This album is… a competition. It’s nothing less than a competition of overcoming your initial instincts and break out into independent thinking — both for me and Paul Banks. Therefore, we (you and I) shall perform this review without even once mentioning the band-who-must-not-be-named. Because in the end, the moniker Julian Plenti and this solo debut deserves to be judged in their own right.
This artsy NYC-yuppian name has been around plucking awkward indie guitar melodies at underground gigs before the man behind the moniker joined one of the most popular indie rock bands of the 00’s: yes, the very same band-who-must-not-be-named. At the time of recording the severely, critically applauded and tremendous 2002 debut album of said band, the Plenti work was left on the shelf in favor of two more albums that further sent Banks into alternative stardom. So it’s not until now that it’s time to dust off the solo guitar just to reveal… Skyscraper.
In the naive but trustworthy perspective of Plenti as an up and coming debutant, the album sounds refreshingly original and noteworthy. In a slightly more realistic, sober, and perhaps a tad bit pessimistic perspective, the style, instrumentation and different themes presented in the songs come across as uninspired, light-weight, and demo-like efforts. Considering the many years this moniker has been put in the shadows behind the limelight of the collectivelly songwriting band-which-must-not-be-named it’d be easy to expect something of a creatively exploding ambition to settle the moniker in its own independent credibility. Yet it’s exactly this unsettling feeling of Banks still on his musical toes that intrigues and keeps the listeners on their toes.
Through unruly alternative rock bashes that border on stubbornly dull (“Games For Days”), enchantingly skewed indie rock ballads á la the style that Radiohead popularized (“Only If You Run”, “Skyscraper” to name a few of the best that are present), and peculiarly melancholic pop passages (“Unwind”), Banks keeps the arrangements raw, awkward, and quirky. It goes without saying that it’s apparent that Banks truly masters his idea of how his anti-standards universe is going to sound, even though the initial listen may give the listener an unfinished impression.
However, Banks sounds more like Banks than ever. Most songs sound like something that the band-which-must-not-be-named could possibly use as a step out of the comfort zone. There’s no doubt however that … Skyscraper is the album where the solo artist finds his own independent expression and presents it in an enjoyable fashion. The indifferent, dead-pan, multi-layered vocal delivery, which is Banks now refined signum, is one that manages to conjure up strong feelings that on paper shouldn’t be possible in such blatantly yet in the end meaninglessly flawed instrumental surroundings that somewhat unfortunately are to be found on this rough album. Take the repeated, hopelessly dismayed line “Come have at us, we are strong” in the serene two-minute installation, “Madrid Song”, as an example of that feat.
Take Julian Plenti as a freshman and you’re in for an “indie breakthrough sound” listen. Take Julian Plenti as a late solo breakout of this infamous band-which-must-not-be-named, and you’re in for a bumpy ride – emotionally and in enjoyment. The important thing is you take this moniker seriously without distraught from said band. Then an alternative artist coming into his own, in a most graceful mix of idiosyncrasy and emotional delivery, takes shape on a scene dominated by preset expectations and opinions. Bravo. A small victory for me. An assuring victory for Banks.