Paul Banks – Banks [Album Review]

Pessimism is an underrated state of mind. Some of the best art comes from a dark place, a distinction not lost on Paul Banks. The Interpol frontman’s deep baritone has become a symbol for the sort of 21st century cynicism the band soundtracked on their 2002 debut Turn On The Bright Lights. It’s been a decade since that seminal album dropped, and Banks has surely changed as a musician and a person since then. His newest solo album, the first under his own name, features some of the most experimental music he’s released to date. And it’s a lot better than that last self-titled Interpol album.

On Banks he immediately distances himself from his band with the opening track ‘The Base’.  The track opens with a delicate, looped acoustic guitar line before a hip-hop inspired drum machine pops in along with Banks’ tired, uninterested vocal. The beat then drops out during the chorus when Banks croons “Now and then/I can see the truth/above the lies.” While Banks has referenced his love of hip-hop on numerous occasions, this influence hasn’t really come to forefront of his music until recently. Along with his collaboration with rapper El-P, ‘Base’ and a few other songs on the album play around with sounds normally associated with hip-hop.

While Interpol has released few if any instrumental tracks, it’s no secret that the band’s greatest weapon is its rhythm section. Here as a solo artist, Banks isn’t left to compete vocally with that force. Knowing that, he takes full advantage building keyboard and string arrangements around his yearning vocals on songs like ‘Over My Shoulder’ and ‘Young Again’. The final track ‘Summertime Is Coming’ ends with Banks accompanied only by a sparse acoustic guitar, his vocals free from the shadowy reverb that characterized his early career.

While many of the experiments Banks cooks up on the album work to his advantage, he still has a few growing pains as a solo artist. The instrumental track  ‘Lisbon’ is a bit jarring simply due to its upbeat styling. Plus, its sudden dark shift after the two-minute mark while fairly slick is pretty cheesy overall. However, the album’s biggest shortcoming is the experimental sound collage ‘Another Chance’. While the instrumental backing the song fits in quite well with the album’s motif, the voice samples that are incorporated into it are just awkward and makes for a pretty poor, pretentious attempt at performance art.

The album’s greatest moments occur when Banks takes in these new ideas and influences and uses them as tools to recreate the sort of dark, enigmatic drama we’ve come to expect from his music. Songs like the aforementioned ‘The Base’ ‘Summertime Is Coming’ and “Arise, Awake’ don’t slide by simply on interesting instrumentation, but rather provide new ways for Banks to narrate his gloomy outlook on life. Oh, and by the way, it sounds nothing like Joy Division, so there’s that too.

– Dillon Riley