Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Cult Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
You know when you’ve accidentally got two different songs playing on your computer and it takes you a few seconds to realise? Maybe it’s just me, but whenever this happens, and I turn one off, I’m always curiously disappointed by what’s left. The first song from Tyranny called ‘Take Me In Your Army’ reminds me of precisely this…’cept there’s no second song playing. As an album opener, it’s resolutely strange…doomy off-key bass, glimmers of pleasing Blood Orange-esque vocals, eerily-trebly guitar…curiously compelling if you listen for about ten seconds; a bit agonising if you force your way to the end.
Whether the project is with the Strokes or a new solo endeavour, there's always a sense of excitement and apprehension before the first listen of a Julian Casablancas project. The prospect of Casablancas assembling a brand new band, one that includes two members of his touring band, was enough for any Casablancas fan to be optimistic about the end product, and thankfully that optimism has been rewarded: Julian Casablancas + The Voids' Tyranny ranges from punk to alt-pop, Caribbean Zouk to fuzzy electronica. There's a lot to take in, but start to flick through the multiple sonic layers and you find classic songwriting ideas pulled off with stylistic aplomb.
“This is not for everybody, this is for nobody,” Julian Casablancas sings on “Take Me in Your Army”, the opening track off The Voidz’ curious debut album, Tyranny. Is it a warning, a declaration, or both? At its best, Casablancas’ latest foray is an adventurous excursion, the guy’s Metal Machine Music, scratching at the ears more often than it soothes them. On the other hand, it might be the gnarliest drivel he’s put out yet.
On his 2009 debut solo album, Phrazes For The Young, Julian Casablancas sang about the “4 Chords Of The Apocalypse” on a track that, while lyrically apocalyptic, fitted the “gentler Stroke” style of the rest of the record. Now, on his second solo outing (or debut with The Voidz – he’s clearly a fan of the letter ‘z’) Casablancas presents twelve songs that are seemingly post- apocalyptic, with which the band “may have travelled too far into the future for some minds” according to a recent interview. It’s certainly not a bright one.
Neon lights flicker in the burnt out hell of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan cityscape. Out of the darkness drive The Voidz, a ragtag band of rebels clad in crusty leather, society’s last hope against the tyranny of corporate oppression. Their leader scans the radio static until he settles on a chaotic noise. The camera pans up to frame the face of our hero: Julian Casablancas.OK, so the Strokes frontman hasn’t actually filmed his own version of Escape From New York, but if he had then ‘Tyranny’ would be a ready-made soundtrack.
Besides the philosophical connection that Julian Casablancas has with his new non-Strokes bandmates—Beardo Gritter, Jeff Kite, Amir Yaghmai, Jake Bercovici and Alex Carapetis—there is a more practical reason for including The Voidz in the project name, rather than just billing it as a second Julian Casablancas solo album. Tyranny stands apart from Phrazes for the Young (though that album and the new band do share a bizarre affinity for egregious use of the letter z), and billing it as such eliminates any comparisons that may be tempting to draw from the two albums. In fact, Tyranny is hard to even link to Casablancas’ Strokes work.
Julian Casablancas was one of the big surprises on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, vocoder-cooing like an Eighties synth-pop pinup. He must've liked the mutating. His second solo set ditches his Strokes steez for a shredding art-punk squad (à la the Voidoids or early Pere Ubu). His vocals lurch from robosoul falsetto to death-metal howl; the vibe is dark and apoplectic.
Julian Casablancas + The VoidzTyranny(Cult)3 out of 5 stars Self-indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of the most legendary musicians from Bowie to James Brown, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison and Frank Zappa were guilty of it at times in their careers. Consequently, calling Strokes frontman/lead singer Julian Casablancas and his new Voidz band’s project self-indulgent shouldn’t be construed as a negative assessment of his sophomore solo set.
In NPR’s First Listen write-up for Julian Casablancas and the Voidz’s new album, Tyranny, Casablancas admits the record was about doing “weirder, darker” music. If that was the sole aim for Tyranny, then mission accomplished because at the very least, the record is at least a bit more engaging than the bland garage band-isms of his 2009 solo effort, Phrazes for the Young. But unfortunately, Casablancas and the Voidz seem to let the weirdness guide the songs on Tyranny rather than the other way around.
Mystique has always been a key part of rock iconography, which might explain why Julian Casablancas has remained at arms’ length for so long. At his main act’s creative peak, the Strokes frontman had a confounding, emotionally distant aura. A notorious Rolling Stone profile from 2003—right around the time of the excellent, second-verse-same-as-the-first sophomore effort Room on Fire—portrayed him as a contradictory, besotted rascal, as he unleashed invectives against Pringles, haggled with a bootleg CD vendor over a Radiohead album, and repeatedly kissed journalist Neil Strauss on the neck before drunkenly commandeering an abandoned wheelchair.
As the Strokes' music became more regimented, Julian Casablancas' work outside the band became more unpredictable. His solo debut Phrazes for the Young -- which arrived shortly before the Strokes' polished comeback Angles -- was fascinating in its freewheeling disregard for stylistic boundaries, pop song lengths, and anything that came too close to the work of his main band. Tyranny follows the Strokes' meticulously crafted 2013 album Comedown Machine, and working with his new band the Voidz, Casablancas pushed himself to make something even more uncompromising than Phrazes.
opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER Hope is dangerous in the hands of the expectant music devotee, and never more so than after a buzz band makes tidal waves with their debut. For bands that gained significance in the early 00s, it was almost expected that the follow-up album was going to be an epic suckfest (thus the too-oft-used phrase “sophomore slump” became a major talking point in advance of anyone’s second album).