As the Strokes' singer and main songwriter, it's not surprising that Julian Casablancas pushed himself to break away from the kind of music he makes with the band, but it's how he makes the music different that makes the album interesting. Only eight songs long, PHRAZES FOR THE YOUNG begins with tracks that feel like typically catchy Strokes songs put in front of a funhouse mirror; they're stretched, twisted, and elongated into experiments that even the Strokes' FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH's most ambitious moments couldn't contain. "Out of the Blue"'s strummy guitars and New Wave sheen are familiar, but its rush of emotional, confessional lyrics ("At least I'll be in another world while you're pissing on my casket") are anything but. "11th Dimension" comes the closest to what the Strokes would sound like near the end of the decade they kicked off with IS THIS IT?, full of brash, shiny charm and sleek electro-pop synths that suggest that Casablancas should collaborate with Daft Punk ASAP. Soon enough, however, PHRAZES FOR THE YOUNG veers off into territory that should throw listeners expecting a Strokes album in all but name for several loops. "Ludlow St." is the first signal that Casablancas is up for anything: an unlikely but successful mishmash of shuffling country, a brass band, piston-like beats, and a recurring Asian-tinged motif, it plays like a drunken urban cowboy walking through a Chinatown street parade, recounting the history of New York, his history with the street, and his own history at the same time. Its quicksilver shifts and mix of experimental and traditional sounds make it more akin to a Fiery Furnaces song than any of Casablancas' previous work, and PHRAZES FOR THE YOUNG just gets stranger and more personal with the hectic, hypnotic "River of Brakelights" and the baroque electro ballad "Glass," a moment of intimacy in the whirl of sounds and ideas the rest of the album sets spinning. Casablancas also shows off a new sophistication in his songwriting, particularly on the childhood vignette "Left & Right in the Dark" and the album closer, "Tourist," where he sings "feel like a teardrop streaming off your chin" over dubby bass and brass. It may not have the sugar rush immediacy of the Strokes, and at times it's downright indulgent, but PHRAZES FOR THE YOUNG shows that Casablancas has more than enough ideas for several albums on his own and with his band -- and perhaps most importantly, he sounds more enthused about making music on it than he has since IS THIS IT?
Rolling Stone (p.74) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "PHRAZES is like his version of Thom Yorke's THE ERASER -- guitars submarined by wild-angled synths, off-kilter beats tripping up big ballads."
Spin (p.85) - "[T]he album's eight songs have indelible verse-chorus hooks....The architecture is amazing."
Spin (p.29) - Ranked #30 in Spin's "40 Best Albums Of 2009" -- "[A] wonderful surprise, its sharp, synth-heavy new wave as ingenious and addictive as a Rubik's Cube."
Billboard (p.32) - "The first single, '11th Dimension,' has an old-school dance vibe, complete with electro pulses and enough vocal irony to maintain the cool factor..."
Q (Magazine) (p.98) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "['River Of Brake Lights' is] a cyber-punk fuzz of vocoder, drum machine and malfunctioning-computer solo, for Casablancas it's exciting unchartered territory."
Clash (magazine) - "'Out Of The Blue' starts the album in jaunty style....From the unexpected soul shading of '4 Chords Of The Apocalypse' and the country swing of 'Ludlow St.,' he is clearly enjoying the stylistic freedom afforded him here."
Uncut (magazine) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Throughout, he delivers a mood that homages almost the entirety of the 1980s....These are songs that, rather than having been dispensed with quickly, have been taken to their logical conclusions."