Julian Casablancas + The Voidz are an American band consisting of lead vocalist Julian Casablancas, guitarists Jeramy Gritter and Amir Yaghmai, bass guitarist Jacob Bercovici, drummer Alex Carapetis and keyboard player Jeff Kite. They released their debut album “Tyranny” on Sept. 23, on Julian Casablancas’s own label, Cult Records. This “experimental” album is difficult to classify as belonging to any single genre. It contains various influences from post-punk to grunge rock to new-wave, along with many miscellaneous sounds of heavy and lo-fi distortion, mixed with Casablancas’s far-ranging and eclectic vocals. The album is decadent; it offers powerful and explosive songs, yet also provides delicate moments of softness. The LP shows great finesse in the range of styles that it interprets — with songs such as Dare I Care (originally named Arabic Jam), which give off an Arabian flair, and Father Electricity, resonant with Caribbean drumming.
Julian Casablancas is more commonly known as the lead singer and the mastermind of alternative rock band The Strokes, which released its critically acclaimed debut album, “Is This It,” in 2001. The Strokes’ first two albums mostly featured a garage rock-sound with melodic songs such “Hard to Explain” and “Someday.” However in later albums, they subsequently explored a range of styles, incorporating the likes of synth and electronic sounds in tracks such as “Machu Picchu” and “One Way Trigger.”
One particular aspect that sustained The Strokes’ popularity was their uncanny ability to devise great melodic songs that were both catchy and substantial. This is largely due to Casablancas’ songwriting and composing ability as he wrote most of The Strokes’ material, including all of their first two albums. His ability as a masterful composer is showcased in his solo album “Phrazes for the Young” released in 2009, with edgy and bopping tunes such as “11th Dimension” and “Out of the Blue.” More recently, he also collaborated (and won a Grammy) with electronica artist Daft Punk and co-wrote the single “Instant Crush” in Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories.” All of this work is a testament to Mr. Casablancas’s musical ingenuity and sets up an expectation for what is to come in “Tyranny.” That being said, music fans have been anticipating the arrival of Casablancas’s brainchild since March when the first album preview came out.
When the band’s first single, Human Sadness was released on Sept. 2, the 10-minute piece did not disappoint. Despite its slightly disorientating beginning, the song eases in beautifully at the 27 second mark. It is multi-faceted: melodic yet aggressive. The composition of the song and its motif of those “between all ideas of right and wrong” are an interpretation of the philosophical and moral ideas essential to humanity. In this manner, this particular song subsequently illuminates the concept behind the album.
The album, as stated by the frontman in interviews with The Guardian and GQ, is an elucidation of the “tyranny” very much present in our society. It depicts our perceived sense of freedom when in actuality, we are run by a profit-driven system. The album delineates reality in all of its destructiveness, and this concept behind the album alludes to an overriding atmosphere of human sadness. Although, at first glance, some songs may seem upbeat and lively, the matter at hand and the emotions elicited often tend toward darker themes.
This darker sensibility is found in the lyrics. Along with Casablancas’s vocals and idiosyncratic inflections, it is his lyrical ingenuity that consolidates him as one of the most beloved songwriters of this millennium. Indeed the lyrics are hard to make out in “Tyranny,” but this does not detract from its quality. In fact, it is vitally important to search up the lyrics to fully appreciate any given song on the album.
Given the heavy themes of disorder and injustice, along with its multi-dimensional production and Casablancas’s elusive enunciation, this album needs much contemplation in order to be understood. All the songs require multiple listens to be able to grasp the intended effects or at least articulate the experience for each individual. Highlights from the album include the hard-hitting chorus of “Father Electricity,” the rhythmic musical interludes of “Dare I Care,” the guitar parts of “Johan Van Bronx” and the tentative emotion of “Take Me In Your Army” among many other memorable aspects.
All in all, The Strokes’ related fans can come into the album with any level of expectation and still be pleasantly surprised. The album is an experience; it submerges the individual in a vast range and plunging depth of thoughts and feelings. Though it may not be in everybody’s taste, it certainly is one worth trying. If you do find the album appealing, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz will be coming to Boston on Nov. 26, and tickets are out now.