Best of 2018: The Voidz’ Virtue is Juliana Hatfield’s Favorite Album of the Year

Virtue is the best kind of musical sorcery.

In place of a more traditional year-end best-of list, Talkhouse has asked some of our favorite artists to choose their favorite album of 2018 and tell us all about it.
—The Talkhouse Team

The Voidz’ Virtue is a really fun album about serious things. It’s swimming in disillusionment and the shame of being alive. It’s like the sound of original sin—oh, how we have fucked this all up. It’s not only our own failings and weaknesses that are disappointing, but also our society’s  dishonesty and corruption, into which we are sometimes drawn. Julian Casablancas sings “I’ve been bathing in the blood of our success” on ”Aliennation.” Elsewhere: “I want out of this world” (“Pink Ocean”), “I lost what’s mine” (“Qyurryus”), “What does it matter?” (“Pointlessness”), and “No one will care about this in ten years” (“All Wordz Are Made Up”).

It’s so hard to say or do anything, at this point, that hasn’t been said or done or torn apart before, and it can be a full-time job trying to hold on to one’s dignity.  A person needs to have some kind of private escape route to self-preservation and fulfillment.

As a songwriter and musician I consider my written and recorded songs to be the best part of me. Everything else is embarrassing. Regardless of any of the music’s subjective or objective artistic value, the impulse to work hard in relative isolation putting something together with joy and faith (and sweat, and tears, etc.) and then share it with the world is intrinsically good, or at least benign, and way less potentially damaging than a lot of other impulses.

The act of music is purifying; it elevates and exorcises.

Music can be a refuge, like the forts of childhood. Maybe this—the idea of the unselfconscious enthusiasm of creativity—is the “virtue” of the album title. Music as a direct, never-broken line to the innocent and salutary play of youth.

From time to time Casablancas breaks the fourth wall and talks about music in the music: “Writing songs/Close the door/All I know/Since ‘94.”

Sonically, Virtue is a vast smorgasbord, a many-splendored thing. Sometimes it sounds vaguely Jamaican, and sometimes metal, baroque, prog, jungle, new jack something or other, hip-hop. It’s reminiscent of lots of things but never derivative. It’s like a living, breathing organism with multiple limbs that move around and contract and expand, sometimes merging to wrap around each other. It has a brain, with sense memories and bits of current and historical information drifting in and out of consciousness.   

Lyrics jump from song to song, a reminder that this is a whole, cohesive system and not just a bunch of random Spotifiable tracks. “Murder in the name of national security” turns up in both “Pyramid Of Bones” and “Aliennation”; “All words are made up,” from “Aliennation,” is also the title of a separate song (“All Wordz Are Made Up”).  There’s a “pink ocean of tears” in “Aliennation” and then there is “Pink Ocean,” the song.

Casablancas’ voice is always moving around, too, going eagerly down blind alleys like he’s enjoying being lost in some interior maze. It’s experimental and inventive. Sometimes he sounds really blasé, as if he’s singing with his mouth barely open while lying on a couch. Sometimes he digs in and does that low Jim Morrison thing, and sometimes he goes up into a gorgeous, plaintive falsetto. Sometimes vocals are roboticized through a vocoder or auto-tune, or both, maybe. Some word-sounds are carefree and tossed-off like the “doot doot”s just before the casual hole that opens up about three-quarters of the way through “Aliennation.” His voice can be buoyant and elastic and dizzyingly infectious, like the swooping and swirling “I know you want it/Don’t call me stupid” lines in “Leave It In My Dreams.”

The album keeps blowing my mind over and over again. There’s endless stuff to focus on: It’s almost like there’s a magical mechanism built into the album’s technology that makes it sound somewhat different every time I listen. Words and parts and noises jump out from behind closed doors—doors that I could swear were closed the last time I listened. It makes me feel like I’m insane, or brain-damaged, like the record is gaslighting me, but in a good way. This is how music should be—it should alter your consciousness, fuck you up, bedazzle and mystify you.

Virtue is the best kind of musical sorcery. Julian Casablancas has always had a strong and powerful musical vision and this album with this band has been immaculately and elegantly conceived and executed. It invites a kind of close, concentrated listening that people on the internet probably don’t have time for. I think that’s one of the messages the album is sending—that people don’t pay attention. Or just: pay attention. You will be rewarded.

Juliana Hatfield is a singer, songwriter and guitar player. She began her music career in the late 1980s in Boston with the Blake Babies. Since then she has released approximately fifteen solo albums and been involved with numerous other groups including the Lemonheads, Some Girls (with Freda Love Smith) and MInor Alps (with Matthew Caws from Nada Surf). Her latest project is a collaboration with Paul Westerberg called the I Don’t Cares. Their debut album, Wild Stab, came out in early 2016. Hatfield’s new album, Pussycat, will be released on April 28, 2017.

(Photo credit: Brad Walsh)