Album Review: Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young

November 4, 2009

His master's wakka-wakka-wakka.

Concept: The Strokes’ frontman holds tight to the 80’s pop aesthetic that drained the East Side punch out of the band’s third album, and tries to make it match his iconic soulless stare.

Sound: Casablancas’ talent for melody is as strong as ever, and the songs have plenty of motion to them, but believe it or not the music deeply wants more organic elements. This is probably what he was going for, since he always seems to look for the most depressing aspects of ‘feel-good music’. The songs will occasionally put out a hook, a fade out or an extra deteriorating measure, where it seems like the composer is looking desperately for a way to leave the song, finds nowhere to go, and turns back around; the impact of this is often greater than Julian’s harmonizing. The miserable and elaborate fantasies of the album deserve more investigation, and at eight standard-sized tracks this feels more like a studio-generated preview than an independent work.

Lyrics: It’s hard to say what it is, but Casablancas’ lyricism has been losing its edge since First Impressions Of Earth. There was catchy wit and a subtle poetry to the concision and small turns his narratives used to take, and in cranking out phrases for the young he used to present the listener something to lose, or at least the illusion of it, floating on a river of fatalism. There’s nothing young about the blurry, drunken lectures on this album. His favorite themes of falling back in love with Big Brother and the abyss of other people are only fleetingly present. Tokens of his old form are rare and overdrawn, like on the album’s strongest track, River Of Brakelights: “getting the hang of it/nothing is everything/timing is everything/timing the hang of it/getting is everything/getting the time of it/everything hanging is/hanging the getting of/timing the everything”. Julian never explicitly hits on a central point, but with nothing implied over most of the album it’s just a snapshot of his detachment, not ours. His mistrust of everything has made him ostentatious, although perhaps this was predictable from the start of his career.

Quick And Dirty: The music is still powerful, but the presentation and the man behind it seem weary, spiteful, and bloodless. (♦♦♦½)

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