It seems any attempt at experimentation on part of Julian Casablancas has previously been met with mixed opinion, a few interested chin-rubs balanced out by a lot of eye rolls. The neo-psychedelia of ‘Tyranny’, Casablancas’ first album as frontman with new side project Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, was attention-grabbing enough for the group to be labelled as something other than “not The Strokes”, but it only gave us a glimpse at how far Casablancas could take his talents, while intertwining them with batshit crazy musical motifs.
Dropping “Julian Casablancas” from the band name, sophomore release ‘Virtue’ is a team effort, with almost every song being credited to The Voidz. There’s a chance Casablancas realised the other members of his band have the potential to be creative nutcases in the same way he does, and ‘Virtue’ might actually be the eccentric’s wet dream – a garage punk record dressed as a psychedelic, new wave, noise pop, gothic, hypnagogic rock hybrid. This wasn’t supposed to work… but it does…
Put Strokes-esque tunes ‘Leave It In My Dreams’ and ‘Wink’ to one side and you’re left with a maniacal masterclass. Casablancas and friends constantly shake hands with Ariel Pink whilst winking at the likes of Beck, Mr. Bungle and worldbeat. ‘QYURRYUS’ is a strange, foreboding new wave tune that boasts both Arabic and krautrock influences, as Casablancas’ dictatorial vocal delivery vacantly bellows “I lost what’s mine”, while being poked and prodded by an autotuned falsetto line. ‘My Friend the Walls’ fuses ska second wave overtones with noisy hardcore punk, and just when you thought The Voidz had tried everything there is to try, penultimate track ‘We’re Where We Were’ keeps the party going with a bit of cyberpunk grime. Industrial punk is already explored heavily on the record up to this point, particularly on ‘Black Hole’, but ‘We’re Where We Were’, with its warning vocals, comparing the present day to 1939 Germany, is just so brave it needs to be highlighted.
‘Virtue’ is a great album for those struggling with their own musical identity. If you’re a multi-purpose musician, who goes from loving one thing to something completely different, to the point where you’ve no idea what kind of style you should be shooting for, the evil genius eccentricity of ‘Virtue’ has got you covered, proving being bold enough to try a vast amount of ideas at once can pay off beautifully.
With or without its stylistic boldness, ‘Virtue’ still has a number of tracks that ooze compositional greatness. ‘Pyramid of Bones’ is a standout track, with a bombastic, howling hard rock chorus, making for a concise bit of songwriting. ‘One of the Ones’ too may go down as an overlooked gem, with crazy electricity and energy, and an astonishingly dramatic chorus, with Casablancas singing “I know, I know, I’ll never get you back”. Also dig the jittery chorus of ‘Lazy Boy’ and the overwhelming sadness of closing track ‘Pointlessness’.
Give it a chance and you’ll end up having a day-long conversation about ‘Virtue’, with your like-minded experimental rock fan buddies. There’s so much on offer, so much to sink your teeth into, and if it doesn’t end up getting the praise and attention it truly deserves, if it gets buried or obfuscated by the commercial world, just let ‘Permanent High School’ remind you – “just because something’s popular…don’t mean it’s good”.
‘Virtue’ is out now via RCA Records. The full track listing is as follows…
01. Leave It In My Dreams
03. Pyramid of Bones
04. Permanent High School
06. One of the Ones
07. All Wordz Are Made Up
08. Think Before You Drink
10. My Friend the Walls
11. Pink Ocean
12. Black Hole
13. Lazy Boy
14. We’re Where We Were