opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER
Hope is dangerous in the hands of the expectant music devotee, and never more so than after a buzz band makes tidal waves with their debut. For bands that gained significance in the early 00s, it was almost expected that the follow-up album was going to be an epic suckfest (thus the too-oft-used phrase “sophomore slump” became a major talking point in advance of anyone’s second album). The inability to replicate success while growing and evolving is why most bands simply fade away or tour the nostalgia circuit while churning out new, lesser versions of the same sounds that made them famous.
While fans of The Strokes haven’t had a lot to be hopeful for since 2003, a quick spin of “Last Night” from the band’s landmark debut still makes one long for the what-could-have-been trajectory these inventive legends-in-the-making were supposed to take. Every album has had moments of greatness for sure, but instead of confidently sounding like The Strokes and leading the charge to create the definitive indie rock sound of the moment, they’ve adopted of-the-moment trends that sounded like the middle point between The Strokes interpreting 80s dance pop and Phoenix.
Enter Tyranny, the side project of lead singer Julian Casablancas and The Voidz, an unexpectedly weird, inventive and invigorating album that sounds absolutely nothing like The Strokes, and for that reason alone you should be really excited, and maybe even a little hopeful, to give this record a spin. Album opener, “Take Me In Your Army” is an ominous, beat-heavy beast that sounds equal parts soundtrack to a B-movie slasher flick and Nine Inch Nails with a melodic, quirky dash of Björk. “Dare I Care” continues in that vein, overloading the senses with layers of shredded-guitar, thick, Muse-like bass and dance-y beats, with Casablancas’ slacker voice even donning shades of Freddy Mercury near the song’s conclusion. “Crunch Punch” is a messy, mechanical surfer-rock party jam that sounds like the fun I remember having upon hearing Is This It? for the first time. Casablancas croons with confidence about the pains of distance, and instead of coming across as bored or too-cool-for-school, he sounds furiously alive: ”I can’t live on the phone forever, we live too far away from everything.”
Relentlessly aggressive, Tyranny grinds and drives through pummeling electro-punk rock, and album highlights “M.utually A.ssured D.estruction”, “Father Electricity” and “Business Dog” open up jerky, sonic mosh pits in the brain that will make it rather challenging to sit still, drive the speed limit or maintain general composure wherever one chooses to listen. The album rarely slows down, and but when it does, such as on the 10-minute centerpiece “Human Sadness”, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz keep things interesting by always changing course, layering sounds and subverting whatever it is you thought you might be hearing here. By breaking out of The Strokes mold and setting aside that band altogether, Casablancas seems to have forgotten what cool looks like when you’re fronting The Strokes and instead embodies an uninhibited weirdness that goes exactly where those of us who thought The Strokes were here to save music would inevitably go … on to make another great album. B
This was originally published on September 17th.