Artist: Julian Casablancas
Label: Cult Records
Due Out: November 3rd
By now, we're all used to the idea of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas posing as a pop star. From his work with Santigold and Pharrell for Converse, to his contribution to The Loney Island's hit comedy album, to his appearance on Dark Night of the Soul earlier this year, he's been dropping hints at breaking free (albeit temporarily) from his rock icon status and giving pop a try. Now, finally, with Phrazes for the Young we get to see where his pop mettle actually lies. The eight-track recording samples new wave and electronic sounds, en route to what turns out being quite the adventure for The Strokes' leading man, and perhaps the beginning of some new chapter for him as an artist.
Not necessarily in stark contrast to his work with the band that made him famous, the album is a fast-moving joy ride through upbeat, busy sonic landscapes. The only real difference is that here, his background fills itself with the likes of electronic organs and spacey sounds, with only hints of the determined, steady riffs of rock songs past. Still, his signature wit remains, as does Casablancas' clear and decisive delivery of his message, regardless of how clouded in booze or lust it may be. From opening track, "Out of the Blue," it's obvious that he's at his most confident point in years-- balanced and flowing, it aims to send a message about an album that wreaks of exuberance.
Amidst the bouncy, jovial synths, it almost feels as if Casablancas may actually enjoy himself more while participating in projects like this one, than guitar-heavy pop band undertakings. Tracks like "Left & Right in the Dark" and "11th Dimension" skip back and forth, mixing California pop and a bright, radio top-40 openness that acts more as an attraction than something off-putting and overly mainstream. For the appeal lies in the novelty of it all. It's not as if it's never been done before, but rather, we've never seen it executed so well. For those of us that have been hoping for him to pursue something like this, it's a relief to see such a positive and successful final product.
That's not to say that Phrazes for the Young executes its craft to perfection either. For all of the energy, pop euphoria and dancing excitement of the initial three tracks, the album does start to lose steam, and with it, a little bit of your interest. It's not as if songs four through eight are bad-- rather, they're quite excellent, and a very good listen. However, they mostly just seem to lack the blind faith of the introductory tracks. Casablancas took a leap with those songs, and for that, I'll commend him. But, it almost feels as if he holds back for most of the remainder. The tracks still employ the snappy drive seen before. In fact, "River of Brakelights" even duplicates it precisely. It just feels as if something's being held back on the selections besides that one. Maybe it's just the slower sections, or the lengthy sonic solos or the blending of tracks at times. Perhaps it's just me, but I could have gone for a little bit more enthusiasm come the end.
Still, you come away from Phrazes for the Young with a good sense of what you've just heard. Casablancas combines his talent and ambitions just right, and the results, much to the delight of fans, is a favorable foray into the pop realm, while still leaning on enough rock to keep him in his element. Though not so catchy that the songs will all be painfully ingrained in your subconscious for months, they've got enough energy and steadiness to keep you hooked for multiple listens. For a guy on his rookie pop endeavor, that's not half bad. Similarities include The Strokes, The XX and Phoenix.
Best Track: "Left & Right In the Dark" (not available, but here's "11th Dimension")
[Previously on Animal Noises: New Julian Casablancas Album Preview]