Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper
As frontman and the imposing baritone vocalist of Interpol, Paul Banks’ voice sounds dirty, excited and strained. In turn, Interpol has an expansive, yet sharp, post-punk sound but as Julian Plenti, Banks is more idiosyncratic, exploring dark thoughts while preferring cool and brooding metallic sounds over the warmth of Interpol’s sad-sack rock. Both projects draw their inspiration and ideas from a similar place but Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper has more in common with Interpol’s most recent – and disappointing – album than that band’s promising beginnings.
Julian Plenti was conceived before Banks found deserved success with Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights in 2002, but the JP that began strumming acoustic guitars in 1996 is long gone. While Interpol allowed Banks the advantages and conceptual resources of a full band, the recording software Logic Pro has provided Julian Plenti a similarly grandiose sound without the organic contributions and opinions of bandmates. Friends and Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino do make recording appearances – but they’re clearly here as additions to Banks’ concept, not creative forces of their own. Skyscraper manages to sound at once full-bodied and lush, yet often soulless, as solo pet-projects often do.
It begins with electronic clicks and distortion, which quickly filter into the melody of the contemplative “Only if You Run.” Gone are the driving rhythms and strained vocal delivery of “Obstacle 1;” here, Banks sounds more pensive, which only enhances the natural whine of his timbre on the album’s best moments. As could be expected, the addition of crunchy guitars and twinkling atmospherics on “Run,” “No Chance Survival” and the title track successfully lend Julian Plenti the disconcerting sound that originally made Interpol both unique and rewarding on repeat listens. This approach fails when the software and production sheen overshadow the natural grit of Banks’ musical sensibilities, most specifically on the catchy but disposable “Fun That We Have.”
Lyrically, Banks still favors architectural metaphors, sharp conversational messages and simple phrases. This works well on tracks with more perspective like “Games for Days;” with resounding brevity he sings “I take it all away / Because you taste just like the river.” At other times it just doesn’t make much sense. The album’s centerpiece and third track is mostly instrumental and only includes three cryptic – and mostly meaningless – words: “Shake me / Shake me/ Skyscraper.”
So with Julian Plenti its hard not to compare the project’s more European and digital sound to Interpol, which ultimately is both good and bad. Most of Skyscraper rocks enough to please fans of Banks’ more well known work and the lyrics can be appreciated for the same reasons those songs work so well. Although, the horn and keyboard flourishes, overwhelming production gloss and clear “one-man-band” approach to Julian Plenti might get old fast for those same fans. More importantly, Banks has a unique voice and a clear musical vision; it’s often entertaining but seems to work best when bandmates are around to keep his faults in check.