The Voidz - Virtue
Check out that artwork: It’s a trippy, confusing, mess of psychedelic awesomeness – could there be a more accurate visual representation of The Voidz sound? With that said, buckle up, strap in, and step inside this strange new realm with an open mind.
Lead singer Julian Casablancas has done a lot in his musical career. Best known as the frontman for the hugely successful garage-rock-revival band The Strokes, he has also founded his own record label, Cult Records, through which he released a solo project, Phrazes For The Young, in 2009. He’s worked on advertising for the French fragrance company Azzaro, hosted a program on Sirius XM, collaborated with several artists along the way, and of course, founded and released two albums with experimental rock group, The Voidz.
The Voidz were formed as a combination of session musicians that had previously backed Casablancas on his solo projects and elsewhere in his career and hence were originally named Julian Casablancas and The Voidz. The group’s first album, Tyranny, released in 2014, was met with mixed reviews (“a spectacular failure” according to Pitchfork). It was bizarre, noisy, and completely out of control. The band was rebranded in late 2017 as simply The Voidz through a creative and fittingly bizarre ‘initiation’ video for Casablancas, which launched the band's new name and announced their next album. That brings us to The Voidz sophomore album, Virtue, released through Cult Records on March 30th, 2018.
The Voidz have an awesome liberty to their music - nothing is off the table in terms of experimentation. Tyranny was an all-out explosion of creativity and imagination, and while that’s respectable, it doesn’t make it a great album if it’s unbearable to listen through. Good news: Virtue is a much more balanced, focused effort compared to the disarrayed noise of Tyranny, yet the band still explores and incorporates a variety of genres and techniques into a truly unique sonic blend.
Synths are sprinkled throughout the album, most notably on the techno-infused “QYURRYUS” which also contains some auto-tuned vocal sections. “Pyramid of Bones” flirts with heavy metal with heavily distorted guitar riffs and short screaming sections that come straight outta nowhere. Even after hearing the track several times, the short screaming section still catches you completely off guard, but the intensity actually really works. After you process what just happened, you just might be wishing they did it more often (The Voidz turn metal, anyone?).
“ALieNNatioN” is a highlight of the album. Its verses contain a simple, catchy flute line with a deep backing of piano, bass, and drums. But all of a sudden, a dreamy, ethereal chorus kicks in and whisks you away on a soft fuzzy cloud. “One of the Ones” continues the simplistic trend with a minimalistic guitar riff in the verses, put to a layered background mix of bass and percussions. The chorus is simply irresistible, with delicate floating piano and high-pitched vocals.
Most of the time, the wild experimentation succeeds and rewards listeners, but there are a few points in the album where the overall quality of the songs are harmed by the groups’ incessant desire to be different. The opener “Leave It In My Dreams” is a great example of this, it begins with a smooth flowing, happy tune - and is one of the most enjoyable and accessible pieces on the album – but it is spoiled by a horrible, unnecessary experimental guitar solo. As if just to make a statement, the band decides to throw this choppy, rough, purposefully out of tune solo that sounds silly and childish. It lacks any sort of finesse and falls far short of impressive.
But these experimental annoyances are few and far between on Virtue, and its successes far outweigh its failures. There’s really never a dull moment, and every track is engaging in a different way.
Let’s talk lyrics. With so much going on musically it's easy to overlook them, but you really shouldn’t as they give this album a completely new sense of depth. Casablancas tackles some major political issues very effectively. “Pyramid of Bones” addresses racial inequalities in the United States, specifically the white majority (referred to as ‘white devils’ in the song) refusing to change from old ways. “Think Before You Drink” is a revamped cover of a Michael Cassidy original with the same title, that was released in 1978. The lyrics describe propaganda being fed to the public, who mistakenly and ignorantly, ‘drink’ the tainted truths throughout their lives.
They cover blind patriotism, war, and destruction of the natural world. The bold political statements brilliantly blend into the themes of the album and unfortunately are still relevant to current events. “We’re Where We Were” explores the idea of history repeating itself: ‘New holocaust happening, What, are you blind? We're in Germany now, 1939’. “ALieNNatioN” has some of the album’s most powerful lines: ‘In the land of the free-er, evidence, it's no use… I've been bathing in the blood of our success, I guess it is just the stubborn side of man… How could you say, Murder in the name of national security’. Casablancas’ lyrics here referring to a number of politically-charged topics; fake news, ill-justification for war, and police brutality.
More personal issues such as alcohol and depression are also confronted throughout the album: ‘I'd like to be your drink, I'll help you talk, I'll help you think’ sung in “Permanent High School” addresses a dependency on alcohol in social situations. This idea is continued on “Pointlessness”: ‘I think I'm wasted, But I'm ready, I think I'm ready, But I'm wasted.’ “Pointlessness” also sees the band face an existential crisis: ‘What does it matter? I believe that, You're gonna be forgotten, Any day now, Just like the others told you.’ This nihilistic theme appears on “Pink Ocean” as well: ‘I want out of this world, I will not go back, I get love, not enough, I want out of this world.’
Lyrics are also interconnected and intertwined with each other by quoting and referencing other tracks from the band's discography. The meaningful writing gives the listener a lot to chew on and mull over, and are a big positive of the album. Casablancas also shows an impressive diversity of range and singing styles, such as high-pitched melodies on “Pink Ocean” and coarse screams on “Pyramid of Bones.”
Virtues’ 15 songs are a lot to process, and it's tempting to suggest that the album would be more effective if three or four songs were cut from it. While cutting songs may make it an easier listen, The Voidz never intended this album (or any of their music up to this date) to be mainstream-listener-ready. It’s challenging, but not in the strung-out, demanding way that Tyranny was. Instead, it's complexity can be stomached, churned, processed, dissected, and ultimately greatly appreciated.
It definitely takes a few listens to appreciate Virtue in all its bizarre glory, but it is absolutely worth it. The assortment of different instrumentals combined with exceptional lyricism conveys a multitude of emotions and ideas that keep the listener engaged. When it fails, it’s still thought-provoking in its failure. When it succeeds, it’ll sweep you away on its magic carpet made of an elegant, multidimensional musical tapestry, and fly you through the clouds. A novel, authentic album, and a great listen.