The second album from Julian Casablancas’ side project, The Voidz’ 2018 album, “Virtue”, blends psychedelic static with an indie sentimentality. Within the frequently abrasive tracks, periodic moments of clarity and craft combine to bring together an album that doesn’t want you to think it’s as good as it is.
The Voidz are an experimental rock band formed in part by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Other members of the band include Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter (guitar), Amir Yaghmai (guitar), Jacob “Jake” Bercovici (bass, synthesizers), Alex Carapetis (drums), and Jeff Kite (keyboards).
When Julian Casablancas was touring for his solo album, “Phrazes for the Young”, Kite and Carpetis were members of the Sick Six live backing band that played with him. Shortly after, the other members were brought on, and the group started writing together.
Originally known as Julian Casablancas and The Voidz, the group changed their name after the release of their debut album, “Tyranny”, in 2014. The group signed onto Julian Casablancas’ record label, Cult before signing with RCA to release their second album, “Virtue” in 2018.
The standout track in “Virtue” is the single, “Leave It In My Dreams”. It’s smartly placed as the opening track for the album, as it may also be the most accessible. If “Virtue” is your first exposure to The Voidz, when listening to “Leave It In My Dreams” you might be inclined to think that Casablancas is incapable of making music that doesn’t sound like it came from The Strokes. And you’d only be partially right.
That thought quickly goes out the window the further you get into the album, though, as soon as the second track. “QYURRYUS”, with Casablancas’ exotic, auto-tuned wailing accompanied by a Muse-like, warbling synth, almost dares listeners to make Strokes comparisons. With the pairing of “Leave It In My Dreams” and “QYURRYUS” as the two opening tracks, The Voidz set the expectations for the rest of the album. Listeners will get some easy-listening pop tunes, accompanied by a number of tracks that are almost challenging in their strangeness.
The Voidz manage to find their stride further along in the album with the back to back tracks “Permanent High School”, “ALieNNatioN”. Both successfully balance strong melodies within unique compositions.
“All Words Are Made Up” is one of the few tracks throughout “Virtue” that acts as a refreshing palate-cleanser between some of the more abrasive tracks. Even so, it retains a hint of weirdness to it in its unexpected and sometimes abrupt chord changes.
The Voidz seem to be intent on subverting expectations, but still manage to direct the energy of “Virtue” in satisfying ways. “Think Before You Drink”, which sits at the halfway point in the album, lowers the energy significantly with an acoustic ballad. Immediately preceding it, “Wink” begins the build up again with a muted, but bouncy pop energy.
While they’re similar enough to The Strokes, The Voidz sound more like a bizarro-world version of Julian Casablancas’ previous lineup. Given that “Virtue”‘s nearly one-hour run-time and 15 tracks, it’s can be a challenging album to listen to from start to finish.
Still, when it sometimes feels like many bands are regurgitating old chord progressions and playing it safe, there’s something to be said for a band that continues to push the boundaries. Because I appreciate that, and appreciate weirdness in general, “Virtue” is an album I’m happy to give a repeat listen or two.
Overall, “Virtue” is an album that isn’t too concerned about being accessible or easily liked. You could even argue that The Voidz are trying at times to discourage people from listening. This comes through more towards the end of the album. The effect it has almost feels like a slap in the face after putting in all of that time. Despite this, if you’re willing to put in the time, there are some real gems to find.