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Anything But Words

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Album Review

Cross-genre collaborations don't always land as expected. When combining riffs and rhymes, there's a high risk that descriptors like "rap-rock" and even "nu-metal" will creep up to cloud objectivity, recalling ghosts from the late '90s. On Anything But Words, the debut effort from Banks & Steelz, two seemingly disparate forces mesh so well that it sounds like they were meant to be together all along. In 2013, Interpol frontman and self-professed hip-hop head Paul Banks was introduced to Wu-Tang Clan head RZA, and after connecting, they formed a new project named after the main talents (one of RZA's alter egos is Bobby Steels). Banks brought his baritone and nocturnal post-punk guitar handiwork while RZA injected his pristine hip-hop production skills and aggressive rhymes. The project benefits both men: Banks hasn't sounded this good over a tight rhythm since Carlos D. took his bass and left Interpol, and RZA — invigorated and bursting with passion — hasn't spit this hard in almost a decade. They elevate each other over 12 tracks that never lose momentum. The album starts hard and fast, with a one-two-three kick-off that justifies the whole Banks & Steelz concept. "Giant" is the aptly titled first track, which sets the tone with an intensely earnest RZA, a propulsive beat, and a soaring chorus by Banks. It glimmers with programmed effects and polish courtesy of producers John Hill and Kid Harpoon. After the glitchy gem "Ana Electronic," the bass-heavy "Sword in the Stone" brings the heat, a jagged, menacing beast that features a standout verse from Kool Keith and production from Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow, Bruno Mars, Beck). Unexpected guest Florence Welch lends her ethereal vocals to "Wild Season," which may sound like one too many cooks in this sonic kitchen but ends up being a highlight of the album. After an energetic and exciting first half, Anything But Words slows down and adopts a near-trip-hop energy. The cool funk of "Conceal" undulates and seduces while "Can't Hardly Feel" pops like a chilled-out Faithless track. The creeping "One by One," another highlight, channels Massive Attack on a moody, slow-burning hypnotizer. Being a RZA production, it's only natural that a few friends dropped by the recording session. Wu-Tang fans will rejoice over the inclusion of a trio of welcome voices: Ghostface Killah brings his formidable flow to "Love and War," while Method Man and Masta Killa close the album on "Point of View." Anything But Words is a stellar and truly collaborative endeavor between two creative energies, the result of an organic songwriting process that is anything but thrown together. ~ Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Paul Banks, RZA make a fresh profound collaboration for the ages as Banks & Steelz

Let’s revisit an album that came out last weekend that needs some more attention. The new RZA joint that is a collaboration with musician and singer from band Interpol, Paul Banks, titled Anything But Words (Aug 26, Warner Bros) is a very good combination of rap and rock that does not dilute its hip-hop content really at all. Banks and RZA’s relationship goes back to 2011 when they started recording together, and in fishing for new project-ideas later on, RZA could think of no one better to join forces with than Paul. The two, who draw their duo name from Paul Banks’ surname obviously with the last name of RZA’s Bobby Steels moniker, have gone all in here. As it is a mix of genres but easily considered either hip-hop or alternative rock, Anything But Words might recall memories from the flavor-experimenting days of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, but this is better, more mature music, less loud and less in-your-face with better emcee craft and messages on RZA’s part and strong enjoyable new-rock by Paul Banks, mastered and executive produced by both artists.

Paul provides most of the chorus vocals and main music production, but of course RZA probably helped enormously with the mixing and overall direction since he’s such a talented established beatmaker himself. Through the lyrics and instrumental compositions, the two express their inner concerns, get out their worries and vent their grievances, as the guitars and drums screech out their battle cries and RZA vomits (in well made, well delivered rhyme lines) colorful streams of real world testaments and other testy talk. Bobby discusses growing up and deciding to become a better man in “Wild Season,” serves up one of his specialties, relationship struggles, in “Love And War” and gifts us with several inspirational moments and lines sprinkled elsewhere. Despite the fact that Anything But Words comes off the table of the major Warner Music Group, RZA has surprisingly been allowed to make more than a few statements that challenge the current establishment. These allowances he has fought for in the truth-spitting department are a bit astonishing but chalk it up to the RZArector’s clout, experience and bargaining power when it comes to him getting his freedom of speech on these records.

The rock music is powerful and explosive and so is the rapping and singing. RZA is striking and Paul Banks is inspired and heartfelt. This pure product is a real powerhouse built by two impenetrable strongholds in the industry, two camps that can withstand any attack on them. For a more or less mainstream project of this nature, it is refreshing that Bobby Digital imparts all the knowledge and wisdom he does. The guy cannot make a poor project. He’s proven again that he is a true emcee and producer who has come such a very long way since his basic, early 1990s Prince Rakeem days. In proper form, it’s got Wu-Tang backing too, featuring Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Masta Killa as guests, the two other features being singer/songwriter Florence Welch and the highly credentialed Kool Keith. Big big props too go to Paul Banks, who has opened himself up to working outside of his usual mold and for sharing his skills and sounds with the hip-hop universe. Anything But Words: just a dope album by masters of their styles. Thank you guys.

I like it!

Wu-Tang Forever.

Cautious but in love with that NY feel

As a huge fan of Interpol I was wowed that Paul Banks would team up with RZA. I wasn't sure until I heard Love + War and then I fell for the group with the hook on Giant. I think any Wu-Tang or Interpol fan or hip hop fan should give this a chance and blast it. As a guitarist I get a lot of inspiration from these tracks and hope they do more and I get to see them live.

Biography

Formed: 2013 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '10s

The project of Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and Interpol's Paul Banks, Banks & Steelz balances chilly post-punk and hard-hitting hip-hop in ways that are equally indebted to and distinct from its members' past work. Banks, a longtime hip-hop fan, released his own rap mixtape, Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be, in 2013, the same year he and RZA began working as Banks & Steelz. RZA, meanwhile, only knew of Interpol by name until his manager, a fan of the band, introduced him to Banks. The pair hit...
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Anything But Words, Banks & Steelz
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