Album Review: BANKS – The Altar

BANKS The Altar

BANKS shows growth with the perfect sophomore album
When BANKS was nominated for the BBC’s Sound Of poll and a MTV Brand New award at the beginning of 2014, she already had two EPs to her name. By the time her debut album Goddess came out later that year, we heard most of the tracks already because of earlier releases, but as a full body of work it was impressive from start to finish. The singer-songwriter, known for her smooth mix of pop, electronica and R&B, moved on fairly quickly and provides us with the follow up The Altar today. It is exciting to experience her album without having heard the majority of it yet and the insanely high quality of it all makes for an even more thrilling ride!

BANKS briefly came back at the end of last year with the single ‘Better’, which did not make the album, but started the campaign for The Altar properly in July, when the daring single ‘Fuck With Myself’ came out. Visually she went in a more edgy direction and the beats were more prominent. This turned out to be a trend she continued on ‘Gemini Feed’, easily one of the best pop songs of the year with a humongous chorus and an excuisite production. She showed she could still pull our heartstrings as well with the heartbreaking ‘Mind Games’. Although The Altar is definitely a bit more beat heavy than its predecessor, Jillian Banks delivers an even better balanced album this time.

The Altar with its 12 tracks has literally no filler material or any dull moment. Every track deserves it place and feels absolutely necessary in context of the record. Admitted, tracks like ‘This Is Not About Us’ or ‘Judas’ do not have the most impressive choruses and tend to get a bit repetitive, but they make up for it by bold production choices, extraordinary vocal work or deep lyrics in the verses. By far enough to keep these tracks in your playlist while you dive into this album on repeat at the very least! Then wait what happens when BANKS actually gets it totally right: ‘Weaker Girl’ builds up slowly to a big beat drop in the chorus and for the second round some gorgeous strings come in. It is a defining moment on The Altar: heartbreak turns into confidence (“I think you need a weaker girl, and Imma need a bad motherfucker like me”) while some elements of classical balladry find their way in BANKS’ dominantly electronic productions. Magical!

While most of the tracks on her debut Goddess explored themes like heartbreak and pain, The Altar is a post break up album of a different kind. We still get to experience her intense heartbreak on the fragile piano lead closer ‘To The Hilt’, but we also get to hear her anger and believe in her own decisions. “Blame me for your false indicators, you’re mistaking all my mistakes for my crooked nature”, she sings on the dark and profound production ‘Poltergeist’. ‘Trainwreck’, her most hiphop infused effort to date, talks about a destructive relationship BANKS knew she needed to get away from. On the smooth and sultry pop hit waiting to happen, ‘Lovesick’, she sounds hopeful again. BANKS goes for bigger productions, bolder lyrical and sonical choices, but not without us getting to enjoy her vocals over acoustic guitar on ‘Mother Earth’ as well. She pulls this off so well.

BANKS knew exactly what she wanted to do with this sophomore record, stepping up her game after an already impressive debut. It kept the key elements that turned Goddess into a success, dared to push her boundaries and let us look deep into her soul once again. Both sonically and emotionally, The Altar is one of the most pleasing records of the year so far.

Must Listen: Gemini Feed, Mind Games, Weaker Girl, Trainwreck, Lovesick

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