plenticovWhen artists release new material under an alter ego, it is usually seen as a way for him or her to try a hand at something musically different, or as a more diverse mode of expression. This sort of shape shifting is not too uncommon, as within the last few years, artists from Bat for Lashes to Beyonce have formed other versions of themselves in order to branch out a bit from their normal fare.  However, most of those who do decide to pursue this route are solo artists. It is a lot rarer for the leader of an established band to release an album under an alias other than his or her real name.

Such is the case for Interpol’s Paul Banks, who has made his debut as a solo artist under the moniker Julian Plenti, with the release of Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper. In actuality, Banks performed under the Plenti name before the formation of Interpol, so it makes sense for him to return to his roots as a vehicle for branching out from his duties as the leader of one of the most important indie bands of the last decade. While this album is not groundbreaking by any means, it is a strong sign of Banks’ merits as an artist, and hints at what is possible for Interpol’s future albums, something that is exciting in and of itself.

From the opening track “Only if You Run” it is apparent that there is a greater diversity of instrumentation on Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper than on the majority of Interpol’s songs. Throughout the course of the album, there is a prominent use of piano and strings, as well as a healthy dosage of electronics and samples. It is a far cry the usual guitar, guitar, bass, drums affair that most of us have come to expect with Interpol. Additionally, Banks’ voice sounds more relaxed on JPIS than it usually does, and this only adds to the layer of intrigue. However, while it is interesting to hear a more stripped down version of his voice, Banks is at his best when he swings for the fences. Whether or not it conjures up comparisons to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Banks’ performances seem more natural when he strains his baritone.

Even though there are several songs that depart a great deal away from Banks’ day job, JPIS’s finest moments come from the songs that sound the most like his work with Interpol. First single “Games for Days” picks up the tempo a bit, with the guitars taking a front seat, and is all the better for it. There is a sense of urgency that is lacking from several of the other tracks on the album. Additionally, Banks is more straightforward with his lyrics and vocal performance, and this adds a great level of depth to the song. This is not to say that only the straightforward rockers provide the album with its moments of grace. “No Chance Survival” shows another strong lyrical output over a distant electric guitar and glockenspiel, while “On the Esplanade” offers Banks singing another tale of love over an acoustic guitar and piano. Additionally, though the title track only has one line of lyrics, it’s musical arrangement is enough to make it a memorable song that can easily stand on its own.

With all of its strong points, however, there are several instances over the course of the album where the listener is left to wonder why Banks made some of the decisions he did. Taking it’s cue from “Skyscraper”, “Madrid Song” follows almost the exact same formula, but without the same amount of drive. Meanwhile “Girl on the Sporting News” is a sexual ode to a female sportscaster that just ends up sounding like a low key lounge song.  Additionally, “H”, the albums final track, is an instrumental piece that seems like it was put there to bump the albums’ track number to eleven. These sorts of oddities show that while Banks is willing to experiment, it is when he plays to his strengths that he is at his brightest.

All in all though, Paul Banks has avoided the stigma that is associated with musical alter egos on Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper. This album can be seen as a way for Banks to try something a bit different, while at the same time showing what he can possibly bring to the table when Interpol decide to record album #4. While it doesn’t work all the time, the high points on this album easily outweigh the more boring tracks, and are enough to warrant a recommendation for this album.

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