Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny
by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published October 28th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
I am going to use what will sound like a problematic word to describe Tyranny: “ambitious.” That word, “ambitious,” even during the heyday of the Strokes’ domination of independent rock, could never be accurately attributed to their approach to music. Tyranny, on the other hand, is completely unexpected and sees Julian Casablancas explore new ground.
Let me check my bias at the door–I want Julian Casablancas to succeed. I, like so many others, continue to enjoy the Strokes’ first two albums, and have hoped that each of their subsequent releases would signal a return to form of some sort. I’ve been disappointed three times in a row, obviously, but in reflection, my hopefulness has been misplaced all along. Julian Casablancas’ name is inextricably tied to a band that he has appeared disinterested in leading for the better part of a decade, so expecting anything other than half-assery from the Strokes is like believing that Billy Corgan still has the heir to Siamese Dream up his sleeve, or that anything to follow from Pixies can redeem Indie Cindy.
If we assume that the Strokes are a thing of the past (which at this juncture seems reasonable), then Casablancas is at a pivotal moment in his career. How does a frontman with more shrugs than classics transition towards a successful career as a solo artist? The answer is simple: make a better product than you ever did with your band. For Casablancas, that’s a tricky proposition since as he claims much of the songwriting credit for the Strokes’ first two albums. So for his unique situation, Casablancas has to make an individualistic statement that sounds nothing like the Strokes. He achieved this with the more memorable moments onthe inconsistently interesting Phrazes for the Young, but with Tyranny the departure from Strokesdom is complete, creative and utterly shocking. In other words, just what the doctor ordered.
To start with aesthetic (because let’s be honest, that was the singular trademark of Strokesdom), the Voidz have decidedly contracted a violent strain of Ugly. In terms of substance, too, Tyranny is the perfect antithesis of the Strokes’ cool. Clocking in at anhour and boasting six songs that break the five-minute mark (let’s remember that Casablancas was the reviver of the three-minute rock jam), Tyranny is devoid of Strokesy minimalism, referencing neither the stripped-bare adrenaline of the early 2000s or the empty tick-tock of their work this decade. Tyranny erupts with bass and distortion, grinding synths and walls of guitar, and by far the most interesting melodies Casablancas has written in some time.
Where are we so far? Surprised, more than anything else! Tyranny is exactly what Casablancas needed to save his career; in terms of credibility, anyway, given the unlikelihood of Tyranny garnering any commercial success. Casablancas probably knew, given his recent track record, that his project with the Voidz probably looks as shabbily-conceived as the last three Strokes albums. In other words the pressure is off, andafforded this freedom Casablancas creates some remarkably heavy, spooky and creative moments (the stunningly pretty 11-minute epic of a first single, “Human Sadness, comes to mind). Throughout the album the basslines don’t just loop, they amble; the drums aren’t a formality, they’re dynamic; Casablancas’ vocals don’t drip lazily, they strain and stretch far past the point of breaking. Casablancas packs a ton of material into this album, and none if it sounds like the Casablancas we’ve known. Despite all the new sonic territory Casablancas has never seemed more at home as he does on Tyranny.
Critics call Tyranny overstuffed and muddy, and they’re not wrong–Tyranny is nothing if not perplexing. But it’s also a completely necessary left turn from an artist whose persona has been replicated and revised until it succumbed to obsoleteness. By the end of Tyranny, Casablancas isn’t the carefully unkempt messiah of the formulaic rock song. In actuality we have no idea what he is or what he’s thinking, but that suits him just fine.
Recommended Tracks: Human Sadness, Johan Von Bronx, Dare I Care, Nintendo Blood