Over the two years after the release of her first album, Goddess (2014) Jillian Banks—better known by her stage name, Banks—has climbed to success, winning awards and touring internationally with The Weeknd. The University of Southern California graduate’s academic background in psychology shines through in the themes she explores in her music. Banks has never feared the raw topics, reflecting on past wrongs and analyzing the emotions of herself and her loved ones. While Goddess depicted the healing wounds of a freshly-ended emotionally abusive relationship, in The Altar Banks shows clear signs of growth and reflection.
Banks begins her second album on a strong note, with fast-tempoed and assertive tracks “Gemini Feed” and “Fuck With Myself.” Arguably one of the most memorable songs on the album, “Fuck With Myself” is a haunting tale that intertwines self-love and self-harm intertwined. Though she echoes affirmations like, “My love is the one,” and “I fuck with myself more than anyone else,” the latter line offers a dual meaning, implying that she loves herself, yet hurts herself more than anyone else. Exploring the kind of feelings that keep people up at night is Banks’ strong suit, and “Fuck With Myself” is a clear example of this. Though the harsh plucking of strings and spooky whispers may require a few listens before becoming more familiar to the ears, the song easily becomes addictive over time.
As is the case with “Fuck With Myself,” much of the album takes on the tone of a scorned lover, just as the previous album does. However, Banks breaks this up with sexy, sweet love songs like “Lovesick” and “Mother Earth,” reminding listeners of her vulnerability. In “Mother Earth,” Banks recalls taking care of a lover over gentle acoustic guitar and violin chords. “I'm not gonna cover up the freckles on my faces,” Banks sighs, undoubtedly alluding to her album cover, which shows her face stripped of makeup. Though she exudes independence in the rest of the album, with “Mother Earth,” Banks reveals her tendency to become weak and forgiving of someone who’s hurt her time and time again.
Just as she diversifies the tone of her songs throughout the album, Banks is experimental with her vocals. Though sultry, layered tunes are her calling cards, Banks tries out extremes in The Altar, from her ghostly whispered lines in “Fuck With Myself,” to harsh screams of “You won’t call back, you won’t call back […] I waited up, I waited up,” echoing during the bridge in “Haunt.” To conclude the album, Banks ends with strong, repeated “Oh’s” of a wide octaval range in “27 Hours,” taking a respite from her usual sultry sound to drive home the emotional drain of a tumultuous relationship.
Despite these vocal risks, the album as a whole does not sonically distinguish itself from Goddess. Although The Altar’s instrumentals are awfully reminiscent of the first album, Banks’s latest work exhibits a greater depth of lyrical themes. Banks has yet again created a sexy slew of tunes in The Altar, remaining vulnerable with her lyricism and showing signs of emotional growth since Goddess.
Standout quote: “But admit it, you just wanted me smaller–If you would've let me grow, you could've kept my love.” (Gemini Feed)
Standout songs: Fuck With Myself, Mother Earth, Judas
Sounds like: Rihanna, FKA Twigs, Wet