album by Julian Casablancas, lead singer for The Strokes.  While still being tied musically to The Strokes three albums, Phrazes demonstrates a significant change from the leather-clad rock of The Strokes.  Here, Casablancas creates a more electronic, dance-rock sound, complete with synth-heavy arrangements.  It’s interesting to compare and contrast this album to The Strokes, but the main focus is on Casablancas, himself.  While some of The Strokes fans may be worried for the band with the members creating solo albums (after their third album critically flopped (though I thought it was a decent album)), they should not worry.  Casablancas is merely expanding his horizons, not diminishing his previous work.  Overall, the album, consisting of eight songs, feels much longer than it’s forty minute run-time.  Casablancas’ arrangements allow for numerous parts of the songs to create interesting, non-straight-ahead numbers.  Even the repetitive parts are different with introductions of numerous instruments.  Maybe due to the lack of his band, and this being his first solo effort, this album feels less than cohesive.  At eight tracks, there isn’t any one song to hold the album together, no inclusive thesis for each song to fall under.  The nearest we get is lead single, “11th Dimension”.  However, this effect doesn’t detract from the songs artistic abilities, just from the audience’s ability to keep hold of a complete idea.

“Out of the Blue” starts off the album.  Automatically, the listener is reintroduced to Casablancas’ detatched vocal style.  He half croons “Somewhere along the way my hopefulness turned to sadness”, and this keeps the pattern going down in emotions.  The song still has Strokes-type convulsing guitars, but the synth sounds new, and is indeed one of the major instruments among the whole album.  The bass has an electronic sound to it, making for an interesting background, holding the song together.  As Casablancas sings the bridge (I guess it’s the bridge), two harmony guitar lines are heard, overtaking the vocals.  Whether this mixing was intentional or not doesn’t matter, it still sounds pretty awesome as a different texture is created, shifting the focus.  It’s an upbeat song to ease the the album into the majority of the rest of the record.  This is probably the closest to The Strokes as we’re going to get (He even sings the line “Yes, I know I’m going to hell in a leather jacket”).

“Left & Right Into the Dark” starts with an extremely cheesy synth line, and… hand claps.  But it works for the effect he’s trying to get across.  Casablancas knows he’s being cheesy, that’s the point (Or, at least I’m assuming he knows he is).  Echoed guitar chords come in with another winding guitar line in the background.  The drums (ok, ok, drum machine) create a pulsing, arryhtmic heart beat rhythm.  The chorus is a catchy repetition of “Wake up, oh, wake up”.  However, with his almost-bored sounding voice, most of the lyrics are indecipherable and this sounds more like “Oh he got what he got, we got what we got,” which could be a flaw in his singing style.  It’s a decent song though, and the end shows a cool fake-fade out, as he plays with our ideas.

The single off the album is next, the dancy “11th Dimension”, which is the best song on the album.  More cheesy keyboards sounds and a drum machine lead off the song, bass pounding in the backing.  The lyrics, in a strange turn, show Casablancas being half self-doubtful, as he sings “I just nod, I’ve never been so good at shaking hands.”  The guitar comes in during the second verse with a slinky guitar line, and the bridge turns the song around with a beating bass.  The song is the most genuine, and the most fun. 

“4 Chords of the Apocalypse” slows the tempo down, and features very churchy, religious organ.  This song could be the best organized song, definitely the most sincere (Casablancas even sings “It’s nice to be important” letting a little lyrical development creep in”).  It takes two minutes before the song jumps into the chorus with electric guitar.  The audience is then treated to a duel guitar solo, with extremely attractive harmonies.  This lets a different texture be approved onto the album, and after the mainly electronicness, it’s a breath of fresh air. 

The next song is the strangest.  If you’ve ever wanted to hear electronic country, this is your chance.  “Ludlow St.” starts with a rather slow, boring intro, before turning into an almost-folk song.  This track is really cool, but it’s an acquired taste.  It even has a banjo-solo.  The lyrics on the other hand, can easily be dismissed: Casablanas sings about “Yuppies invading”, and he sounds even more detached than normal.

The last three songs – “River of Breaklights”, “Glass”, and “Tourist” – bring us even more into Casablancas’ fascination with electronic music.  But by this point in the album, it gets to be too much.  Each song is decent: “River” is heavier than the rest, and “Tourist” has rather insightful lyrics.  However, this late in the album, it sounds like Casablancas became overwhelmed by the effects, making the album seem longer than it is.

So, while Phrazes for the Young is not an amazing album, it’s still decently solid.  Indeed, Phrazes feels like he’s using The Strokes as a platform to work off of, while adding more electronic effects and synth to their sound.  However, he sounds uncomfortable without his band backing him up, and it comes across.  Maybe, with his next album he’ll have more of an idea of how to sound.  Or, even better, The Strokes will come out with an album that will blow us all away with the lessons they’ve learned during this time.

[Ed. note:  I apologize for the really late time I’m posting this.  I was quite sick last night (even had a quick trip to the emergency room), so I was not able to finish the review until now.]

Buy This Album

Official Site

Last.fm Page

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