I always get a little emotional when my favourite records celebrate a birthday. Whether it’s been around for a year or five years or forty years, the staying power of some music never ceases to amaze me. It’s incredible that certain songs can still have the same effect on an individual ten or twelve years after they first hear it, or that the meaning of the lyrics and the melody can change and grow as the listener changes and grows themselves.
Last week one of my favourite records turned a year old. Tyranny is one of the densest albums I’ve ever listened to. It’s heavy, not only in its production, but in its content. With topics ranging from the varying stages of depression and grief to fleeting, cleverly worded lines about the world’s greatest issues, it’s a lot to take in. Listening requires focus and undivided attention, but a lot of the time I find that the greatest records are like that. And this album is so much more than great.
The Voidz are a band of misfits. Ripped jeans and patterned jumpsuits and leather jackets make up the majority of their wardrobe, and beards and long, unruly hair define their image. It’s all a mess, but one that works itself into a somewhat coherent version of disorganization. Their debut record mimics that. The band mixes genres ranging from punk to electronic, with Bollywood and classical themes running through the songs. Each track sounds completely different from the last, but when grouped together, they form a single, streamlined collection that rolls perfectly through a needle and out of a set of speakers.
Despite having created five albums with The Strokes and a separate solo album, I think Julian hit the jackpot with Tyranny. The album is as honest as the singer and lyricist has ever gotten, delving deep into his own personal experiences and the most upsetting realities the world sees. And he’s unapologetic about it. It’s all laid out for you, stripped back and raw and telling everything as he sees it.
It’s rare for musicians to include social and political issues and critique in their work. Popular songs are usually generic stories designed to connect with as many people as possible, and lyrics that could offend or make us think are left out, deemed too controversial for radio play. The fact that the Voidz are talking about mental health and issues with racism and the ridiculous power that’s held by top one percent is shocking, but in the best way possible. It’s nice to see a band who believes in the importance of using these topics as musical elements, no matter how subliminal the messages may be.
Tyranny is long. And the tracks themselves are long. With the album spanning over sixty minutes and the longest song nearing eleven, it’s hard to get into. It’s hard to convince yourself to sit down and listen to the full record and give it the attention it deserves, but once you do, it makes everything so much better.
“Human Sadness,” the first single off the record and perhaps the most ambitious, is a ten-minute and fifty-seven second masterpiece. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful – Julian drew from the pain of his father’s passing while writing, and the haunting echo of the melody creates an even more saddening atmosphere. It’s intense and produced to perfection, and with Mozart samples and lines from Rumi poems woven throughout, there’s really nothing to do but bask in its unexpectedly glorious sorrow.
Another one of my favourite Tyranny tracks is “Dare I Care.” I have a bit of an obsession with all things Bollywood and the fact that the band somehow managed to incorporate some of those melodies will never cease to amaze me. The lyrics are also extremely catchy, although they include some slightly controversial lines, such as “It won’t be my way – American always our way.” I appreciate the social commentary just as much as I appreciate the danceable nature of the track. Whenever I listen to it I have to get up and do some version of a Bollywood dance – although I definitely do not look anything like the actors in those movies. It’s more like a punk version of that. And with less grace. It’s fun and silly and sometimes music that allows you to do that is important.
“Where No Eagles Fly” is a straight up jam. It’s one hundred percent punk rock, complete with strained vocals and heavy, distorted guitar. I frequently yell the lyrics at the top of my lungs and put on my leather jacket just for extra effect. “Father Electricity” is also incredible – and pretty weird to say the least. It contains one of my favourite lines of the entire album, “Who’s asleep at the wheel? Who likes that bad idea? Who wants a happy meal?” Julian’s corporate, Western criticism is distorted but his core ideas still seem to seep through. I love songs that make you think about a bigger picture, and this one certainly does.
Narrowing this down to five songs to summarize took a lot of effort. Every track on the album is spectacular in its own way, and I genuinely love all of them. My final choice is “Nintendo Blood.” The song is chock full of political, social, and environmental references. Julian paints an ugly picture society’s mistreatment of our environment and urges for change. He also employs clever metaphors in order to draw attention to businesses doing whatever they can to make money while disguising the ways these tactics cause harm, as well as ways in which governments and corporations “imprison” citizens in a system. The amount of critique he managed to pack into one song is jaw-dropping. I love it.
Tyranny defined the last quarter of 2014 for me. I’m positive I listened to it on repeat for at least three months straight. Seriously. “Human Sadness” had over three hundred plays on my iTunes by the end of the year – that’s three thousand minutes of my life. I spent hours devouring the lyrics and connecting the messages to current global events. I read every interview I could get my hands on and absorbed the bands thoughts and feelings not only about the record, but about the state of the world. This album changed me. It made me incredibly aware of global trauma and suffering, it had me analyzing anything I could. This album makes me feel extremely connected to the world. The best advice I can give you is just to listen to Tyranny. Look up the lyrics, sit down for an hour, and immerse yourself in all of its beautiful insanity. Then thank the Voidz for spending two years creating this masterpiece of insanity.