Julian Casablancas is an angry man, or so it would appear, thanks to his latest project away from The Strokes. His second solo outing, and his first with newly formed band The Voidz, is an odd and challenging record. That's not to say that 'Tyranny' is bad, rather a drastic departure from Casablancas' usual sound. Look at it this way; if 2009's 'Phrazes For The Young' was Casablancas dipping his toe into a different body of work, here he's jumped in with both feet. It's that conviction that makes 'Tyranny' somehow more interesting than this noisy grab bag of rough ideas could have otherwise been.
If Casablancas' work with the Strokes pays homage to 70s New York punk, then his work with the Voidz is a clear progression to post-punk, hardcore and even industrial influences from the following decade. A good example is 'Tyranny''s opening track 'Take Me In Your Army'. There are shades of Nine Inch Nails in the metallic and regimented drum beat, Joy Division in the synths and guitars and, most bizarrely, Prince in the falsetto delivery of the chorus. It's a strange concoction, but it effectively sets the scene for what's to come. There's a dark and brooding mood on display throughout 'Tyranny', one that won't endear it to some listeners, however it quickly becomes clear that really isn't the point. Casablancas describes his upcoming North American tour as an opportunity to "melt people's faces off", he's obviously in a confrontational mood and it shows here.
There's a loose narrative theme throughout 'Tyranny' as Casablancas rails against capitalism and the injustices he tries to pinpoint in corporate America. But really the social commentary of tracks like 'M.utually A.ssured D.estruction' or 'Business Dog' takes a backseat to the sonic experimentation going on. The former sounds like speed metal marginally slowed down and played through a boombox tapedeck. Elsewhere, vocals are severely distorted or processed to suit the mood, even the closest thing to The Strokes here ('Nintendo Blood') sounds far more unhinged than Casablancas has in the past. While it takes some getting used to, the rough edges and unpolished approach is a welcome move throughout 'Tyranny'.
The failing of 'Tyranny', though, is the excessive self-indulgence that creeps in from time to time. It's almost understandable that Casablancas has self released the record, as I can imagine that most major labels would have requested some changes to make the listening experience more palatable. Closing track 'Off To War', for example, is a pretty tuneless funeral dirge that brings the album to a grinding halt. Perhaps the easiest target and most obvious example of this criticism is lead single 'Human Sadness'. Does it need to be eleven minutes long? No. Could it do with a liberal amount of trimming to remove some of the ideas? Yes. There's a really interesting string sample that opens the track, but it gets lost along the way as the song descends into a soup of noise. Even at eight minutes there would be enough time to explore everything needed here, instead it becomes monotonous and mildly frustrating. Thankfully, it's also the only time The Voidz come close to the ten-minute mark on the record.
'Tyranny' is an admirable, if not entirely successful, outing for Casablancas and his new band. It's refreshing that he's chosen to flex his muscles with music that's more challenging than usual, and there's certainly a great deal of benefit to his future output by doing so. I'm reluctant to say I don't like 'Tyranny', because I actually do, but I also recognise that it's a hard record to love as a whole. It's that frustration which you can't ignore that tarnishes 'Tyranny'. While Casablancas' social commentary is a little lightweight at times, the confrontational mood on show and sonic experimentation certainly makes up for that. There's no doubting 'Tyranny' is worth a listen, though whether it will languish on your shelf for some time before you listen again remains to be seen.
Official Site -