Banks - The Altar

by Alex Mansfield

With the over-saturation in Alternative R&B, Jillian Rose Banks has been a welcomed difference. A unique snowflake in an avalanche of sameness such as Halsey, Broods, FKA Twigs and, to an extent, Rihanna’s contorted album Anti; all talented but repetitious. Banks on the other hand take this style to a dark depth with her low, murmuring vocals equalling a toned EDM bass as if you crossed The Weekend and Jessie Ware and then dimmed down to half-light. The result is a very sensual, brooding sound accompanying a conflicted demeanour between vulnerability and empowerment. At times Banks comes across at stand-offish but thankfully without dissuading her from an irresistible allure. Furthermore, Banks is a great songwriter, gifting material for both The Weeknd, as well Chet Faker for one of his best songs, 1998. Since her 2014 debut album Goddess, Banks’ voice has actually improved. All of this may sound very promising but there is one small issue. The Altar seems to be a direct parallel of Goddess.

Banks’ sophomore album The Altar once again proves that she is a special artist, but annoyingly with a difficulty in escaping her own sound. Anyone who listens to the beginning of the album would immediately disagree with killer tracks Gemini Feed and F*ck With Myself - brand new inclusions too Banks’ repertoire, more confident, better produced and easily among her best work to date. However, these well-known singles alongside her intense, stand-alone 2015 track Better, signal a changed vibe. The peaceful guitar ballad of Mother Earth echoes Goddess’s Someone New, as does the haunting piano pieces 27 Hours and To The Hilt which are reminiscent of You Should Know Where I Am Coming From and Under The Table. The sad thing is that these songs from The Altar are all pretty good, but unfortunately substantially less memorable than the debut and probably less special. The riffs in particular are annoyingly less gripping and let the strong lyrics down. This album doesn’t feel grandiose and, by extension, some listeners may find her grievances and broodiness a bit wearing after a while.

However, I would still argue that this is an album still very much worth listen. The pinging trip-hop confidence and sass of Trainwreck contrasted with heart melting desire track Mother Earth proves her diversity and talent. If you like dark R&B which flutters between sexual and serious, weak and empowering, but remains unashamedly honest then this is a must listen.