Reviews

Banks and Steelz Make Musical Worlds Collide on 'Anything But Words'



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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Though it may seem as Paul Banks and RZA (under his moniker Bobby Steelz) come from entirely separate musical worlds, they have more in common than you might think. Banks traveled throughout his childhood, but he, like RZA, made a name for himself in New York City. Both men were the masterminds of two highly influential New York music groups: indie rockers Interpol for Banks and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan for RZA. What truly makes them alike, though, is their desire to experiment with each others’ genres.

Before Banks & Steelz was even close to coming together, both members flirted in worlds different from their own. Banks flirted with making beats on his solo albums, Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper and Banks, and released his own rap mixtape with 2013’s Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be. Meanwhile, RZA has dipped his toes in the indie rock world on a few occasions, collaborating with garage rock band The Black Keys on their rap-rock Blakroc album as well as his own Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack. For years, they’ve appealed to different audiences who seek out different styles, but it was almost inevitable that they would come together in some capacity. Anything But Words is the culmination of these flirtations with other genres as they fully dive into them.

The duo’s roles are clearly defined. Both men contribute most of the album’s production, aside from lead track “Giant,” done by John Hill and Kid Harpoon and the Kool Keith-featuring “Sword in the Stone,” produced by frequent Bruno Mars and Charli XCX collaborator Andrew Wyatt. Ari Levine, member of Bruno Mars’ Smeezingtons production group, co-produces “Anything But Words” with the duo. The rap verses are done by RZA, while Banks sings the hooks, bridges and in the background throughout the project.

While RZA gets credit for being the de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan and one of the most influential producers in hip-hop history, his rapping has always been a mixed bag for some. On Anything But Words, however, he’s doing some of his best work as a solo rapper since his 2001 album Digital Bullets. At some times he’s frantic and rapping for his life on tracks like “Giant” and “Speedway Sonora.” Other times, he’s more cool and collective like on “Anything But Words” and “Conceal.”

Bobby Steelz’s best verses come on one of the album’s biggest highlights, “Can’t Hardly Feel.” On the track, he recollects his thoughts on a girl whom he had fallen in love but lost the collection. It’s a bit reminiscent of his verses on James Blake’s “Take a Fall For Me” from 2013, in that it deals with introspectively dealing with a lost love who no longer feels for him.

The sound of the album is varied throughout. “Speedway Sonora” has almost a punk rock feeling to it. “Conceal” is defined by its constant bassline backing Banks and Bobby’s words and eventually leading to a killer guitar solo that closes the song. “Love and War” is built around horns. “Sword in the Stone” is a bit more traditional hip-hop. No two tracks sound the same.

There are a few other guests aside from Kool Keith. RZA’s Wu-Tang brothers Ghostface Killah (“Love and War”), Masta Killa and Method Man (“Point of View”) show up to give memorable verses. Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch’s often-overpowering voice actually ends up working well with Banks on “Wild Season” as well.

Banks & Steelz constantly shift shapes and sounds on Anything But Words, but the experimentation doesn’t always work. However, the album never bores even in its uneven tracks. When it comes to taking risks and exploring the musical landscape, Banks and RZA have a shared desire on this project: to step out of their respective comfort zones to create a sonic meeting of the minds.

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Author: Chris Gibbons

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