Julian Plenti – or Interpol's Paul Banks as he's better known – releases his debut album after many a year tinkering away behind the scenes, beyond the spotlight that follows him when fronting the celebrated New York rockers.
Inspired by a computer production program that allowed him complete creative control over the recording process, ‘…Skyscraper’ is an intriguing project, one that mixes songs from the last century (‘Girl on the Sporting News’) with new material, backed with strings, piano, acoustic guitar and Morse code synths that range from the tender (‘Skyscraper’) to the confrontational (‘Games for Days’).
It takes only moments for the listener to be blown away by the ambition of this album – it’s because of Banks’ talents, honed through years of touring, that he manages to pull off such a complex record. There is a tender tone to proceedings, something he doesn't get to demonstrate with Interpol, and by using understated arrangements replete with art-rock beats and experimental folk motifs this is like no other release of the year. So far, at least.
It could have been so different – such is the contrast from one song to the next that the end product could have been an almighty mess, despite its obvious originality. That it isn’t a confused jumble of overly disparate tracks is an achievement in itself, and Banks has evidently enjoyed having the freedom to embrace a whole range of styles and techniques. Admittedly it’s not the kind of record you are likely to put on at the end of the day, to unwind to over dinner, but it does highlight Banks’ songwriting prowess – his understanding and implementation of complexities is something lacking in so many bands.
Still, ‘…Skyscraper’ does partially suffer from being rather over ambitious – a little more simplicity and grace wouldn’t have gone amiss. That said, it's a collection of eleven songs that will haunt and inspire you at the same time with a bewitching mix of influences and styles. “We've been through shaky times, but I'm glad you found your way,” he says on the swooning ‘On the Esplanade’, and it’s enough to have you wondering quite where Banks will take us next on his musical adventure.
Words: Stephen Maughan