Phrazes For The Young – Julian Casablancas (November 2009)

Phrazes For The Young

In 2001, The Strokes unloaded Is This It upon the world.  Along with The White Stripes’ blues punk and The Hives’ actual punk, The Strokes’ almost-punk new wave sound became part of the trifecta of garage rock revival bands, and at the time, The Strokes were at the top.  Whether they were talking smack about the intelligence of New York City cops, reminiscing about last night, or cynically asking if this is it, their brand of new wave guitar melodies colliding with Julian Casablancas’s howling voice always resonated.

Their next step would be to get a bit more punky.  Unfortunately, The Libertines’ masterwork Up The Bracket “what if The Strokes were a punk rock band?” album prevented them from doing this, so on their follow-up, Room On Fire, they decided to throw down a rehash of their first album while managing fewer of the guitar melodies and less of the lyrical tightness that made the first album so sublime.  By the time they cut their third album, First Impressions Of Earth, the operation was kaput.

Lead singer and lead writer Julian Casablancas bears all of this in mind as he releases his first solo album.  Phrazes For The Young opens up with an absolutely astonishing track detailing the battles that Julian has had with life.  “Somewhere along the way, my hopefulness turned to sadness.  Somewhere along the way, my sadness turned into bitterness”, and so on with that bitterness turning into anger and vengeance.  Then, he further complains that the ones that he made pay were never the ones who deserved it, and furthermore, the ones who did deserve it will never understand it.  Julian’s howl has turned into real singing, making the song, and the album, less uncompromising, but at the same time, more convincing, than anything on Is This It.

What’s remarkable about the opening song Out Of The Blue isn’t even how well told this sequence of hardships is.  Instead, the song is transmogrified during the chorus into a love song, and not the bad kind.  Jules stretches the lines “How could you be/So perfect for me?/Why can’t you ignore/The things I did before?” with a hair-raising trio of “oh”s following each line.  The song changes effortlessly from depressing to uplifting, which is a testament not only to Julian’s skills of songcraft, but to the effect of his new singing voice.  This is probably my favorite song of the year so far, as I seem to have listened to it twenty-two times yesterday.

The eight-song album isn’t one choice cut followed by seven inconsequential tracks, of course.  The lead single 11th Dimension chimes in as the third song, bringing Julian’s brand of new wave together with ‘80s synth-pop, and not the bad kind.  He goes on about how he lives “on the frozen surface of a fireball where cities come together to hate each other in the name of sport”, and it comes across as happy thanks to all of the synths driving the song.  Then he hurls a hell of a line at you: “Drop your guard.  You don’t need to be smart all of the time”.

He’s become a singer, but he’s also become a poet instead of just a lyricist.  On the sixth track, River Of Brakelights, a song that’s worth it for it’s title alone, Jules creates a metaphor comparing life to a traffic jam that rivals Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic.  “We might be in for a late night/Stuck in a lava flow of brakelights”.  Jules isn’t stuck, though.  Artistically, he’s moving forward about as progressively as any musician out there.

Where Is This It proved to be a sort of This Year’s Model, Phrazes For The Young is like Imperial Bedroom in that it’s a light-hearted, poetic, and unpretentious sound of a musician boldly moving forward.  In a year where Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix threatens to be music’s next Is This It, Julian takes on synthpop similar to Phoenix’s and does it with more craft, verve, and experience.  Phrazes For The Young joins Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca and The Mountain Goats’ The Life Of The World To Come as one of the best albums of 2009.


Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 10:12 PM  Leave a Comment  

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