Well, no one’s going to mistake this for a Strokes album. Sure, Phrazes For The Young shares a voice with Julian Casablancas’ recently silent band, and occasionally it even shares The Strokes’ love of nervous energy and oddly angled hooks. But the building materials have changed, with Casablancas tiptoeing out of his ’70s CBGB comfort zone to bring in ’80s synths. And the voice has changed as well, both sonically and lyrically. Here Casablancas reaches beyond his familiar sneering readings to occasionally (gasp!) emote from the heart. “Somewhere along the way, my bitterness turned to anger,” he sings on the album-opener, “Out Of The Blue.” Emo it isn’t, but the sincerity still sounds shocking, considering the source.
At a mere eight tracks long, Phrazes would ideally be an uninterrupted collection of assured stunners. It isn’t, but it does establish Casablancas as a solo artist worth following, thanks to tracks like “Left & Right In The Dark”—which alternates childhood reflections with sounds that would fit nicely on a Duran Duran album—and the first single, “11th Dimension,” a catchy, overreaching barrage of edgy jangle and enveloping keyboards. Then there’s “Ludlow St.,” an unexpectedly twangy Manhattan history lesson that points toward directions still unexplored. Burdened with the responsibility of assuring the future of rock at the beginning of this decade, Casablancas now looks like he could have a decent future of his own.