Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

Alright, now I’m a huge Strokes fan, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this. On the one hand, I have faith in Casablancas’ insurmountable talent and had little doubt that his next venture would be a success. On the other hand, there have been enough bombed solo attempts by respectable group members to make anyone wary. But I needn’t worry – it became clear pretty quickly that the album was pretty fuckin awesome. Casablancas seems to have found the perfect balance of pleasing old fans (like myself) and creating new ones with his first solo album, Phrazes for the Young. The opener “Out of the Blue” is a good first track; with familiar guitar and vocals it eases the listener into Casablancas’ new sound by keeping a bit of that gritty strokes sensibility we’ve all come to love. Then the second track breezes in, a little more down-tempo and synth-laden, and you realize this is not a Strokes album. And that’s ok. It’s clear that on his solo attempt, Casablancas wanted to flex his superb ability to write well-crafted hooks and melodies, something that was always present in Strokes material but maybe wasn’t always in the foreground. The album is definitely unpredictable; no 8-great-songs-that-sound-the-same kind of record here. Even within each song, unpredictable changes are the norm – a rhythm change here, a key change there…even an abrupt change of style, which while perhaps jarring, was actually quite refreshing and pleasing all the same. And yet next to each other, the songs aren’t so different that his influences and goal for his overall sound wasn’t clear. In a couple songs, it felt like it was headed in one particular melodic
direction, but then would go somewhere else. For the most part this is a good thing; it’s always nice when a song doesn’t stick to the usual formula. However, in particular during the chorus of "Out of the Blue" and also in
"River of Brakelights", I REALLY wanted it to go in one direction and was left feeling a tad unsatisfied when it didn’t. But the latter track is just so delightfully weird that I can’t help but love it regardless. “Glass” is one of my favourite tracks, and completely different from what I’d come to expect from Casablancas. The sweeping melancholic synths, his sweet falsetto – it’s downright pretty.
With only 8 tracks, I was obviously left wanting more. A couple I find I skip over quite regularly, they’re just a little too underwhelming for me. I do, after all, really love the upbeat garage rock tunes that the strokes keep pumping out. But overall, an admirable separation from the Strokes’ sizeable shadow, and a testament to Casablancas’ undeniable talent.