Julian Casablancas + The Voidz - 'Tyranny'
The Strokes man and his ragtag band of rebels get lost in a weird, self-indulgent assault on corrupt capitalism
Neon lights flicker in the burnt out hell of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan cityscape. Out of the darkness drive The Voidz, a ragtag band of rebels clad in crusty leather, society’s last hope against the tyranny of corporate oppression. Their leader scans the radio static until he settles on a chaotic noise. The camera pans up to frame the face of our hero: Julian Casablancas.
OK, so the Strokes frontman hasn’t actually filmed his own version of Escape From New York, but if he had then ‘Tyranny’ would be a ready-made soundtrack. Once the crown prince of NYC indie, the 36-year-old has recast himself as punk rock’s answer to the 1981 film’s star Snake Plissken. He’s called ‘Tyranny’ a “protest record” about how “corruption is king”, but its aesthetic owes more to 80s dystopian sci-fi than Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger. Sinister synths, industrial beats and film dialogue echo through 12 tracks that startle at regular intervals.
The name Casablancas has chosen for his band nods to Richard Hell and The Voidoids, but that late 70s punk sound is filtered through discordant, unsettling noise which owes as much to Lou Reed at his most deliberately obnoxious. ‘Tyranny’ isn’t always an easy listen. Indeed, it’s often a puzzling one. It’s a long, long way from the early endorphin rush of The Strokes, a million miles from his smooth solo debut ‘Phrazes For The Young’ and totally unlike last year’s sublime Daft Punk collaboration ‘Instant Crush’. But what ‘Tyranny’ does have is enough attitude to outsnarl a rottweiler at 50 paces. At its best, as when Casablancas wails about oblivion on ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’, it sounds like The Strokes have been dropped in noxious waste and emerged as Troma-style Toxic Avengers.
The rest doesn’t work quite so well. Producer Shawn Everett, who’s previously worked with the likes of Weezer and Har Mar Superstar, doesn’t do much to rein anything in. There’s the sense that both he and the assembled Voidz – guitarists Jeramy ‘Beardo’ Gritter and Amir Yaghmai, bassist Jake Bercovici, keyboardist Jeff Kite and drummer Alex Carapetis – are so excited to have found themselves in a band with Julian Casablancas that they’re not going to do anything as foolish as fucking it up by telling him that maybe not all of his shits are 24-carat gold. There’s a moment during the 11-minute slog of the perhaps aptly named ‘Human Sadness’ where you realise he’s floated out of contact with the tune like Sandra Bullock lost in space.
In the brilliant recent biopic 20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave tells bandmate Blixa Bargeld that he now realises the importance of editing in songwriting. Through thorough and fastidious work he polishes his songs into works of art. Casablancas, by stark contrast, seems happy to indulge his every whim and throw in every idea he’s got – there’s some decent Afrobeat drumming going on somewhere in ‘Father Electricity’, for example, but for some reason it’s buried under the sound of a large vehicle reversing. Still, while ‘Tyranny’ is wildly self-indulgent – and often at the expense of quality – you could never say that it’s boring.
These songs match the freakish, studs-and-leather-encrusted aesthetic of The Voidz, and anyone here in search of signposts to new Strokes material will leave sorely disappointed. But then, this new project was never going to yield the next ‘Last Nite’. Instead, ‘Tyranny’ is dark, angsty and frankly very weird: the sound of Julian Casablancas’ very own escape from New York.
Director: Shawn Everett
Record label: Cult Records
Release date: 13 Oct, 2014