BY JAMIE DAVIS The cover of Phrazes for the Young shows singer The Strokes’s singer Julian Casablancas sitting in the middle of a room, surrounded by various objects designed to show the combination of antiques with modern technology. There’s an old arch-top guitar with a guitar hero neck, a phonograph with a digital console etc… You get the point. He’s taken the ’80s, and seeing what would happen if all that synthy nonsense was going on in the ’60s. His band, The Strokes was widely credited with kicking off the New Rock Revolution of the early 2000s, which was basically a ’60s garage revival, with The Strokes opening the gates for The White Stripes, Libertines, Vines etc. Their splendidly lo-fi debut album Is This It? sold truckloads, marking the first great indie album of my generation. However after that initial burst of inspiration, their next two albums failed to live up to expectations and they eventually went into hiatus, with solo albums from nearly all the members, until finally Julian. On his first solo contribution, Casablancas has left behind The Strokes’ signature guitar driven sound for a more synth-based approach. The beats are programmed, and the keyboards sometimes go too far in their cheesiness, but somehow Julian manages to keep it all sounding warm and real. The computer-y beats add more than they subtract, and the synths just build on that feeling that you’re listening to what pop music should sound like. Obviously polished and meticulously-crafted, Phrazes retains a pleasing patina of grittiness courtesy of Julian’s raw, unfiltered voice and thrilling bursts of fuzzed-out guitar throughout. The disk has all of the pop-sensibilities of the ’80s, but without the cold digitized edge — think of a shiny digital console connected to an old phonograph horn. The album starts off with the catchy “Out of the Blue,” with Julian singing about what very well could be his relationship with The Strokes: “Somewhere along the way my hopefulness turned to sadness/somewhere along the way my sadness turned to bitterness.” It also features the incredibly great line: “Yes I’m going to hell in a leather jacket, but at least I’ll be in another world while you’re pissing on my casket.” Then there’s lead single, “11th dimension,” which is at least as catchy as anything he has ever done and possibly more so. It’s also one of the happier sounding things he’s ever done, singing abut forgiveness and other pieces of advice designed to help you deal with people. At one point, he even goes back into full-on Strokes territory with “River of Brake Lights,” foregoing his keyboards for a distorted bassline and a chorus that could have been lifted from First Impressions of Earth. Barring the monstrous camp of “I Wish it Was Christmas Today,” with its obligatory sleigh bell intro, Phrazes is a very enjoyable listen. However, the question remains of whether or not this is going to be a lasting career direction, or just a footnote in Strokes history. Personally, I don’t think so. Despite the album’s obvious good qualities, it’s not exactly what Strokes fans had been clamoring for, and it probably doesn’t have their mass-appeal either. But be that as it may, even if you aren’t a Strokes fan you will almost definitely find something to like here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamie Davis is a senior at Kimberton Waldorf High School. He enjoys Blink-182 more than any Thom Yorke fan should.
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