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Old 11-22-2012, 06:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Nov 2012
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Default Paul Banks - Banks (2012) review

Everyone knows Paul Banks as the man behind the microphone in the gloomy, post punk outfit Interpol. Though Interpol's most recent work (their self titled album) was O.K. at best, I saw a glimmer of hope for Paul Banks in his 2009 solo album, Julian Plenti is... Skyscraper. This album gave me faith that if Interpol didn't work out for him, Mr. Banks might still be able to put out engaging, dynamic tunes. Banks, his most recent endeavor, saw Paul playing it a bit more safe than Skyscraper, and it shows in the sound: it's (for the most part) safe, semi engaging, and leaves you thinking "well that was.... alright I guess."

Let's start with the good:

Mr. Banks definitely knows how to handle a guitar. The guitar lines throughout are interesting without being obnoxious, such as the monotone notes of "The Base", or the quick, excited octaves and arpeggios of "I'll Sue You". These are guitar parts in a classic Interpol sense: they bring texture and melody to the songs without being the center point, and are more of a compliment to the sonic main course.

The syth work in this album is also fantastic, swelling with violins in "I'll Sue You", and gently providing atmosphere everywhere else, such as the intimate end of "Summertime is coming". There's plenty of space to get lost in these sounds as well. Tracks such as "Lisbon" and "Another Chance" give the listener an airy, relaxing experience (almost reminiscent of Wilco).

Overall, the songwriting is interestingly varied. There are the classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures, but also long interludes, varied (and sometimes unexpected) transitions, and some beautiful buildups.

Now for the bad:

On the previous solo album, Skyscraper, Paul took some risks. Spanish guitar, bubbly pop, and folk were all touched on over the course of the album. Why Paul totally abandoned that adventurousness, I don't know. By comparison, this album is considerably homogenized; mid-tempo guitar rock punctuated with the occasional instrumental standout. Nothing innovative about this album.

Above, I mentioned the role that the guitars served: a compliment to a larger musical entity. In Interpol, that entity was the profound rhythm section. Sam's fierce drums cut through any possible dullness, and Carlos constantly went bat**** crazy on his bass. There is no such substance here. Without that foundation, these songs tend to feel empty. Tracks such as "Arise, Awake" are practically begging for some kind of filler between the weak guitar and the unengaging drumming. Anything.

And now my biggest issue with this album: his vocals. Paul takes his monotone and distant vocals (which worked so well with Interpol because of -you guessed it- the fabulous rhythm section and instrumentation) and takes it to a new level of uninspired. If the music were enough to save it, that would be one thing. But the filter put on Paul's voice for almost the entire album leaves something to be desired, reducing his voice to an echoing, distant distraction from the music. Even on a track like "Young Again", when he's trying to be somewhat playful in the verse, the vocal effects just cut him off completely.

Overall, I like this album alright, but leaves something to be desired. I think it deserves a solid 6/10.
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