Paul Banks’ solo outing under the pseudonym Julian Plenti sounds less like Banks’ day job with Interpol and more like what a hypothetical Best of Modern Indie Music might sound like, should such a compilation ever exist. The production tricks—sometimes gimmicky, sometimes brilliant—from Interpol’s moderately impressive albums are nowhere to be found. Instead the album spends most of its time trying to find a popular indie fad and chase after it.
Production values aside, Paul Banks remains a more pitch-friendly vocalist under the moniker of Julian Plenti, and it’s that sense of pitch that serves as another divider between Julian Plenti and Interpol. While serving as Interpol’s vocalist, Banks sometimes had the occasion to underestimate the power of phrase and pronunciation; however, that problem is no more. Banks’ vocals are crystalline and clear throughout most of the album, and he evens attempts an ethereal vocal turn on “No Chance Survival” that ends up sounding like a less world-worn Conor Oberst.
And there lies the problem: there’s nothing unique about what Banks does with those trends that makes Julian Plenti is… Skycraper anything more than genre-hopping. The opening track, “Only If You Run”, sounds like an outtake from an early Black Keys album in both production and lyrics, but nothing the least bit interesting happens within the song. Banks doesn’t possess Dan Auerbach powerful yelp or ability to devastatingly turn a phrase; instead Julian Plenti comes across as a decent doppelganger.
Most of the album comes across as a game of “name the influence”. And it’s not even a difficult game: the title track aims for John Vanderslice atmospherics, “Girl On the Sporting News” wants to badly be an M. Ward track, “On the Esplanade” is an Iron and Wine rehash, and “Fly As You Might” evokes the blues revival of Jack White. Yet there’s nothing the least bit insightful to the artist Banks wishes to be under Julian Plenti.
That’s not that there’s nothing worth mentioning on the album. “Fun That We Have” may ape Hot Hot Heat’s sketchy guitar lines, but there are some sharp one-liners, like “I was reading with my telekinesis”, that are both absurd and hilarious, if not completely original. Whereas the loud horns and thumping bass drowned out Banks’ vocals on “Unwind”, the lilting piano on the closer, “H”, provide the perfect framework for the shrinking delivery.
All in all, Julian Plenti is… Skyscrapper comes across as more of an afterthought. In spending so much time trying to imitate other trends, Banks is left emptyhanded. Typically solo outings are a time for artists to forge their own creative innovations that remain closed within the confines of the band, but that just isn’t the case with Julian Plenti. Banks’ idiosyncrasies remain a product of Interpol. Ironically enough, as a solo artist Julian Plenti sounds forced, calculated, and unoriginal. It’s probably safe to say it’s best for Banks to stick to his day job. Julian Plenti won’t win over any new fans—and may leave the old fans scratching their heads.
// Notes from the Road
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