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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