Paul Banks - Banks
With his Julian Plenti moniker in 2009, Interpol frontman Paul Banks let his hair down and decided to have some fun. Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper was a vibrant and lively album where Banks seemed more willing to experiment than in Interpol, and it was lapped up by his band's legion of dedicated fans, but perhaps not by as many outside this group. Now he has dropped the Julian Plenti name and releases his debut album Banks, a sure sign that this will be him at his purest.
With trees blowing and birds tweeting there is a very natural opening to the record on the first few seconds of 'The Base'. This soon makes way to a jerky pop tune as Banks sings "Now and then I can see the truth above the lights." As the song quickly gains in momentum and positivity, strings come to the fore amongst talk of streetlights turning into big nights, before a final U-turn into something far more menacing. The second track owes a lot to the big Phil Spector-produced records of the 60s, especially with the iconic-sounding drums that open it, before it turns into a janglier version of Banks' day job, although there are some extremely dark elements shown in the talk of phantoms and how "over my shoulder there is a man that doesn't speak." Despite this, the overwhelming feeling you get is the same kind as when you hear The Flaming Lips at their best – you want to punch the air and smile, no matter how grisly the subject.
The brooding chants and programmed drums of 'Arise, awake' show Banks dipping into psychedelia, complete with an interlude of comedy speech. Halfway through it turns into something that could belong on an Addams Family soundtrack and this eclectic trend continues on 'Lisbon' – an effects and sample-laden song that manages to bizarrely capture the essence of Broken Social Scene at their most commanding, while also sounding like what should be the new James Bond soundtrack. 'I'll See You' finds Banks in a playful but terrifying mood: "There's always a way," "I'll sue you – I'm sueing you" and "I want a free ride" being just some of the imposing lyrics despite the song's flighty nature. A slow burner, you can just imagine the wry smile on Banks' face as he menacingly sings, amongst powerful and clattering drums: "And then we'll fly away."
One of the main strengths of the record is the amount of startling openings – Banks knows how to get your attention and 'Paid for That' is amongst the most potent. With self-depreciating lyrics ("I'm drinking moonshine because I've had enough of star life"), this rallying call against fame has the spirit of Scott Walker running through and is a song that makes you think. It hints at troubles Banks may have encountered over the past few years, as he sings "Death will come" and then makes hysteric wails of "I paid for that, now you pay me back," you realise things aren't always greener. An intriguing conversation between two men opens the largely instrumental 'Another Chance': "I know I made a mistake," "Sometimes people fuck up and you have to give them another chance, so they can change and become a better person" is the opening words before they go on to discuss forgotten flings and neurological conditions. Piano features heavily here as the prog-inspired song quickly picks up pace amongst cries of "There's something wrong with my brain." It's definitely one to get inside yours.
The thoroughly unseasonal 'Summer Is Coming' closes the album and Banks does not seem happy about this change in season, the closest thing to an Interpol song on here, it has the same kind of evocative guitar sounds and that pulsating rhythm that has treated them so well over the years. Towards the end it gently breaks down into a sole acoustic guitar and vocals as Banks delivers a monologue of sorts: "Is this the right time to know me?," "Can we waste more time just colliding in space, no matter how high we set the bar?" Although this may seem like a downer to end an album on, it is a wonderful contrast to what has come before – a mixture of orchestral pop and avant-garde experimentalism.