Release Date: Sep 30, 2016
Record label: Harvest
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Review Summary: Write your name on the Earth in gasoline and just light that shit on fireIn our modest staff year-end round-up for 2014, where we praised the best of what that year had offered, I wrote that BANKS's 2014 debut, Goddess, was a record put forth by someone whose attitude was balanced with her vulnerability. It was little more than a throwaway line in a rushed year-end blurb, but I'm wondering about it now, almost two years later. It's a dumbfucking whatever total waste of time to try to hold oneself accountable for every critical thought that bubbles up when writing about something as fluid and temperamental as music, but if we're being honest, I think the only lingering elements of that record are those that skew to the cocky, confident, JB - the very ideals of a #GODDESS, "juicy and womanly and sexy and milky and nutritious and curvy and yummy and strong.
BANKS’ 2014 debut ‘Goddess’ swept in through a cloud of hype, packing stories of heartbreak, destruction and redemption. But in a sea of gloomy pop, it was hard to figure out exactly what made up these tales. The formula is flipped on ‘The Alter’, a follow-up that thankfully sees BANKS swapping mystery for actual hits, songs with mammoth hooks that don’t shy away from cold truths.
To say Jillian Rose Banks – known to most of the world as Banks – and her debut LP Goddess were one of the most pleasant surprises of 2014 would be disingenuous, if only because fans had already had time to digest her style by then. Alse, Banks’ subject matter is rarely ever pleasant, an aspect of her music she takes pride in. Hype has surrounded the 28-year-old’s career ever since her EPs Fall Over and London introduced the world to a wholly confident songstress who came of age under the influence of similarly bold acts like TLC and Aaliyah.
Ex-lovers, take cover: Banks' sophomore outing The Altar is ready for a sacrifice to the goddesses. With the fire of a thousand scorned lovers, Banks goes all in with her lyrical attack. Whether destroying an ex or empowering herself, Banks has strengthened her voice -- resolutely and with increased production value -- in the two years since her debut Goddess.
Banks’ debut, Goddess, suffered from its mystery. Though packed with fantastic tunes, it felt like she was putting considerable distance between us and her; opening up but not quite. The Altar feels like the real Banks. As she belts out the defiant “Do you see me now?” on the sublime "Mind Games", it seems like a double pronged attack at both her manipulative ex and to us, the listener.
Jillian Banks surfaced from a sea of radio hype and woozy alt-R&B beginnings in 2013. After two well-received EPs, her debut album, Goddess, finally saw the light of day in September 2014. For some, it was six months too late. Her sultry delivery and vogue team of producers (Sohn, Schlomo and Lil Silva to name a few) should have bulldozed her contemporaries.
On her 2014 debut album, Goddess, Banks anointed herself a deity. Now, on The Altar, she examines the pedestal she stands on, finding herself as immortal as ever but no less vulnerable. Before she broke through in 2013, Jillian Banks spent a decade honing her craft and making music, none of it for public consumption. In that time, she cultivated an unashamedly confessional tone and consistent first-person perspective in her lyricism, elements she relies on to this day.
Pop music has a fraught relationship with the concept of self-love. Many chart-toppers seemingly make it their mission to bolster the ego of the listener: after all, being told that we’re “fuckin’ perfect”, in the words of Pink, is of course much nicer than ruminating on our deepest flaws. At the same time, however, the many arms of popular culture and media share no small responsibility for the crisis of self-worth plaguing modern Western culture.
As an artist, Banks is still feeling out who she wants to be. Born Jillian Banks, the Cali-based singer-songwriter's 2014 debut Goddess mined the "trap soul" and alt-R&B minimalism of the day; this time out, she offers a more pop-oriented edge to the musical proceedings. Banks sounds polished on The Altar, but ultimately can't escape the fleeting confectionary vibe throughout.On the positive side, Banks has grown as an artist and maintains creative control across these 13 tracks, including catchy songs like the uptempo "Gemini Feed" and the slender groove of "This Is Not About Us," which both demonstrate Banks' growing command of melody and lyrical structure.
Minimalist R&B has hardly been in short supply in recent years, but Banks’s debut showed a sound enough grasp of hooks and crepuscular moods to deserve further attention. Two years on and having shed that bothersome next big thing tag, she has the chance to move her sound into more unusual territory. But though it’s enjoyable enough, The Altar feels like more of the same.
"I fuck with myself more than anybody else," Banks murmurs on the glassine "Fuck With Myself." This idea of sabotage from all sides – including within – defines the electro-pop diva's second LP, which pairs her whisper-to-a-scream vocal range with jangled-nerve electronics. The pinging "Trainwreck" combines rapid-fire lyrics about escaping a bad-news boyfriend, with hand claps, as if she's at the center of a supportive drum-machine circle, and the emancipation-minded "This Is Not About Us" recalls wistful Latin freestyle. Banks' list of grievances can get wearying, but the music's dour detail is alluring too.
LA singer Banks wants you to worship at her altar, but with her frosty exterior comes the concern that she might pin you on it and eviscerate you as if she’s Nancy from The Craft. Moreso on her second album: gone is the dewy, vulnerable electronica of her debut, for which she was hailed alongside FKA twigs as a “future R&B ingenue”; now she’s putting in an application for the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack. Judas has the Weeknd’s perfume-ad sex vibes down, and on Weaker Girl, his light 80s electro-funk, as she sings, unconvincingly, “Imma need a bad motherfucker like me”.
Alt-R&B artists love to evoke turn-of-the-century R&B, albeit a version of it in which everyone was Aaliyah. While Banks, the alt-R&B project of LA singer-songwriter Jillian Banks, seems conceptualized and curated to within an inch of its life, the reality is a couple years of Banks searching for that fit. The list of collaborators on 2013’s London comes off as an attempt to reverse-engineer getting onto BBC's Sound Of list; Goddess did the same for getting onto playlists with the Weeknd.
Banks 'The Altar' Virgin (EMI)Banks emerged as a blogger’s favourite back in 2013, with her woozy vocal riding over brooding electronic beats crafted by Sohn, Lil Silva and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. Two years on and the LA singer is back with a no-bullshit attitude on her second album. ‘Fuck With Myself’s rattling beats would sit perfectly on an FKA twigs release, ‘Love Sick’ is filled with sensual longing and ‘Mind Games’ screams out anger over crashing synths.