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Julian Casablancas

Phrazes for the Young

[RCA; 2009]

By ; November 9, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Some people think they’re always right. Julian Casablancas may be one of those people, if his antics and comments over the years are to be taken in earnest. Never one to mince words, Casablancas has always carried himself with the effortless cool of a rock star who just doesn’t give a shit, most recently popping up in his leather jacket on Converse ads and singing about boomboxes with the unfunny guy from SNL.

In the past his disaffected mumbling has often given way to a sort of drunken croon or despairing croak, but – as much as I love the Strokes’ first couple albums – I feel like he’s never utilized his voice as much as he could have been outside of the band’s albums.

Phrazes for the Young, then, reasserts Casablancas’ musical persona as something of a space-rock bar singer, sliding his voice around the synth organs of tracks like “Left & Right in the Dark” or breaking out in falsetto (!) on “Glass,” which is one of the best pop songs I’ve heard all year.

The reigning champion of this album, however, is lead single “11th Dimension.” Filled with a euphoric sense of joy, it’s one of those songs that just makes you forget about all your troubles for roughly three and a half minutes. We heard a hint of this melancholy on “You Only Live Once” – the best track from 2006’s First Impressions of Earth – but now he’s gone all out, unafraid to pile on one layer of sound after another until the final chorus sweeps in – and knocks you out.

Casablancas has never been a great lyricist, but there’s something about his simplicity — “Forgive them / Even if they are not sorry” is “Dimension’s” main hook — that just lends itself to the music and, well, feels right. The opening lyric of the album, for example, might give a hint to how he imagines himself to be seen by other members of the Strokes: “Somewhere along the way / My hopefulness turned to sadness / Somewhere along the way / My bitterness turned to anger.”

It’d be nice to get a new Strokes record in 2010, but Phrazes for the Young is that rarest of vanity projects: a successful one. Though it has its share of missteps (the weakest track, “Ludlow St.,” is just a bit too smug for its own good), let’s face it — this could have turned out terrible, but instead we have one of the finest, tautest and most surprising rock albums of 2009. I guess he was right after all.


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