Julian Casablancas may be annoying as hell, but damn, maybe we should all just shut up and listen to his music. It’s hard to escape how good this album is. You may know him as the famed frontman of the Strokes, a group known for their impeccable ability to write sticky indie rock tunes that feel almost universal. Projects like Is This It and Room on Fire show this power of simplicity and are commonly regarded as modern classics in discussions of music. Later on, he formed experimental rock/art rock group The Voidz; while they seemed to fly under the radar to a lot of people, they’re something of an underground gem. Their 2014 project Tyranny definitely didn’t shy away from experimenting with a lot of odd song structures and explosive instrumentation, and from Casablancas, the ruthless energy was a pleasant surprise.
Virtue could be referred to as a middle ground between Tyranny and Is This It. It does take risks and incorporate a wide palette of influences (from punk, lo-fi, indie rock, neo-psychedelia, etc), but it’s a little more straightforward and user-friendly. Still, it’s packed with things to discover, from the vibrant guitar solos to eclectic vocal deliveries. Although lyrically it’s a little vague, the somewhat-lazy political commentary doesn’t drive me away since the project is more focused on the production. Where the album isn’t off the wall with experimentation, it’s tough to deny the appeal of its melodies; it’s the perfect happy medium.
The album’s most hilarious move is in its first cut, Leave It In My Dreams. The track’s a captivating indie tune with a memorable swirling synth in its chorus, and foreshadows a breezy, low-maintenance listen; it doesn’t prepare you whatsoever for the album’s maniacal descent into chaos. Thrilling experimental high points follow; QYURRYUS is an oddly-structured cut with this thudding wall of bass that has an almost psychedelic effect. Its screeching guitars become increasingly jittery throughout, and it’s beefed up by different layers of vocal approaches; one’s heavily filtered, one’s this sinister chanting, etc.
From here, we’re subjected to the album’s chaos in full-force. Songs like Pyramid of Bones have an impeccable driving energy; its killer guitar shreds and percussion momentarily explode in intensity, and are backed with clicking electronics. The vocal climax and guitar eruption takes it out with a bang. A more sinister, downtempo note is ALieNNatioN; the track is centered around bass keys, percussion, and a vocal that creepily whispers. It becomes even more subdued when the chorus hits with a more modest vocal performance and delicate guitar lick. A more new wavey approach is taken in All Wordz are Made Up; it works in breathy vocals, thumping bass, and a blanket of synthesizers, and shows the record’s versatility.
Things rapidly switch up at this point in the tracklist; Think Before You Drink whips in a rough acoustic sound out of nowhere. Still, the lyrics highlighting the flaws of our education system are more specific and essential than plenty of others, and makes the track feel necessary. Wink continues the lo-fi recording style, but does come across as slightly forgettable in the grand scheme of what else the album has to offer. Pink Ocean is another noticeable detour in sound; its grimy synthetic soundscape feels a little psychedelic, and ends in this chaotic screeching. It does unfortunately overstay its welcome a bit, however, and would’ve been much more rewarding had it gotten to the climax sooner.
But the excitement quickly returns with Black Hole; a track with an insane sense of urgency backed by a rough wall of distortion and speedy electronics, killer guitar layers, and a punk-esque vocal delivery. The album closes on some of its highest moments yet; it feels like the whole time I’d been on the edge of my seat waiting for a track like We’re Where We Were. The song’s an utter explosion of sound with a remarkable amount of energy in its instrumentation. On the other end of the spectrum we have the record’s closer, Pointlessness. A cloud of synthetic layers drift through and put you in a trance, as lyrically Casablancas questions the point of existence. It’s the perfect note to end on, and brings all of Virtue’s sonic ventures to a comfortable close.
The Voidz added to their track record with this sophomore LP for sure, solidifying their place as a bold force to be reckoned with in the music scene despite Casablancas’ alumni status. Who knows what the future holds for a collective this ambitious, but it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down or stopping anytime soon. Here’s to continuing to push the boundaries of contemporary rock music with a hungry desire for experimentation.