Paul Banks' Julian Plenti Lives EP -- which served as a farewell to his singer/songwriter alter ego -- featured covers of songs by J Dilla and Frank Sinatra. While there's nothing quite that far-flung on his first album under his own name, bits of each of those artists can be heard in these songs, from his often velvety vocals to his use of samples and beats to create something more eclectic than his work with Interpol. Banks often feels more varied than his first solo album, Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper; while "The Base" and "Arise, Awake" recall that album with their mix of serpentine guitars, luxurious strings, and mechanical rhythms, on the whole these songs have less of an acoustic singer/songwriter feel than his Plenti material did. In that regard, on these songs Banks fashions more of an identity for himself as a solo artist outside of anything he's done before, and arguably works even harder here to separate himself from his established project. Some of Banks' songs feel unpredictable even after a few listens, like "I'll Sue You"'s odd mix of litigation and foreplay, or how "No Mistakes" shifts from twinkling pop to something more violent. There is also a more confessional feel to this album than any of Banks' previous work, and he revisits his youth in ways that aren't particularly nostalgic. "Paid for That" is full of recriminations as well as the admission that he was "changed by Folk Implosion when I was 17" -- which makes a lot of sense, given his fondness for juxtaposing intricate guitar work with hip-hop-tinged beats -- while "Young Again" is as ambivalent as it is pretty. Indeed, many of these songs teeter between a few emotions, most strikingly on "Another Chance," where a monologue from Sebastian Ischer's film Black Out straddles the fine line between apologies and excuses, and Banks' music shifts from sympathetic to accusatory. Despite all the stylistic distance he puts between himself and Interpol on these songs, there's still something about the way his voice goes with driving rhythms and chiming guitars, and "Over My Shoulder" plays like a slightly sweeter version of his work with that band. "Summertime Is Coming," which makes a repeat appearance from Julian Plenti Lives, remains a bittersweet and seductive standout, and also serves as a reminder of how good Banks is at more or less pure pop songs when he chooses to do them. If there were more songs like this on here, Banks might have been a more cohesive album. As it stands, it's a place for him to explore all of the music he wants to make outside of Interpol, challenging himself and his fans along the way.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares