29 August 2016

Banks & Steelz - Anything But Words

When two worlds collide, there can be collateral damage, devastation or there can be the merger of two entities into something new and (to use my words of the week) glorious!  But who knows what the results will be before it is tired and tested?  Well, since 2013 there has been talk about an album being created by Paul Banks from Interpol and Wu-Tung Clan member RZA, which actually had its genesis in 2011 when the two created a demo just for shits and giggles.  Once this came to people's attention, they were hounded to create an album, but due to their other commitments it has taken a while to get the album together.  However, in May 2016 they released their first single "Love & War" and since then, people have been anticipating the album; in fact, one of the songs was recently used on the WWE NXT: Take Over - Brooklyn II as one of the themes for the show.  You try to go into these sort of reviews with an open mind, on this one mine is as open as the sky on a sunny day - I have no idea what to expect and I am just hoping for an entertaining album, so let us see if they have delivered......

Starting the album is "Giant" which was the song used by the WWE for NXT: Take Over - Brooklyn II and it was the second song to be released as a single from the album, it is a high energy combination of both of their styles.  It is clearly based in hip-hop, but it has alternative rock trimmings which give it a different feeling to a lot of other artists currently doing the round.  There is also a huge dose of synths in this song and a frantic percussion section on this album and an overall positive vibe to this song.  "Ana Electronic" follows on and slows down the pace to a nightclub beat, featuring more on Paul Banks than RZA on this one.  It is not as intense as "Giant", but they have not let the quality drop on this one.  It has a looser sound, with a few more guitar parts being brought to the forefront of the song and a huge sound that give this song a certain something that is not easy to get out of your head.  It is by no means the strongest track here, but it is one of the more interesting ones.  "Sword in The Stone" is next and features a guest in the form of Kool Keith and it is the fourth song on the album to be released as a single; it started off very slow and calm, but then RZA &Kool Keith drop two of the biggest brags I have heard for a while, the usual bigger than life and everything is huge as they drop f'bombs like they are going out of fashion.  It is a part of rap music that is always there and probably always will be, but it is one of the best examples of it that I have heard of the hip-hop brag this year.  Next is "Speedway Sonora" and we are back to the slower side of the project, with a focus on the alternative side of the act which just happens to have a few raps added over it.  It reminds me of a few of the moments from the 'Judgement Night' OST at this point, it is working but it is more Interpol here than Banks & Steelz on "Speedway Sonora" and this project works better for me as a collaboration and not one getting more time than the other.

The fifth song is called "Wild Season" and this one also features a singer called Florence Welch, better known as the voice of Florence + The Machine.  This song is all about growing up, leaving the wild, youthful side of your life to the side and getting ready for responsibilities and actually making something of yourself, also there is still doubt in the mix and it will be there for a long time.  I like this song, it has a conflict and a desire for being a better person with a maturity that is not easy to quantify.  It also feels like a mic swap song as each performer is given a change on this song, Ms Welch is not screaming on this one and her vocals has grown as well, Mr Banks sounds as calm and strong as ever and RZA sounds philosophical on this one - a real game changer to this album.  Next is the title track, "Anything but Words".  This is the fifth song on the album to have been released as a single, with a song that mixes religious metaphors and being brave.  There are some passages which sort of drift by me, it has a very confrontational feeling to certain sections which make it feel like it is posturing for a fight.  It is the weakest song on the album by a long way, with the attitude and conflicting tones to the lyrics, it just sounds like a man saying one thing and meaning another.  "Conceal" starts the second half of the album with another slow number, taking a slower step once more and focusing on Banks and his performance.  With this song, you can imagine it being used in a film noir and hinting at dark secrets and damaging lies.  It is one of the better slow song which brings something different to the table, one that does improve with repeated listens and the rap by RZA is a highlight.  With a guest performance by Ghostface Killah and starting with the sound of horns, "Love & War" was the first song on the album to be released as a single.  It is a song which suggests that love and war are closely connected and they are part of one circle, with both sides contributing to life and giving it a rich tapestry.  It is another killer song, giving the album a much needed boost after a bit of a lull; with a great groove and everyone contributing equally, it does not feel dominated by one aspect of the group and that makes a lot of difference to this album to be honest - team effort, but for all the bragging I have money on the ladies in their lives winning more than the boys.

The last third of the album starts with "Can't Hardly Feel", a song about loneliness and being lost on the inside of yourself, also looking for some sort of contact and it is not quite working right.  Again, it is slower number that hits the spot, mainly due to the collaboration complementing each other; it has a slow groove that could make a grown man cry like a preacher who has been caught with his hand in the offering tray, it has a melancholy sound that makes the mood reflective and the mind focus on other issues.  Next up is "One by One", it is a song that I have struggled with a lot as it is almost there.  Slowing down the mood once more, this song has a labouring effect on the soul and whilst it sounds good enough, it is missing the spark, the hook that other songs on the album contains.  The penultimate song of the album is "Gonna Make It" which is another moody number, a song about trying to get away from people and substances that are holding you back, promising yourself that you are going to make it someday.  Musically, it feels a little laboured and it is missing a little something; however, it is lyrically where the song make is at its best.  The lyrics about determination and taking it upon yourself to make yourself something more, the effect is brilliant and it is changes the perspective of the song.  The end song is called "Point of View" which also features Method Man and Masta Killa, once more going for thoughtful instead of ending on a bang with fireworks and explosions.  It aims for a similar feeling to "Gonna Make It", but even with the guest spots it just does not quite make it and ends the album on a low point rather than a high water mark.

When this album works best, it is during the big, brash, bragging sections of the album - tracks like "Giant", "Sword in The Stone" and "Love & War" just sound majestic and bigger than life.  When the mood changes, so does the interest level to be honest.  I can see why they do it, you do not want an album with every song sounding the same and all that jazz; but in this case it loses some of the energy and tempo of the album. I will give the band their due, songs such as "Can't Hardly Feel" work really well, but then they have songs like the title track and "Speedway Sonora" that just do not work quite as well.  This band works best when the bands are complimenting each other, that may sound obvious and yet it is sometimes over looked on here.  Overall, this is a good album which could have been a great album and I have a feeling it is not the end of the project, I really hope as this could really be an interesting partnership that just needs a little creative control in place.  Almost there, just a few rough edges to remove and a sense of disappointment mixed with some fantastic moments.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out.

Top track - Giant

You can purchase Anything but Words on Amazon here.

You can visit the Banks & Steelz website here.

You can follow the activities of Banks & Steelz on Facebook here.

You can stream Anything but Words on Deezer here.

You can stream Anything but Words on Spotify here.

You can stream Anything but Words on Tidal here.

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