Casablancas album ruled by digital noise

Regardless of whether or not The Strokes are ever, ever getting back together, Julian Casablancas has found a new group of guys to jam with. On Tuesday Sept. 23, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz released Tyranny, an eclectic, neo-psychedelic noise-fest. Fans may remember Casablancas's first solo release, 2009's largely unimpressive Phrazes for the Young. But while Phrazes has some catchy choruses and is a more or less familiar example of a not-so-alt-rock album, Tyranny is simultaneously very alternative and totally unfamiliar.

The album opens with the dystopian anthem “Take Me in Your Army.” Casablancas sings in a cyborg-esque voice here, setting a sci-fi horror mood that is enhanced by a brainwashing refrain and the thud of phantom army boots. The album represents other genres too, of course; “Father Electricity” has sort of a reggae vibe, and “Xerox” is apparently trying to be rap.

Several of the songs begin with a nice riff and then devolve from danceable electro punk into digitized screamo. In “Business Dog,” Casablancas sounds as if he's becoming a rabid dog, or else maybe just experiencing some serious road rage. “Crunch Punch” begins quirkily enough, but by the end of it Casablancas could have been an emo singer in Tron if Tron had emo singers. It may be difficult for fans to accept, but out of all the noise on Tyranny, Casablancas's voice often produces the most grating noise of all.

There is a tongue-in-cheek punk vibe more or less throughout the LP, like this is all one big joke or some kind of self-promotion spoof (“Don't miss the show, okay?”). Casablancas's delivery of the lyrics is also vaguely comical. His vocals have always been artistically drunk sounding, but on a scale of one to Ariana Grande the level of unintelligibility on Tyranny is just about off the charts.

Out of these ambitious and often incongruous twelve tracks, “Dare I Care” will prove the most accessible for Strokes fans. It has some real rock roots and actually could have fit in on 2011's Angles despite its uncharacteristic length and Latin vibes.

Many of the songs on Tyranny are overlong; “Human Sadness,” the lead single, lasts 11 minutes, but length alone does not make an epic. The song moves from what could be an auto-tuned version of something out of Cinderella to perhaps an audio recording of a game of laser tag (think Daft Punk, but less good).

Clocking in at an hour and two minutes, Tyranny is as bloated as it is bizarre. Along with The Voidz, who may or may not be totally devoid of talent, Julian Casablancas has created an album that is at once avant-garde, unexpected and unlistenable. Of course, he should not be faulted for experimenting.

If The Strokes really do have “more magic in them,” as Casablancas recently told Stereogum, he might want to take a break from allowing the The Voidz to dictate the direction his music takes. As it turns out, Tyranny is more like anarchy.

2.5 stars