This week Julian Casablancas dropped “Phrazes for the Young,” Casablancas’s first solo album and one of the best debuts I’ve heard. For fans of The Strokes out there hoping this would be another Strokes album, sorry. Let’s get one thing straight: “Phrazes” is not “The Strokes, Part 4.” Jules’ solo offering pushes the retro, electro, neo-glow sounds of the 1980s to the hilt. Heavy bass and synthesizers pop up everywhere, and you can’t help but get up and gyrate. Listening to the album makes me want to hold up a pink glow stick in gold lame leggings at an “ultra-hip” rave or, perhaps, at a McCarren Park pool party, which I might do since he will obviously play there next summer.
I suppose recording a solo debut is difficult, especially when you’re Julian Casablancas and part of the American rock canon. How do I do something new? Maybe opening up Logic on your Macbook and fiddling around is one way to distance yourself from the croon everybody knows you for. Stylistically, “Phrazes” has a fairly consistent sound: think electronic + disco + new wave — which everybody from The Noisettes to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is doing right now. Did all these peeps record their disco + new wave albums together in the same recording session?
Most of the joints on “Phrazes” are fun and dancey but don’t have the same rock edge as a typical Strokes album. But that’s OK, because this is not a Strokes album! Though all the electronica does make me wonder: is electronic dance music really the only way for a solo artist to go? Why is it that just about every time the lead singer of a band develops a side project, we can easily expect an album of electronic beats and synthesizers? Case in point — Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” or “Discovery,” the indie-rock lovechild of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles.
“Phrazes” opens with “Out of the Blue,” a 1960s doo-wop, upbeat-but-behind-the-beat classic rock joint. Your ears are smothered in Jules’ typical “I’m too drunk to sing these lyrics clearly” style. For me, the best part of the song is the simple brilliance of the line: “Yes I know I’m going to hell in a leather jacket / At least I’ll be in another world while you’re pissing on my casket.” I’ve already changed my Facebook status: Madison Moore : going to hell in a leather jacket.
Press play on “River of Breaklights” at the loudest volume you can handle. And then turn it up. If you’re late to class, try walking to this and you’ll shave a couple minutes off of your commute. It’s fast paced, forward launching, and makes me think of a high-speed car chase. Our rock and roll hero speak-sings that he’s “Getting the hang of it / Getting the hang of it / Timing is everything / Timing the hang of it / Getting is everything.” What I get is the sense of urgency and combustion that the song is about.
All the fun and dancing aside, two slower songs on “Phrazes” really break up the flow of the album and make me want to go all “Nina Garcia” on Jules: Why do I have to hear this? I don’t want to hear ugly! “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” sees Jules doing a blues-churchy gospel thing. But what he ends up with is a hot mess — though I do like the guitar riff in the middle of the song. Maybe you can just loop that for four minutes. “Ludlow St.” is a cheesy, country-electro (?!) love song to New York’s Ludlow Street. The song asks you to remember Ludlow Street before all those luxury glass box condos moved in: “Yuppies invading on Ludlow Street / Nightlife is raging on Ludlow Street.” But you can’t help but wonder about the irony of the song — maybe it’s intentionally cheesy? Because the best way to write about downtown New York is to do a country song, obviously.
As an album, “Phrazes” is totally rad. You’ll run to it. You’ll dance to it. You might even you-know-what to it. Take my advice: delete “Ludlow St.” and “4 Chords” from your iPod. I did — and now the album is where it should be. Yay for “right click — delete — move to trash.”