Besides the philosophical connection that Julian Casablancas has with his new non-Strokes bandmates—Beardo Gritter, Jeff Kite, Amir Yaghmai, Jake Bercovici and Alex Carapetis—there is a more practical reason for including The Voidz in the project name, rather than just billing it as a second Julian Casablancas solo album. Tyranny stands apart from Phrazes for the Young (though that album and the new band do share a bizarre affinity for egregious use of the letter z), and billing it as such eliminates any comparisons that may be tempting to draw from the two albums. In fact, Tyranny is hard to even link to Casablancas’ Strokes work. This is neither good nor bad, as the album plays out with Tyranny finding the songwriter both tapping into inspired moments and settling for c-side quality filler, leaving an uneven experience that will likely only satisfy those who are desperately anticipating the album or, conversely, expect literally nothing at all.
With the first taste of Tyranny being a 10-minute-plus single, “Human Sadness,” the term “ambitious” is already being attached to the album. And that’s fair, in that the ambition of Casablancas is that fans will follow him anywhere, and he pushes that blind (or deaf) allegiance as far as it will go. Out of sheer curiosity, an incredible amount of people will listen to Tyranny at least once. But will many of them come back for more? Doubtful, as the album’s high points—the lo-fi synth screecher “Crunch Punch;” the paranoid and driving “Where No Eagles Fly;” the song that best describes the whole album’s sound, “Nintendo Blood”—are not high enough to warrant wading through the muck. In fact, none of the songs reach the intoxicated heights the target audience is likely already functioning on.
The hypothesis of Tyranny often seems to be that Casablancas, as a band leader, is some sort of genius. Regardless of your experience with The Strokes, few fanatics would ever go this far in their assessment of the man’s talent, and predictably, the songs that give in to his indulgences sound schizophrenic. “Father Electricity” has enough melodic red herrings to lose count on both hands, ending without ever really figuring out where it was going or where it has been. Punk throwaway “Business Dog” frequently sounds like every band member is playing a different song simultaneously, which does create a few interesting moments where they bump into each other like tenants looking for a flashlight in a blacked-out apartment. And, if anything, that song is self-aware enough to be short. Similarly unfocused musical rants, “Dare I Care” and “Johan Van Bronx,” drag on past the five-minute mark with a certain lack of kindness to the listener that seems playful and cruel at the same time, like the Strokes’ frontman was that Bugs Bunny abominable snowman, gripping his playmates with his giant hands, unaware that his affection was actually crushing them.
And that makes “Human Sadness” one of the most accurate representations a first single has provided in recent memory. Tyranny plays out like an album-length version of that epic song, stumbling upon moments of success in the way that a drunk dart player hits a bullseye every once in a while. When you are sitting underneath the dartboard, this is a scary proposition.