Julian Casablancas is experimental, incomprehensible on Tyranny
It’s 2014 and The Strokes have steadily lowered the world’s expectations of them over the 13 years since they set the bar so high with Is This It. Most people born before the 00s recognise the impact The Strokes had on the garage rock revival, and though the sound of The Strokes has faded from the zeitgeist, they have, or at least Casablancas has, still remained on the cooler side of things, aesthetically at least. With his first solo outing, Phrazes For the Young, in 2009, Casablancas moved towards new wave and synth pop, creating an odd album that’s still got moments of real brightness juxtaposed with moments where you really have to wonder what he was thinking. As much as I like what he wanted to do with that album, I feel he should have gone a bit more “crazy original” than he thinks he did.
So it’s 2014 and Julian Casablancas is releasing another solo album, this time as Julian Casablancas + The Voidz. Tyranny is a messy thing, a brash serving of garage rock, synth, drone, ambient, and even thrash metal. And there are some great ideas on its overbearing 63-minute run.
Lead single, and 11-minute opus, “Human Sadness” is like a Strokes song slowed down 1/4, and it’s the central guitar line that makes that comparison. It flows through its sections, which go from Casablancas mumbling to Casablancas squeaking along with a lead guitar line, before shifting into ambient/drone noise then breaking full into the kind of late 70s dual guitar solo The Strokes would have done had they been aiming at stadiums and not underground bars. It’s actually a really catchy song, despite how it sounds on paper.
Then there’s opener “Take Me In Your Army”, which sounds like the theme song to a Metroidvania game, in the best way possible. There are some other good moments on the album; “Where No Eagles Fly” is thrash garage at it’s finest, “Xerox” is an oddly cool kind of garage ballade, but it’s sort of forgettable too, and “Business Dog”, despite it’s name, has a great ambient intro that I wish comprised more of the song. Closer “Off To War…” is an interesting piece of drone/pop, but it’s not quite enough of either to be a great example of both.
But ultimately Tyranny is let down by odd decisions, like the calypso beat under “Father Electricity” which just clashes into an ugly mess with the distorted guitars and keys that buzz over it, or “Dare I Care”, which chops and changes its mind more times in its six minutes than ever a six-minute song has any right to. And Casablancas is completely unintelligible in it too, singing something like “Icka meeoh ecka very umma joverah”. That’s the best I can make out.
In fact he’s incredibly hard to make out across the album, the lyrics I can discern being something like “I like being weird”, in “Business Dog”, and “The eye in the sky where no eagles fly”. So even the intelligible ones are pretty odd. There does seem to be a theme of sorts, one of evil capitalists, tyrannical dictators and the like, what with the album’s title, and songs like “Take Me In Your Army”, “Off To War…” and “Business Dog”, though the dirge and the mysticism suggest this isn’t Casablancas making an antagonistic political record.
All in all though, I’m glad he’s playing with these ideas. It’s refreshing to see the face of modern alternative music step towards experimentalism. I just wish he stuck to it more, didn’t spin the songs into Pollock-fuelled amalgamations, or wasn’t afraid of truly experimenting and refrained from revolving everything back to some version of ”pop”, however messy.