Julian Casablancas, long known as mastermind behind the early years of rock and roll saviors The Strokes, rocks back into the fold- this time with a little help from his new backing band, The Voidz.
The Voidz are comprised of Jeramy Gritter and Amir Yaghmai on guitar, Jeff Kite on the keyboard, Jake Bercovici on bass and Alex Carapetis on drums. Each technically skilled in their own right with jazz and rock influences, (to name a few) Julian assembled these musicians over the past few years claiming a musical kinship with the newly founded group that look as if they were plucked right out of the 80’s.
The new album, Tyranny, dubbed a protest record, works to find the “area in music that hasn’t been explored.” And on their first album, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz achieve that goal.
The album begins with “Take Me In Your Army.” As industrious metal-clanking beats lead in, Julian’s heartfelt falsetto trickles in tow. Paranoid guitar riffs arpeggiate back and forth as Julian croons, “this is for nobody.”
A passion project he’s yearned to make since 2001’s breakout record, Is This It, this album isn’t for you or me; it’s for Julian. With the commercialized drops and pops that flood our sound waves, Casablancas leads the assault against the tyrannical popular radio. One won’t find predictability anywhere on this album dripping with eclecticism; Julian has the map and the listener is simply along for the ride.
“Crunch Punch” punches forward with a surfer rock riff that sounds melted into an antique arcade game. In fact, much of Tyranny contains this retro videogame aesthetic as beeps, blips and videogame laser beams abound.
“M.utually A.ssured D.estruction” and ”Business Dog” find the album at its most raucous with their respective face melting guitar licks, effect-heavy blaring vocals and punk rock howls.
One of the two singles released prior to Tyranny’s September 23rd US Debut, “Human Sadness,” acts as a beautifully epic centerpiece to the album, nearing 11-minutes in length. This album may be as forward thinking as Kanye West’s Yeezus, but on this track, Casablancas delves into the past (with the help of Alex Carapetis who brought him the sample) as he shapes and layers complex melodies alongside Queen-like guitar solos over a snippet of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D- Minor.
A slick, super cool bass line propels Tyranny’s second single, “Where No Eagles Fly,” forward as if JC and the Voidz are gearing up for an impending bar-fight. The opposition? Overpowering government bodies in the form of “predators.” The album’s highlight, and perhaps most accessible song of Tyranny, has the kind of name that embodies the work as a whole: “Nintendo Blood.” Highly contagious and downright danceable, Julian’s reverb heavy vocals reminisce of his Room on Fire days until his falsetto returns with a vengeance, howling to the videogame gods.
He seems to dust off the old vocoder from his Daft Punk sessions near the track’s finale, emitting the kind of auditory stimuli as if Casablancas and the Voidz are engaged in a final boss fight, trapped in Tron. The song climaxes as Julian screams in his falsetto that wouldn’t sound too out of place in a large arena.
The rest of the album boasts woozy synth and alternating guitar inflections matched with Casablancas’ high-flying falsetto and Alex Carpetis’ world music beats, blasting the skins of his drum set as if his life depended on it.
Tyranny, a surely divisive album, contains the kind of complexity and layering one may find on an Animal Collective album. On “Johan Von Bronx,” Casablancas wails, “my ego is out of control, yes, I know!”
We know too, Julian. And this listener is quite grateful for its result: a highly ambitious and artistic output.
Tyranny by Julian Casablancas and The Voidz is out now for $3.87 via Casablancas’ Cult Records website. Or the standard $9.99 on iTunes if that’s your cup of tea.
(Photo courtesy of Costanza.CH)