Stroke of genius

By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  January 5, 2010

The remaining task, then, is to sell this new Julian to an audience that simply wants to hear "The Modern Age" the way it did 10 years ago. The Strokes haven't been active since settling into a self-described "hibernation" following the tepid public reception of their third LP, 2006's First Impressions of Earth — a record that marked a clear departure from Is This It's indie strum and also suggested a band in need of a break. Take "Ask Me Anything": three minutes of nothing but vocals, Mellotron, and a chorus that repeated "I've got nothing to say" into infinity.

This time around, Casablancas has plenty to say. Phrazes is bursting with ideas — lyrical, musical, conceptual. His initial concept for the tour (which hits the Paradise this Friday) was a Disney-esque extravaganza, but that didn't prove feasible save for a short November residency at LA's Downtown Palace Theatre. "It's like when you go see a play, and the scene opens with a mountain range, or Roman columns, or whatever: it's kind of exciting and fun for about five minutes, but then it wears off and it's boring. The idea was to create random sets, a different one for each song. So a mountain range, and then for the next song you're underwater, and then you're in an ice world."

For Casablancas, his theatrical ambitions make the same demands as the Strokes' carefully maintained austerity — it's just more music to create. "When I first started doing this, just messing around, everyone was like, 'Play guitar, man!', and I just didn't want to. That wasn't fun for me; it wasn't the dream. I guess I always had a kind of fantasy of being, you know, a modern composer — not like I can really pull that off or anything."

Yet with Phrazes he's not so wide of the mark — it's a leap of musical sophistication that's far-reaching but not pretentious. "This would have never flown with the Strokes — the rest of the guys would have been like, 'Uh, let's just play the songs, dude.' " And should the new Julian alienate devotees who wish he'd simply concentrate on reviving the Strokes in 2010 (they do have some summer-festival dates scheduled and a fourth album planned), so be it. "I'm just trying to come up with something different and weird but good. And who knows? Maybe I went about it a little wrong — but whatever."

JULIAN CASABLANCAS | Paradise, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | January 8 at 9 pm | $20 | 617.562.8800 or www.thedise.com

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