Fans of The Strokes, be warned – lead singer Julian Casablancas’ new album Virtue with his group The Voidz isn’t interested in making the same melodic, attitude-driven rock and roll his former band specialized in. At least for the most part, he’s trying to get as far away from that as possible.
While his desire for experimentation is admirable, it’s not often very listenable.
The album opens with its most accessible, Strokes-esque track, “Leave it In My Dreams”, which is filled with shimmery guitars, angular chord changes, mellow grooves and Casablancas’ familiar lackadaisical drawl. The surfy guitar solo at the end helps counteract Casablancas’ first foray into falsetto vocals, which he utilizes often in the album, and rarely to listeners’ benefit.
From the most accessible track, we next go to the strangest one, “QYURRYUS”; throbbing drums, Arabic chants trading with throaty industrial gurgles. It’s music for a dark, Syrian disco where a serial killer is stalking the halls. It’s engaging, but is always on the edge of being terrible. This darkness continues with “Pyramid of Bones”, where Casablancas declares “I’m a devil. I’m a villain” through suppressed vocals and heavy metal riffage, before caterwauling like Robert Plant on the chorus.
The weirdness continues, with Voidz exploring dark Tropicalia and electro-R&B vocals (“AlieNNationN”), Gothic, vampire vibes (“My Friend the Walls”), lo-fi hardcore punk (“Black Hole”), moody psychedelic Prince impersonations (“Pink Ocean”) and even a light country shuffle (“Lazy Boy” – another mostly accessible song).
Casablancas almost treats his duties as frontman like the enemy, going between ear-gauging falsettos that seem like an attempt to annoy listeners, and indecipherable murmurs layered under the music so heavily you feel he’s adding in vocals out of obligation more than desire. His lyrics can be a strain to make-out, though they are worth it at times – “I want to put you in my crocodile mouth and drag you into my swamp” is one of two reasons to listen to “Wink” (the other being the sweet, Allman Brothers-on-Quaaludes guitar solo at the end).
With all of these ventures into experimentation, it makes the pretty “Think Before You Drink” all the more surprising. A drinking ballad with lyrics that are about as sensitive as Casablancas gets, it provides a refreshing palette cleanser at the center of the chaos. Though listening to Casablancas’ delivery, you never get the sense that the song is really personal – it’s more a drunken sing-along ala Billy Joel‘s “Piano Man” than a vulnerable confessional.
This is not an album for everyone, but if you’re in the mood to be shaken up from the normal radio rock the world throws at you, Virtue will give you the needed shock to your system, and possibly put you into system overload. If you get to “All Wordz Are Made Up”, the seventh song on the album, which gives you hip hop beats, steal drums, multiple vocal filters, and melodies channeling ABBA, you’ll either be sold on The Voidz, or ready to throw back on Is This It to wipe the taste from your mouth.
You can take the plunge into the album here: