Julian Plenti - Is...Skyscraper
Chris Tapley 24/08/2009
On first impressions it's difficult to distinguish Julian Plenti, aka Paul Banks, from his day job as front man for acclaimed New Yorkers Interpol. This is mostly through vocal and lyrical similarities which have to be expected though rather than any kind of copy and paste approach to instrumentation. In fact it's musically that this album excels, and allows itself to be judged separately from Interpol. Gone (to an extent) are the brooding angular guitar lines that Banks has become synonymous with, replaced instead by strings, horns and synths. It would seem fair to clarify at this stage of the review that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an Interpol aficionado. I've never really considered them anything more than a fairly middle of the road, if solid, rock band with only a handful of good tracks. So I approached this record free from expectation, hoping really that it would be something a bit different.
There is a definite change in tone which is noticeable in this solo outing. Some of the tracks could even be described as uplifting or optimistic, and Banks demonstrates a playfulness which could potentially work well with the Interpol dynamic. A perfect example of this is the track 'Skyscraper', beginning with a firm acoustic strum, reminiscent of Elliott Smith at his most veracious, before being swarmed with luscious creeping strings, ethereal layered backing vocals and twinkling piano. Banks vocals don't finally kick in until the final third, by which point there's a creaking tower of noise already swirling around the speakers, lending his vocals a more affecting and upbeat tone. Sadly, the following track reverts back to relatively safe post punk territory with little in the way of experimentation or new ideas. This is the general frustration with the album as a whole; there are flourishes of brilliance, of something worthy of its own album, for the most part though it seems like stuff that should have just been saved for the next Interpol record.
Other such flourishes include the stripped back pastoral beauty of 'Madrid', which basically consists of just a delicate piano line mixed with a few subtly deployed vocal samples, and Bank's looping refrain of the lyrics “come have at us, we are strong”. Simple lyrics but when repeated in tandem with the quietly escalating music it takes on an inspiring war chant like quality. The salacious understated opening riff of Girl on the Sporting News melts perfectly in to his distinctive vocals, and the introduction of some dark strings and muffled drums lend the track a feeling that almost verges on sinister.
Overall it's a solid effort as far as solo albums go, and although there is certainly some filler there's also enough in the way of interesting deviations from his normal sound to keep even the most ardent fans interested. It should also help to pique some interest in new directions which the next Interpol album could potentially take.
Julian Plenty Myspace