Julian Plenti is... Skyscraper
Review by Erik E. Martz
Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper is the first solo effort of Julian Plenti, nom de plume of Paul Banks, frontman of Interpol. Got all that? If not, then you may also be wondering why such an album should exist, given the established centrality of Banks' songwriting within his day band. Yes, this is all very well and good, Mr. Banks, but why not give it to the band?
The straight answer is, of course, ego, which immediately suggests bloat and hubris. But just as dismissing Thom Yorke's The Eraser out of hand is a mistake, so to is judging Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper as merely a collection of Interpol cast-offs. Most of the trademark Interpol sound unfolds on the album's first half, with driving rockers "Fun That We Have" and "Games For Days" hewing closest to the formula. But before everything comes "Only If You Run," a song which blips to life only to be kicked in the ass by a thumping Bonham-esque drum line which locks the song into a rackety blues pocket rarely heard on Interpol records. "Surprise, surprise," sings Banks.
The rest of the album veers from idiosyncratic Interpol to outright newer and peculiar territory. What is most surprising is how still and quiet this album often is. "Skyscraper" is one of the album's stranger moments--an ambling acoustic slipping into a dark bank of synth and strings while oddly furtive voice samples flicker around it. "Madrid Song" ruminates on piano and a disarming violin figure, Banks intoning repeatedly and ominously, "Come, have at us/We are strong." "On The Esplanade" is another quieter moment, where chilly acoustic guitar and windswept strings push Banks far from his established sound.
Lyrically, the songs here are not as darkly obfuscating as most Interpol tracks, but more blatantly ruminative. "I feel overcome/with trying to play it dead," Banks sings in "On The Esplanade." Instead of watching a woman undress in front of him, Banks seems to be watching TV or leaning over a high balcony or walking along an evening waterfront, random spoken word bits crackling in and out of his meditations. "Feel safe that way," Banks sings as he finishes his walk. "Is it better than displaying instead?"
Odd and introspective, Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper is all the more interesting for what it does and doesn't display and will reward repeated listens. Still, the question remains: why the Julian Plenti moniker? Maybe it's hubris, or maybe it's because people often find a king more interesting in exile from his kingdom.
Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper is out today on Matador Records. The album can be streamed at Rhapsody's website:
--Erik E. Martz