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Music Review: Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

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What happens when you take the distinctive skinny-jeans-and-cigarettes vibe of The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and dump it into a room filled with 70s synthesizers and computers? You get Phrazes of the Young, a deliciously melodic and alarmingly pleasant debut from the New York City singer/songwriter.

Casablancas’ debut is the latest of the Strokes’ side projects, with Albert Hammond Jr. releasing a pair of solo records and Fabrizio Moretti’s Little Joy popping out a self-titled record in 2008. Phrazes of the Young, however, completely diverts from the other Strokes offshoots in that it steps out of that minimalistic garage rock simplicity to capture some truly unique moments of musical revelation.

The most interesting aspect of Phrazes is how flat-out anthemic and joyful (?) it is, with mounting melodies capturing Casablancas’ ambitions with feeling. The record is a measly eight songs long, but it manages to feel immense with terrific new wave bits and a whole lot of glossy guitar glimmer packed in with that ditzy pop-and-fizz 70s synth funk.

As if to tease us regulars, Phrazes for the Young opens with a Strokes-ish roundup on “Out of the Blue.” Casablancas takes the low road vocally, allowing the music to all but drown him out as the chugging track progresses to the spectacularly beautiful chorus.

Recorded in New York, Los Angeles, and Nebraska, Phrazes really does feel like a record stretched out over the bizarreness and magnificence of the United States. It’s almost akin to a road trip record, pulling different pieces from various regions and plopping them together with lush and loose synthesizer goodness.

The incredible New Order-esque “11th Dimension” is a seriously danceable, fun, Studio 54-style track that gives Casablancas occasion to strut his stuff with lyrics like “Why I got music come outta my hands and feet and kisses, whoo.” Just try not to get completely wrapped up in the ridiculously catchy melody.

Other cuts allow Casablancas the chance to move a bit further lyrically. He is emotionally present everywhere on the record, but some pieces really do offer more than many might be used to.

Allowing the really diverse to emerge, “Ludlow St.” is a charming, moving, fucking amazing song that uses a mesh of Asian influences, country and brass to talk about the past. Casablancas moves through the moods of a piddling barroom drunk meandering through the haze of regret, putting in a turn that is half characterization and half deeply personal.

Phrazes for the Young is a remarkable showcase for Julian Casablancas, proving that he is an artist of ideas and risks. With The Strokes (apparently) ready to put out another record anytime now, it’s safe to say that they’re in good creative hands and will remain one of New York’s best bands for quite some time.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • Jordan Richardson

    Actually The Time of the Assassins is a pretty decent record. Regina Spektor plays piano on one of the tracks, so that’s always a plus.

    EB, correct! I would have also accepted oranges, yacht parties, The Goonies, and baseball.

  • Maybe it’s because he didn’t know the guy’s name either.

    I’ll guess: Fellini’s 8 1/2?

  • Jordan Richardson

    You’re right, I didn’t. Three points if you can guess what else I didn’t mention.

  • You didn’t mention Nickel Eye, the solo album by the man who plays the bass for The Strokes.