Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper

Paul Banks / Julian Plenti

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Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper Review

by Heather Phares

A solo album -- yet not, Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper is the debut album from the alter ego of Interpol's Paul Banks. Plenti played acoustic performances around New York City during the late '90s until Interpol took off in 2001; it wasn't until 2006, thanks to the help of recording software Logic Pro, that Banks returned to the Plenti material. The Plenti identity -- as well as a host of musicians that only include a couple of Interpol collaborators -- gives these songs a little more distance from any Interpol baggage than if they were released as a Paul Banks' solo album. Since he's so distinctive as Interpol's voice, it's easy to think any music he's involved in would sound like his main gig, but that's not the case. In fact, one of the biggest differences between Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper and his other work (and one that strengthens the case for him to have an alias) is Banks' singing style. His voice has gotten richer and less forced over the years, and songs like the gently persuasive album opener "Only If You Run" show off a softness that only surfaces occasionally in Interpol's music. Of course, there are more than a few moments that could easily fit on an Interpol album: "Fun That We Have" has the good bones and angular riffing that are integral to the band, while the stunning "Games for Days" (which features Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino and producer Peter Katis) turns romantic intrigue and roaring guitars into an epic track that would have been a standout on Our Love to Admire -- yet there's a spareness and rawness to these songs that makes them Julian Plenti songs rather than Interpol ones. Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper also offers plenty of surprises for Banks fans as well, from "Madrid Song"'s collages to "Unwind"'s brassy pop, which has to be the cheeriest song Banks (or Plenti) has ever recorded. The album also offers plenty of nuance with songs such as "Skyscraper," which drifts in on acoustic guitar and strings before falling into an insistent yet unsettling groove; there's an open-endedness to "Girl on the Sporting News"' stream-of-consciousness lust and "On the Esplanade"'s ruminative, wildflower beauty that makes these songs unique in Banks' songbook. While Interpol is far from a simplistic band, more often than not Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper takes the scenic route, and it pays off with an intimate, subtle set of songs that are strong in their own right. It may not be a radical departure, but it's still nice to hear Banks in a different setting -- even if it takes a different name for that to happen.

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