Regardless of the fact that the Strokes actually put out some good music in their heyday (Is This It has consistently ranked pretty high on some “best of the decade” lists), they will always be overshadowed by the “next big thing” hype worked up by the press and encouraged by the group itself. It’s a vicious spin cycle that’s swept up and spit out plenty of “it” bands: lather (“It’s the rebirth of the cool!”), rinse (“Their second album played it too safe”), repeat (“Hey, have you heard Wavves?”).
Several Strokes have since produced solo work, but Julian Casablancas, chief songwriter and easily the most visible Stroke, kept quiet until now. Phrazes for the Young is the sound of Casablancas left to his own devices (literally — it’s all synths and drum machines), and the result is uneven but admirably ambitious. His best track, the synth-pop confection “11th Dimension,” showcases Casablancas’s ear for a juicy hook and baroque flourishes (when he claims he’s “got music coming out of his hands and feet and kisses,” it’s hard to disagree). However, Casablancas drops the ball — and the tempo — on subsequent tracks, and his sleepy, existential mumbling doesn’t inspire as much excitement as it used to. Ruminations on New York’s yuppification (“Ludlow St.”) and his strained relationship with the media (“Glass”) make Casablancas seem more grumpy old man than elder statesman (at 31, he almost qualifies for indie-rock senior citizenship). For a new solo project, Phrazes seems to look back more than it looks forward, but that might be because Casablancas’s future — with or without the Strokes, and definitely without a free pass from the music press — is still unwritten, and might not have a happy ending.
— Chuck Kerr