It seems like a while ago since this album was first announced through a series of mildly cryptic YouTube videos and grainy photographs reminiscent of the punk era. But finally, Tyranny has crashed out of the sky, intent on destroying all in its path. Julian Casablancas’ new backing group The Voidz have certainly brought out a mad scientist in the former Strokes frontman. Wailing synths, treacle-thick textures, and, yes, even scatted vocals dominate this record, as does the title theme, with the songs being majorly political in intent, shots aimed squarely at the big businesses of America and beyond.
‘Human Sadness,’ the first single to drop off of this album, made a clear statement that this wasn’t gonna be any old release from Casablancas. At 11 minutes long, the track meandered, got a little lost in itself, before eventually building up to an epic climax. The track itself seemed to be lacking an intricate pattern that was needed, but was nonetheless enjoyable, and it certainly acted as a good representation for ‘Tyranny’ as a whole, which is both a good and bad thing.
It’s probably best if we get through what’s bad first. First and foremost, and this is a pet hate of mine, what the hell is that album cover? I’m sorry, but after the epic cartoonish-ness of the ‘Where No Eagles Fly’ cover, this messy brown pre-school project doesn’t really cut it for me. It looks like the album covers I used to make on PowerPoint with the various ‘distort’ layers you could do on photos. The other real ailment plaguing ‘Tyranny’ is the mix of the tracks. Both dense and yet somehow flat, the songs don’t seem to have the dynamic range they deserve, which is a real tragedy, but not as much as the state of the vocals. A voice as characteristic and distinctive as Julian Casablancas’ should be at the forefront of the mix, and yet on much of ‘Tyranny’ it’s buried under endless textures. Not being able to hear the vocals clearly is a real loss, because it would lend so much more to the songs, which can at times outstay their welcome.
It’s clear that Casablancas was willing to experiment on this album, which I can only applaud with cautionary hands, because although this album has some really catchy hooks, tracks like ‘Father Electricity’ become difficult to access due to their length, and lack of definite end. Sometimes this length is rewarding; ‘Johan Von Bronx’ is just over 6 minutes long, but justifies the length with a dark brooding synth line and earworm vocal lines. The shorter tracks like ‘Crunch Punch,’ are also a treat, I especially like the use of bleeped swear words in ‘Business Dog,’ adds to the censorship themes woven into the album’s tapestry. Hypnotic tracks like ‘Xerox’ and ‘Take me in your Army’ are equally enticing, in fact ‘Xerox’ is one of my favourite tracks, even if it is a little repetitive, that gloom-filled chorus hook is gorgeous.
But, and this is a real problem, certain parts in songs feel very much copied and pasted, as if they were in the studio and went ‘well we’ve got two decent hooks here, lets stick ‘em together in one song.’ ‘Dare I Care’ is a prime example of this, and annoyed me particularly because there’s an utterly wasted ascending bass-line section on the tail end of the song, which was brilliant. I would have preferred to hear that line instead of the verses that were chosen, because it fits in better with the context of the chorus section, and is generally a far more memorable part that really stuck in my head after I heard it in the album trailer.
This album is by no means a conventional listen, there’s a lot of potential, and a lot to wrap your head around. Once you start to understand the aesthetic that JC+The Voidz are mapping out, it seems a bit clearer. However, the vocals being too low are a real barrier, and the length of some of the tracks, especially without any interesting key or time signature changes, tend to be more a burden than an advantage. I’d still recommend checking out this album, as there’s a lot to like about it, and there will be moments where you say ‘what the fuck is that!’ for both good and bad reasons.