Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Album Review: Tyranny by Julian Casablancas + The Voids

Let me start off by saying that it's impossible for me to discuss this album without comparing it to The Strokes or the former solo work of Julian Casablancas. This isn't to say it's due to similarities, but rather vast differences.

So here's a quick run-down: The Strokes formed in 1998, and and kind of a gruff rock and roll sound (like a post grunge indie thing). They took a break a few years back, and frontman Casablancas released a stylized 80s-sounding solo album with lots of synths. The Strokes regrouped and made two decent but very synthy albums reminiscent of some stuff Casablancas did as a soloist, but still with touches of the old Strokes.

This album is not like any of that.

When "Take Me in Your Army" kicks off, you feel like you might have stepped into a real-life retro horror video game. The song doesn't stay that way for long, but it does go on to remind you of something you can't quite put your finger on. All parts of the song blend together perfectly, but with something deliberately just a little off, so it's unsettling. Is it the attacking beeping synths? Is it the way the title line "take me in your army" goes for both a word and a note that wasn't what we might have expected? Or is it the fact that the coming and going of the vocals altogether isn't something you can predict?

We have the perfect amount of time to ponder all this, but not come up with a solution, before the next track, "Crunch Punch" breaks in in a completely different manner. It's bookended with found audio samples from old radio programs. "M.utually A.ssured D.estruction" is one of the hardest pieces on the album, yet there are touches of Casablancas' signature vocal style peeking out from under all the sound. It's also the shortest track on the album, leaving you only time to ponder its purpose, and it never really "gets going." Of course, "M.utually A.ssured D.estruction" gives way to the longest track on the album, "Human Sadness."

"Human Sadness" is just over ten minutes, with rough sounds and synthesized strings living harmoniously together with cliche Strokes guitar and Casablancas rambling vocals. The change comes in at almost exactly halfway, and it's as though you're listening to a battle take place. The lighter sound seems to win out in the end, possibly indicating the end of human sadness. The track doesn't seem as long as it is, despite the lyrics being all but impossible to understand.

The lead single "Where No Eagles Fly" has the only truly killer hook on the album, and certainly functions as the most accessible song on the album. The only hook that comes close to "Where No Eagles Fly" is "Business Dog," which is still as odd a number as the album gets, including a self-censor in the first minute of the song.

"Nintendo Blood" almost sounds like it will be a reprise of "Take Me in Your Army," but comes into its own soon enough. The album closes with the dreary "Off to War..." which has less musicality than many of its' cohorts on the album, but is a quiet enough, it almost acts as a fade out for the album.

The way many of these tracks mesh together sounds like they weren't created as an album. So much so that I don't think it was an accident. I think each closing and intro is meant to be jarring, to let you know who's in control, to tell you the track has changed and there's nothing you can do about it. It's almost as though it's to wake you from the notion that you might have found some security even in the nonsense of the previous song.

Tyranny is gritty and unique in a way nothing Julian Casablancas has ventured into before has been. At just over an hour long, this has to be one of the longest albums I've listened to in years too. But it's worth the time.

Julian Casablancas + The Voids are a rock group side project of Julian Casablancas.

Tyranny can be purchased here for only $3.87!

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