First Impressions: Julian Casablancas’ Phrazes for the Young

Yes, we got to hear the new solo album by The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas. Yes, it’s really, really good. Yes, it’s not due out until November 3rd. Enough questions already. After the jump, look for a track-by-track breakdown of Phrazes for the Young.

1. “Out of the Blue”
The track begins with an eerie, reverberating synth line, on the verge of bursting into a kitschy ’80s love-fest like “11th Dimension” and then…it becomes The Strokes. We are given simple, upbeat chordage. As the guitar chugs along, Casablancas maps out his emotions. Beginning with “hopefulness turned to sadness,” he explains how sadness turns to bitterness, bitterness to anger, and then anger to vengeance.

Once we reach pain, the four chord chorus kicks in, a synthesizer line crawling underneath. After a brief moment of Ratatat-inspired guitar harmonies, we turn to pleasure. “Out of the Blue” isn’t as excitingly quirky as “11th Dimension,” but, for Strokes fans, this will be seen as a good thing.

2. “Left & Right in the Dark”
The album stops reminiscing about The Strokes, and returns back to the ’80s. The verse relies on an echoing chord like that of Flock of Seagulls classic, “I Ran.” Fortunately, Casablancas doesn’t let the track devolve into ironically cheesy nostalgia. The Ratatat-styled, harmonized riff returns for the chorus, which pairs with Casablancas’ passively excited vocals. Casablancas originally said he set out “to capture the catchiness of modern music” while stilling getting at “the power and seriousness of classical music or older music.” Mission accomplished.

3. “11th Dimension”
Did you miss out on the single? Check it out below!

4. “4 Chords of the Apocalypse”
The most unexpected song so far. This is the first time you will hear Julian Casablancas with the blues. Fooling us with a floating spaceship synth sound in the beginning, the track uncharacteristically shifts into a melancholy blues chord progression on the piano. Then Casablancas croons, “I hear it in your silence when you don’t speak/what was funny then isn’t funny now.” A synth line faintly tingles in the background throughout the verse until crunchy, distorted power chords suddenly cut off the melancholy.

Casablancas then kicks into anthemic ballad mode. This chorus lets off into another prog-rock, harmonized guitar solo. The last note rings out for a few seconds, giving the song enough time to shift back to the blues. Building up again to another howling chorus, Julian possesses the organ. Instead of following the the song like a traditional R&B track, the organ flutters in a methodically swirling melody. A 4 chord apocalypse, indeed.

5. “Ludlow St.”
Like the start of “4 Chords,” an alien synth descends at the beginning of “Ludlow St.” The melody continues to lurk beneath a thumping tom in the background. Erie chimes start ringing and then…Julian Casablcanas goes folk??? Acoustic guitar eases into the song, the progression like a simple Dylan song. Beneath blaring synths and a honky tonk piano that soon kicks in, a slightly out of time, electronic hip-hop beat claps woozily in the background.

“It started back in 1624…” sings Casablancas, possessed by the ghost of 1960’s Dylan. Cue the banjo solo. Cue Casablancas deftly whipping four different genres under his control. Despite the eclectic, anachronistic placement of instruments, the track isn’t awkwardly Frankenstein disjointed — nothing is forced. That banjo solo was meant to be there. This is future folk.

6. “River of Brake Lights”
This one begins like an edgy, gangster rap song. A menacing synth bass line wonders atop a clanging beat. A rumbling, low synth creeps in with drums that jarringly shift the rhythm of the song. “We might be in for a late night,” sings Casablancas, noting the ominous shift. From here, the chords become slightly upbeat before reverting back to the bleak synth rock. Towards the latter part of the song, there is a weird, little R2D2 breakdown, and the sinister night continues. With the exception of “Out of the Blue,” nothing about the album will have listeners dismissing Casablancas’ work as “The Strokes, minus The Strokes.”

7. “Glass”
Just when Casablancas has us mildly disturbed, he shifts back to easier listening. “Glass” is not as adventurous as the other tracks, opting for moodier synth rock. Still, the song is notable for the virtuosic, Mozart/Beethoven inspired guitar solo that weaves effortlessly through the middle of the song. So this is what he meant when he said the album would involve the “seriousness of classical music.”

8. “Tourist”
Casablancas returns back to the ’70s guitar-synth prog, laying down a hammer-on, pull-off guitar lick over the verse. The pounding drum beat combines with a shooting synth melody that emits throughout the chorus. Then he busts out the horns the rest of the song. Julian Casablancas can play every instrument. He rarely plays on the actual Strokes recordings, and to hear him fully control his talent on the album is fascinating.