Vicarious Music & Media

Review: Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For the Young

Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young

Julian CasablancasPhrazes For the Young (2009) [RCA] // Grade: B-

Sugary, summery and over before you know it: some things about Julian Casablancas will never change. There’s plenty of what you’d expect on this solo debut, from the singer’s signature croon to heaps of nearly perfect—and instantly earwiggy—hooks. But go in hoping for a lot of Strokesian guitar jangle, and you’ll be seriously disappointed; Phrazes is, above all, a synth-pop album. Sure, the melody and swagger of it suggest the Strokes by simple virtue of Casablancas writing the thing—but everything surrounding those base elements is a hazy, euphoric (and sometimes slightly bubblegum) electro-fuzz that feels as much like Buggles as it does anything Casablancas has done before.

Thank the producers for that. Seriously. That the album’s glittery sheen rarely clashes with Casablancas’ proclivity for voice and melody is just as much a testament to Jason Lader and Bright Eyes/Monsters of Folk mainstay Mike Mogis; one only has to look to Chris Cornell/Timbaland solo nightmare to see what happens when production and intent don’t jibe. Tracks like “Left & Right In The Dark”, with its Flock Of Seagulls guitar fades, and the stuttering breaks of “11th Dimension” may feel like roller-rink jams, but combined with Casablancas’ tinny whine (and lyrics like “your faith has got to be greater than your fear”) they assume something impossibly dark…and just a little heartbreaking. Even better is the slightly sideways “Ludlow Street” with its off-key banjo and off-time drum machine—a real boozy saloon jam with an opening overture so gorgeously ominous, it might be the best 15 seconds of the album. But then there’s the train-whistle guitars of “4 Chords Of The Apocalypse”. Or the down and dirty swagger of “Tourist”. Good ideas? Phrazes has them.

And that, ultimately, is its biggest downfall. Though every track features at least one really perfect moment, the layers upon layers of iconic hooks, harmonies, solos and always-at-11 vocals eventually melt into a hazy blob that screams JULIAN CASABLANCAS! just a little too loudly. Had each song highlighted its best three—hell, even five—ideas, Phrazes could’ve been the most remarkably catchy album of the year. As it stands, it’s pretty good—but too much of a good thing is still too much of a thing.

Buy it at Insound!

- Rue Sauvage

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