Sunday, April 4, 2010

Phrazes for the Young

To quote Monty Python, "and now, for something completely different" :-)

It's been a while since I've found a relatively recent album that I liked. Nothing against recent music--I'm just too lazy to find good new music. However, I just discovered an amazing CD that is both original and pretty epic.

I first knew of Julian Casablancas because of his contribution to The Lonely Island's first CD, Incredibad, a surreal, hilarious song about...well, it's indescribable. I'm just going to post the video below. When they used the song for an SNL Digital Short, I did my usual "research on Wikipedia" thing, and found out Julian had released a solo album, "Phrazes for the Young" (the title references one of Oscar Wilde's works) in November. Now, I'm usually suspicious of solo projects from a member of an already awesome band, mainly because they just aren't as good. This is an exception. Besides having the coolest name ever, Julian Casablancas is also a genius songwriter (just listen to any Strokes CD...), and his talent is not restricted to Strokes projects.

"Phrazes for the Young" is a delicious ride through a carefully crafted world of synth-ey beats, amazing vocals, and sincere emotion. With only eight tracks encompassing nearly 40 minutes, I am always left wanting more. But despite the brevity, there is a song for every mood.

The first track, "Out of the Blue," is passionate but fun, with incredibly catchy lyrics--a great way to open an album. "Glass" and "Tourist" are definitely tied for my favorite. They both have AWESOME phrases that stay wonderfully stuck in your head (I've been walking around hearing "bullet-proooooof...vest!" for a few weeks now...). And then there's the first single, "11th Dimension," the most eighties sounding track with a correspondingly retro music video (embedded below). It is campy and intriguing, without taking itself too seriously (and is it just me, or does Julian Casablancas bear an unnerving resemblance to Frodo Baggins during the black-and-white scenes?). I'm usually not a huge fan of music videos, but I'd give it a quick glance--it's fun, cheesy, and features some surprisingly good acting from Casablancas.

Julian Casablancas
I wish I could provide some speculations as to the actual messages in "Phrazes," but unfortunately, the lyrics generally go over my head. There is definitely depth there, and hopefully I'll "get it" eventually, because I have a feeling Casablancas is offering far more than the great music and vocals.

The album as a whole has a slew of influences, from eighties pop to Johnny Cash to a bit of soul (and I hear a little bit of Thom Yorke in his voice), without being contrived. It is clearly a bit of an experiment, and I think that Casablancas' willingness to take chances generally pays off, with the occasional awkward moment (most notably the bizarre and grating "River of Brakelights").

Casablancas' first solo effort is full of surprises that caught me off guard, and it took a few listens to really grow on me. There is an exquisite complexity to the album that prompts a craving for repeated listens. Let the genius of "Phrazes" sweep you away--you won't be sorry.

"11th Dimension" music video:

And now, behold the awesomeness that is "Boombox" (FYI, this is definitely a PG-13 video):