Plumbiferous Media

Phrazes for the Young - Julian Casablancas

Nov 8th 2009
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Phrazes for the Young - Julian CasablancasJulian Casablancas
Phrazes for the Young
Score: 69

Julian Casablan­cas, front­man of rock band The Strokes, has put his expe­ri­ence to work as a solo artist with the release of Phrazes for the Young. While Phrazes does­n’t meet up to the stan­dard of Casablan­cas’s work with The Strokes (most notably the extreme­ly well crit­i­cal­ly-received Is This It), it dis­plays his cre­ativ­i­ty in often sub­tle but always inter­est­ing ways.

The absolute, undis­put­ed­ly strongest track on Phrazes for the Young is “Riv­er of Break­lights.” Not only does it con­tain extreme­ly strong indi­vid­ual lines, but as a whole, the track expert­ly com­bines false rhythm, unique chord pro­gres­sions, and inter­est­ing inter­ac­tions between parts to cre­ate a dynam­ic, direct­ed, and pow­er­ful five min­utes. And there are oth­er promis­ing ele­ments scat­tered through­out the album, such as the bridge-like sec­tions of “11th Dimen­sion” that use per­fect­ly con­struct­ed chords to change the flow of the track, and the gui­tar solo that empha­sizes the cre­ative decay of the oth­er­wise dis­ap­point­ing, synth-pop influ­enced “Glass.” Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the major­i­ty of Phrazes for the Young is repet­i­tive, gener­ic, long, and, while not, per se, bad, almost entire­ly unin­ter­est­ing. Effec­tive­ly, most of the album is back­ground music.

Julian Casablan­cas’s voice is rec­og­niz­able from his work as front­man of The Strokes, though his vocals aren’t used quite as well on Phrazes for the Young. Though occa­sion­al episodes of cre­ativ­i­ty in Casablan­cas’s deliv­ery (includ­ing a sub­stan­tial por­tion of “Riv­er of Brake­lights”) lend extra ener­gy to the music as well as to his vocals, for most of the album Casablan­cas’s vocals are odd­ly sub­dued, as if they’ve been forced below too many lay­ers of instru­men­tals and in the process lost much of their life. When they’re used prop­er­ly, Casablan­cas’s vocals on Phrazes for the Young are as vibrant as they were on Is This It. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this isn’t the case for most of the album - though a bit of that ener­gy pokes through now and again.

There are obvi­ous mes­sages woven through the lyrics of every track of Phrazes for the Young, some of which pass by unno­ticed as part of unre­mark­able music. Those that remain notable are gen­uine­ly inter­est­ing (and occa­sion­al­ly amus­ing). Phrazes for the Young’ first track, “Out of the Blue,” is built around a series of emo­tions, from hope­ful­ness to sad­ness and even­tu­al­ly to pain. Com­bined with “Yes, I know I’m goin’ to hell in a pur­ple bas­ket / At least I’ll be in anoth­er world while you’re pissin’ on my cas­ket,” which gives off a per­fect sense of resigned amuse­ment, the track works quite well lyri­cal­ly even though it is some­what lack­ing musically.

How­ev­er, the best lyri­cal con­tri­bu­tion to Phrazes for the Young is most like­ly the cho­rus to “Riv­er of Brake­lights,” which uses clever word­play to keep rep­e­ti­tion inter­est­ing, switch­ing “Get­ting the hang of it / Tim­ing is every­thing” to “Tim­ing the hang of it / Get­ting is every­thing” to “Get­ting the time of it / Every­thing hangs on this,” and again to “Hang­ing the get­ting of / Tim­ing the every­thing.” As the phrase devolves into an enlight­ened sort of mad­ness, Casablan­cas nev­er ful­ly lets go of the con­cept he began with, which, along with the inten­si­ty his deliv­ery of the cho­rus adds to the track, cre­ates a sen­sa­tion of an odd­ly sub­lime surrealism.

Phrazes for the Young is not a great album. The major­i­ty is rather inef­fec­tu­al (even if bare­ly any­thing is tru­ly bad), and only hand­fuls of true promise are scat­tered through it. In some sense, it almost seems unfin­ished; rare is a track that has an end­ing that actu­al­ly required some thought to cre­ate, instead, most end either in a cut­off or a fade­out. Giv­en that its most impres­sive qual­i­ty is its abil­i­ty to con­sis­tent­ly pro­duce rel­a­tive­ly long, high­ly repet­i­tive tracks that nonethe­less do not get tir­ing, as far as albums by quite tal­ent­ed lead singers go, Phrazes for the Young is rather weak.

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