Since beginning a hiatus in 2006, the members of the Strokes have produced a bevy of solo albums, the number of which (five) exceeds their output as a band while not quite threatening to overshadow it. Each member besides guitarist Nick Valenti has come out with something, and the fact that Julian Casablancas’s Phrazes for the Young is not the best or the most surprising of the crop (that would be Albert Hammond’s Yours to Keep and Fabrizio Moretti’s Little Joy side project, respectively) is a testament to how solid and eclectic the band’s individual talents are. With the shared element of Casablancas’s voice, Phrazes is the most distinctly Strokes-sounding of these solo projects, though it’s still a far cry from the jaded rigidity the band usually exhibits.
His voice, which remains blithely flat but gains expressiveness and range here, is accompanied on its upswing by a far freer sound. Liberated entirely from the garage, Casablancas is able to experiment with a melodic fluidity that results in a far more pronounced use of electronics, more space between his words, and broader, more airy compositions. He nearly strays into falsetto on “Glass,” a moment that, though undermined by the studio effects that buzz around it, stands out as a moment free from self-consciousness. Songs like “River of Brake Lights” are invigoratingly weird and limber, with a completely electronic opener settling back slightly into modulated guitar and drum-machine breakbeats. “Out of the Blue,” represents the most familiar sound, with guitar lines that recall Hammond’s and a vocal hook that recalls the dreary recycling of First Impressions of Earth, but the fact that this isn’t the lead single, scrapped in favor of the stranger “11th Dimension,” shows a dedication to the new direction presented on Phrazes.
There are some lazy moments, particularly in the lyrics, which too often fall back on preening snottiness and circular wordplay; the choruses on several songs resort to circling, witless rearrangements of their words, a game of Three-card Monte that gets less and less impressive. But overall, Phrazes represents a creative departure for Casablancas and another milestone for his band—marking a point where they’ve produced more quality albums by themselves than as a group.