BANKS does what BANKS does best on III
Ever since BANKS launched her first EPs back in 2013, she has managed to build a steady career and fan base without actually having proper radio- or chart hits. With 3 million monthly listeners and ‘Beggin For Thread’ being her first track that soon is going to hit 100 million streams on Spotify, the electronic R&B singer-songwriter clearly thrives in the current music industry. She does worldwide club tours, released two successful albums and is now launching the third, titled III. She keeps pushing her sound forward with edgier productions, while staying true to what she does best.
III starts out with the slightly uneasy opener ‘Till Now’. It channels anger at a failed relationship in which someone mistreated her. It immediately grabs you by the throat and forces you to go into this record with an open mind. This open mind you will need when she pushes your senses on the distorted and dirty production of ‘Stroke’. Together with producer BJ Burton, she plays with distorted beats until it almost becomes unbearable and right at that point ‘Stroke’ turns into a funky 80s inspired pop tune for a bit. Throughout the record she plays with with our expectations, boundaries of what sounds pleasant and the sound of her own voice.
III is a heavily autotuned record, but where most pop stars use it to polish their vocals, BANKS makes it into an art. It sometimes makes her sound more aggressive, like on the opening track as well as the absolute banger ‘The Fall’, while it even adds to a sense of vulnerability on ‘If We Were Made of Water’. On single ‘Look What You’re Doing To Me’, it takes the whole production to a whole new level, which seemed to divide fan bases on if it was too distracting from the actual song and melody. I would argue it gives a certain edge to the tune without taking away from the hooks it serves.
Of course III does not keep pushing our boundaries on every single tune. She goes a little easier on us with more straightforward poppy tunes like ‘Godless’, for which the idea actually started by her ex writing a verse that she turned into a song, and ‘Propaganda’, which serves some of the more instant hooks on the album. The sensual and super confident first single ‘Gimme’ belongs in the same category. Her drive to push her sound into more experimental territory has never taken away from her ability to deliver absolute bops too.
BANKS tries out a more laid back, almost breezy and summery vibe for ‘Hawaiian Mazes’ which is definitely new ground for her, but suits her and does not sound out of place on the record at all. The same goes for the rhythmic drums on the hypnotic ‘Alaska’. There is no doubt in my mind however, that ‘Contaminated’ is the centerpiece on this record. This vulnerable, dark and almost ominous midtempo tune about heartbreak, follows in the tradition of ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Waiting Game’, both belonging to her best work that always manages to hit you right in the feels.
BANKS certainly made progress on her third record, pushing her sound with experiments and new twists within her existing sonic universe. It is enough to keep us our toes, but not alienate us. I can hardly think of any other contemporary pop artist who delivered such cohesive and deep body of works for their first three albums.