Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
3 out of 5 stars
Self-indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of the most legendary musicians from Bowie to James Brown, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison and Frank Zappa were guilty of it at times in their careers. Consequently, calling Strokes frontman/lead singer Julian Casablancas and his new Voidz band’s project self-indulgent shouldn’t be construed as a negative assessment of his sophomore solo set. On the contrary, there is an abundance of interesting ideas scattered throughout this expansive, hour long album.
Bits of dense electronica, pummeling punk, sweet melodies, dark metal and experimental cut and paste found samples all vie for attention, often on the same track. Casablancas subverts his vocals under the racket, making lyrics nearly impossible to hear, let alone understand, although it’s obvious he’s committed to them. These tracks seldom have standard structures and wander, sometimes aimlessly, from style to style with little sense of clear direction.
To say this is a challenging listening experience is to understate the aggression and sheer intensity of tracks such as “Dare I Care” that careen like a caffeinated pinball from moments of beauty to twisted distortion, all propelled by jagged guitars and bubbling Latin percussive beats. There is an 80s Gang of Four aesthetic to the opening of “Where No Eagles Fly” that disintegrates into shouting punk and then grinding hard rock, all symbolic of the concept at hand.
If it sounds like a mess… well, it is. But there are enough stretches where the disparate elements join to become ecstatic noise that works on a visceral and conceptual if not an emotional level. Whether anyone short of the most rabid Strokes fan can listen to all at one time is debatable. Still, this clear departure from the NYC pop/rock band’s usual far less abrasive fare is commendable. Just be forewarned it’s not for the faint of heart.
Those willing to take the plunge are likely to find enough here worthy of a future return to explore further and ignore, or more likely respect, its self-indulgent qualities.