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On Julian Casablancas, The Strokes and The Voidz

March 17, 2014

Scholars disagree on the exact date, but sometime around 1999, Julian Casablancas emerged fully formed from the primordial ooze of New York City’s Giuliani-era SoHo sewers.  He has has been one of the coolest people on the fucking planet ever since.

As singer and sole writing credit on all but one song of seminal Strokes albums Is This It and Room on Fire, Jules singlehandedly gave rock n roll its swagger back at a time when it needed to be saved from Limp Bizkit.  And he did so without managing to give a single, solitary fuck in the process.  In the years following 9/11, Julian has been less of a rock star and more a signifier for the bygone days when Manhattan was still dangerous, and by extent, exciting.

After writing two albums that ‘revived’ ‘garage rock’ (and one spent toying with that formula, to varying degrees of success), Julian went full tabula rasa on the eight tracks of his solo album Phrazes for the Young. Here, Casablancas experimented with song structure and instrumentation to synthesize (perhaps a bit too literally) classical music theory with rock, new wave and even country, in order to bring forth music that would transcend time and space.  With such lofty ambitions, it’s not shocking that the album showed signs of inconsistency, and many regard it as little more than an Infinite Jest length endnote in the Julian Casablancas story.  But as I spent more time with the record and gradually came to accept that it aspired to be more than a surrogate Strokes album, tracks like “Out of the Blue”, “11th Dimension”,  “Ludlow St.” and “River of Brakelights” grew on me.

Since the fall 2009 release of Phrazes, the Strokes ended their five year hiatus, releasing two albums that by their own lofty standards nearly qualify as forgettable.  Where Is This It? and Room on Fire were built from Julian’s exact sonic blueprint, on post-hiatus Angles (2011) and Comedown Machine (2013) the Strokes often sounded like a band struggling to feel their way through a more collaborative approach to songwriting. The fact that Julian and Daft Punk co-wrote what was secretly the best Strokes song to come out last year further draws attention to this post-punk personality crisis.

And though he would never admit it himself, it feels like Julian Casablancas has something to prove with his upcoming album,  Julian Casablancas + The Voidz (released through Julian’s own label, Cult Records).  Astute readers might notice a winking allusion to original Television member/first-wave punk god/current East Village resident Richard Hell and his late 70’s backing band “The Voidoids”.   Hopefully, channeling the image and spirit of another lower Manhattan legend can help Jules get some of his mojo back.

From the snippets of audio released recently, I’m guardedly optimistic about what’s to come.   Just like Phrazes for the Young, this latest batch of songs defies neat categorization.  At times, Julian’s new music sounds like neon-saturated dystopian punk.  Other passages evoke memories of The Strokes delivered via acid flashback.  While this doesn’t leave me with much hope for an incredibly cohesive album, it’s clear that Julian is still swinging for the fences with his solo work.  Let’s just hope that he has a higher batting average than his beloved New York Mets.

Whether its out of a nostalgia-induced sense of obligation, a desire to have one’s unwavering faith in Julian’s genius rewarded, or just plain morbid curiosity, there are plenty of reasons to check out this album whenever it’s released.   Will the album build on the momentum generated by his appearance on Random Access Memories and usher in a Casablancassaince?  Will it be so bad that we’re forced to rewrite history and pretend that Interpol was better than The Strokes all along?

When Is This It? was released, CBGB’s was still open on the Bowery.  Today it’s a fucking John Varvatos store.  While it’s comforting to enjoy those early Strokes records, it’s unrealistic to expect Julian’s perspective not to have changed when the environment he’s become synonymous with has changed around him.   All we can do is hope that his music, at least, represents a change for the better. I think my reaction to this album will ultimately fall somewhere between love and hate.  But I’ll be damned if I don’t spend a good chunk of my summer (hopefully) trying to make sense of it all.



UPDATE: Unfortunately, early reviews of Julian Casablancas + the Voidz’ live performances have been less than stellar.  Hopefully they’ll be able to feel things out between now and early June when Julian plays NYC’s Governor’s Ball with both The Voidz and The Strokes.


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One Comment
  1. ezraarze permalink

    Reblogged this on ezraarze.

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