Today I discovered that this blog is over three years old (a somewhat terrifying realisation), and so I felt the need to write something. Yesterday a friend of mine claimed that the Julian Casablancas + the Voidz record was one of the best guitar records of the past year. I had been avoiding the album because I don’t want my heart broken anymore than the majority of Comedown Machine managed, and recently watching the Voidz performing ‘Vision of Division’ at Primavera was difficult to say the least (not going to link to the video, because that is how upset it made me). And yet, it only seemed fitting to give Tyranny a little test run this evening, given how inextricable my Strokes love is as regards my music taste (and, indeed, as regards the name of this blog).
Writing about a record you’ve only listened to once is perhaps not the best way to treat an album – things that leave only faint impressions on you probably make more sense with each listen, I think. However, for the sake of ease we are going for a First Listen approach with Tyranny, and I will admit that I’m (just about) pleasantly surprised.
Opening track ‘Take Me in Your Army’ has this wonderfully disconcerting slowness; an intriguingly hypnotic, almost seedy swirl of a ballad. At its best that’s what this record does, creating a spiralling, strange ambience that convulses just beneath the surface, as on ‘Xerox’ and the epic, swoon-y majesty that is lead single ‘Human Sadness’. But it is perhaps when that convulsing side of things rears its head a little too much that the record seems a bit hard to stomach. It’s what I would argue was a problem on Casablancas’ solo record, Phrazes For the Young: at times, it was brilliant, but at times he tried to do much, and there can be a brashly overwhelming feel to his baroque opulence. Take from this what you will, but I do think Tyranny sounds very much like the logical next part to Phrazes.
This is an odd little record that’s often compellingly angry and sad (there’s a surprising amount of yelling from Casablancas on songs like ‘Where No Eagles Fly’) and it seems to wind its way between a variety of genres and time signatures, with sometimes poignantly off-kilter, striking lyrics (“I’m the worst” is the refrain on ‘Xerox’). There’s a sweet taste of something akin to African high life on ‘Father Electricity’, nods to metal on ‘Business Dog’ and weird flourishes of tabla and strangely (if not dubiously) Indian vibes on ‘Dare I Care’. There’s an 80s lilt to ‘Nintendo Blood’ while tracks like ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’ I would go so far as to say sound a bit prog? Which is no bad thing, but still something I never thought I would say about a record created by a member of the Strokes. But maybe such comparisons are problematic in themselves: what one might consider as that detached, nonchalant, quintessentially “Strokes” sound hasn’t been a thing since around ten years ago. Much as hearing Casablancas’ smooth, seductive vocals unobscured aside from the distant fuzz of distortion would be beautiful, what he is trying to do musically here is incredibly far removed from what he was doing back on Is This It?. Strokes comparisons, I would posit, are irrelevant.
Tyranny isn’t a masterpiece, but ultimately nor is it underwhelming. There is a constant odd, enthrallingly siren-like nature to the record, and at times it can be a bit much. Overall I suppose you can’t fault Casablancas on ambition. It seems to be a record that might grow with each listen and, while I doubt I’m going to fall in love with it, there are some nice enough moments on it that I will certainly come back to it.
[You can listen to Tyranny on Spotify here.]