Arriving at ‘The Altar’ with BANKS: A Track-by-Track Review

BANKS © 2016

Our Rating

And to think you would get me to the altar, like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water

The artist known as BANKS started out somewhat of an enigma. The Los Angeles songstress, who drops her first name Jillian when she hits the stage, rarely ever made waves on the black holes that are Twitter and Instagram. It only added to her mystery. Really, social media presence isn’t entirely necessary when your music speaks for itself. In 2013, she released two EPs, Fall Over and London, lighting a widespread fuse for BANKS . Without breaking a sweat, she absolutely lived up to all of the well deserved hype.

The Altar - BANKS

The Altar – BANKS

Late in 2014, BANKS put out her first full length, Goddess. The album was on everyone’s playlists, whether they were into pop, indie, electronic, R&B, etc. At the same time BANKS was able to isolate her listeners yet reach out to eclectic groups of people by referencing influences like Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, and the Weeknd. Goddess was an in depth look into the pain and passion revolving around love in relationships. Jumping forward two years, after long months of touring and releasing singles here and there, we have arrived at The Altar (released 9/30/2016 via Harvest Records).

In religious terms, the altar is symbolically a place of sacrifice. It may seem like an old-fashioned tradition now, but a majority of weddings have happened at the top of an altar, where the groom awaits his life partner. It raises the important question: Do love and sacrifice go hand in hand?

When BANKS is involved, the answer seems like an absolute yes. Perhaps, it is the sacrifice of giving up independence. However, it is never that simple with the multi-layered singer. With an album like The Altar, you can’t just look inside the thematic box; you need to look around, under, and above the box. It’s possible that the album works as her altar as she bears all in front of the world, when her own timidness could not let her do so before. The Altar is a place where things are front and center. BANKS can be BANKS, with her emotional curtains drawn.

Any fan cannot help but notice the drastic difference between the two albums visually, lyrically, and sonically. On her debut album cover, Goddess, BANKS is almost unrecognizable as she was hiding behind her dark bangs and the deep red album art. Again, running with her mysterious persona. While The Altar’s cover is different in every way possible. The album art is light gray with her au naturale face front and center, embracing her freckles. (What? BANKS has freckles?) Just by the look of the new record, you can sense an aura of change.

She has grown in confidence, and is welcoming it with open arms. With each song, you can hear the gradual evolution of BANKS: from a shy, less controversial singer to an artist with bold lyrics and vocals that are not be messed with. The Altar takes a similar approach following her debut, musically,  but amps it up even more. Each beat hits harder and each synth is striking. Although her last album was entitled Goddess, BANKS has embraced the Goddess she is supposed to be more than ever.

BANKS "The Altar" © 2016

BANKS “The Altar” © 2016

Gemini Feed

The opening track of the album sets the mood for what listeners can expect for the next 12 songs to follow: honest, passionate electronic pop music with indisputable soul. BANKS sings each emotional line in a lower, growling almost frustrated, voice. We can all relate to a time when, no matter how loud we spoke, we couldn’t get through to someone; pride works as a barrier, deflecting anything and everything having to do with feelings.  

I tried to say I love you but you didn’t hear me
And you’re passive aggressive
Convinced me other people they don’t care about me

BANKS reflects on the way she was treated by her passive aggressive ex. While she was only trying to mend their spiraling relationship, he only brought her, and her crushed ego, down.

So, what exactly does being a Gemini entail you might be wondering? With the growing obsession of astrology signs, it’s slightly shocking that you don’t know, but I’ll refresh your memory. The sign represents a pair of twins, so Gemini’s often have dual personalities and you might not know which personality you’re dealing with. Putting two Gemini’s together might not exactly end in harmony.

When I said I miss you, you never believed me
And we were so depressive
You and me together we were Gemini feed

Likeness and differences can make or break a relationship, and in BANKS’ case, they may have been too similar to work their differences out.  

And to think you would get me to the altar
Like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water
But admit it that you wanted me smaller
If you woulda let me grow you coulda kept my love

In the verses, BANKS may have been using a gruff voice, but by the piercing choruses, she was ready to get her point across. Loud and clear. The last chorus is where listeners are properly introduced to The Altar. When she looks back on the relationship she was in, she can hardly believe her love was almost sacrificed to be with a man who made her feel lesser than he.

Watch: “Gemini Feed” – BANKS

Fuck With Myself

BANKS gives us a lesson in self-love with the fervent and sexy “Fuck With Myself.” The second track, and the first single released off the album, reeks of imitable confidence. There’s a definite cockiness to song, but it feels more like well deserved self assurance. The song explores different electronic sounds, and uses familiar hip-hop beats making it fall somewhere in the left field pop, R&B region.

The song reiterates, in it’s own unique way, that you need to “fuck with yourself,” or love yourself, before you should step up to the plate to love somebody else. Pushing romance aside, being able to feel and trust yourself is important in all relationships, whether it’s personal or business.

Lovesick

The introduction to “Lovesick” is reminiscent of moments on Goddess, particularly, the heart wrenching ballad “Change.” This time around though, BANKS isn’t recounting the sad moments of a crumbling relationship, nor is it her offering to change herself just to salvage what was left of their love. “Lovesick” is a sweet ode to her love. It narrates the simplicity of an instant love affair; the kind that has a pure, undeniable connection from the start.

This is one of the happier, lighter tunes that BANKS has to offer on the album, which works as a nice contrast to her darker, more intense tracks of heartbreak. The song starts off as a slower piano ballad, but by the end of 3 minute and 20 second track, you’ll undoubtedly be bobbing your head and tapping your foot.

Mind Games

Mind Games” explores the pain of toxic relationships. As humans, we need confirmation in love; we crave attention and adoration. “Mind Games,” the longest song on the record, brings us into a dark state of mind. It’s heartbreaking to love someone and to know that you can’t, or shouldn’t, be with them. At times, we’re blinded by fond memories, but “Mind Games” focuses on each twisted thing that happened within the relationship.

I foresee it’s true
That you would love me better
If I could unscrew
All of your moods that make me wanna runaway
But I got stuck with faulty legs

Her ex let let his bad moods get in the way of their own love. Although she knew the kind of man she was partnered with, she could not muster up the courage to leave him. Perhaps, she was afraid she wouldn’t find anyone again.

You claiming I’m a handful when you show up
All empty-handed
The way you say you love me like
You’ve just been reprimanded
Cause I know you like mind games

It sounds like a war of tug and pull. She had to squeeze the word “love” out of ex’s mouth, and he only ever said it like he was being condemned or forced, which may have been all part of his “game.”

Do you
See me now

The last line of the song is powerful. She repeats “do you see me now,” and each time it’s uttered out of her mouth, it’s grown stronger. It’s as if she’s saying “look at me, I don’t need you.”

Watch: “Fuck With Myself” – BANKS

Trainwreck

The fifth track on the record follows behind “Mind Games” with a similar theme, but in a different voice. On “Trainwreck,” BANKS has let her frustration boil over, and she is not being shy about it. The pop, trip-hop track is an absolute banger. We find the songstress practically rapping her biting lyrics over solid electronic beats. BANKS has a unique style of rapping. She speaks each line in a sweeping breathe. She strings words together that just shouldn’t make sense, but of course, they do.

Talking to ears that have been deaf for as long as I
Can remember. A self-medicated handicap so i speak to
Myself and i try so hard to get his stupid deaf ears to hear that
I’ve become illiterate. I become dumb

She’s dealing with the same man she’s been dealing with for a long time, and now, she’s over it. Rather than talk to someone who won’t hear her, she’s decided to talk herself out of the mess she’s in. She tried to save him, but realized it was useless when he wasn’t willing.

And I saved you from your darker days
Born to
Take care of you
Or I thought so
Maybe it was just a phase

Some of us are born as savers: people who so badly want to help those who can’t get up in the morning. BANKS is one of those savers. Some people can’t be helped; if you don’t want the help, then you won’t get it.

You showed me all your letters that I
Should’ve confiscated
Both of my eyes were weighted
I had to get away

It’s dangerous to be in a trapped relationship. The walls close in, and there’s no light at the end of a tunnel. BANKS escaped the “trainwreck” that her fate was headed towards and is ready to move on.

Now when people ask me what BANKS is like, this will be the song I play.

BANKS "The Altar" © 2016

BANKS “The Altar” © 2016

This Is Not About Us

BANKS has a smooth way of saying “it’s not me.. It’s you.” In “This Is Not About Us,” she tries to let down a man in her life, who’s been attracted to the idea of a relationship for a long time. Maybe they were short term lovers that didn’t work out. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the memo.

Sonically, this is the most pop she gets on the record. It has a catchy chorus with a radio friendly instrumental.

Weaker Girl

Through the record thus far, we’ve already seen evolution of BANKS not only an artist, but also as a person. She is strong, confident, and candid. Although she didn’t exactly lack candid moments on Goddess, there was some power missing behind some tracks. “Weaker Girl” is a song would have been unfathomable on BANKS’ debut, but on the new record, it makes perfect sense. It echoes the cockiness that we heard previously on “Fuck With Myself” and the self-awareness of “Gemini Feed.”

The dark R&B track is sultry and tempting  with the repetitive chorus “I’ma need a bad motherfucker like me.” No matter how sure she sounds in the track, there was a time when BANKS could never say that. And in such an explicit, this-is-what-I-want attitude. She recalls when she was a “weaker girl” and how her ex still wishes she was that girl. When she grew taller, she was seen as a threat. This song is an ode to her newfound badass-ness.

Listen: “Mind Games” – BANKS

Mother Earth

The only song transition, which is seamlessly beautiful I might add, is between “Weaker Girl” and “Mother Earth.” It might seem like an odd pairing, but it’s a reminder that she is multi-layered, and that for each time she is rough, she is also warmly tender. BANKS’ entire album is certainly full of soul, but with kind words and gentle vocals, “Mother Earth” stands out as the most soulful tune.

BANKS bears all and takes the role of an older sister, a kind neighborhood, a best friend, or a mother figure. The artist has had her fair share of heartbreaks and pain, so she’s reaching out to anyone who might listen. She’s gotten in touch with her roots and femininity, and she’s offering to be that shoulder to lean on.

Judas

Judas: the notorious biblical figure most famous for his kiss of betrayal. His name is now synonymous with traitor. In “Judas,” BANKS bites back at the treason her ex committed. Traitors always seem to be the closest people to us until… they’re not.  

Too dumb to deal
Too numb to feel the knife in my back

As a younger woman, it’s hard to stand up for yourself. Real life, altering situations can be hard to deal with, and hard to realize.

Beggin me for thread, I think you need to change your brain

This line is kind of a reference to BANKS back in her Goddess days. The tables are turned, now she’s the one with the power and control. She’s grown far beyond the timid and guilty woman she was on her debut.

BANKS © 2016

BANKS © 2016

Haunt

I’ve always felt that BANKS had a witch-y side to her, and “Haunt” slightly confirms my suspicions.  The track is spellbinding with tropical beats and experimental production. It sounds like running through a dark, cold forest with crickets and animals of the night.

BANKS holds a steady tempo in an even tone for the duration of the track, almost like she’s hexing her ex. Although her vocals stay in the same range for the majority of the song, there are moments where she channels the lower BANKS growl that I love so much. The tenth track on the album perfectly describes the way we feel “haunted” by people that have left our lives when we most needed them.

Poltergeist

“Poltergeist” and “Haunt” are back to back, making for a sultry pair of songs. “Poltergeist” follows in the same manner, being disturbed by the thought of someone, even when they’re gone. The eerie track’s production does a good job of making the singer sound like she’s, for lack of a better word, possessed in some bits. This song is at the top of my favorites list at the moment because of the crafty lyrics. Again, I can’t stress the importance of her production; each line brings you into BANKS’ dark, twisted little world.

To The Hilt

To The Hilt” is the only pure piano ballad on the record. BANKS’ vocals pair so beautifully with the piano, I wouldn’t mind a record full of just ballads. Her voice is light and gentle, like she’s trying to get what she has to say out before her emotions take over. Most her songs deal with romantic relationships, but on “To The Hilt” she sings about the pain of a friend leaving her behind in the music industry.

We backed each other to the hilt
Now I live in the house we built

They’ve built this music, their brand, and now that she’s right where she wants to be, she can’t share with the person who helped her get there. It’s an interesting internal conflict: to be happy with success but be haunted by the person who aided your way there.

You saw me as a superstar when i was in a cave
You helped them to see

The person she sings of believed in her when no one else did. He made her feel like she was capable of things, maybe when didn’t feel so capable.

Hated you for leaving me
You were my muse for so long
Now I’m drained creatively
But I miss you on my team

Artists and muses have beautiful relationships, but sadly, one cannot work without the other. Not only does she miss having someone to help support her creative outlet, she simply misses the friend who’s been with her since the beginning: before BANKS was BANKS.

27 Hours

BANKS ends on a high note, with her voice loud and powerful as ever. By the end of the record, we realize that she isn’t as fragile as she used to be. She’s bold, brave, and sometimes, a little bit mean. The passionate feelings of love or hate that have been prevalent in each and every song are what make humans, human. It’s what makes soulful music honest.

27 Hours” is her owning up to hurting a man, after telling him to stay away. She does not shy away from the incident. No, instead she’s  open and unafraid to bear all, even if it means revealing her mistakes. It ends the album on a memorable note; it’s the kind of song that echoes through your head at night.

The Altar is the artistic, and personal, evolution of BANKS as she navigates her way through life, pain, and love. She is only human, and as humans we learn from our mistakes with no shame. This is pure BANKS, on her Altar, unafraid and uncensored. You can embrace it or you can leave it.

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cover photo: BANKS © 2016

The Altar – Banks

The Altar - BANKS

The Altar – BANKS

The Breakdown

Regan is a 20 year old writer for Atwood Magazine as well as the local Los Angeles art & music magazine, Amadeus. She also runs her own small music blog called musikmusing.co. She loves all things having to with music and is an avid concert goer. She has a hunger for discovering new artists and is always interested in their roots, thought process, and why they do what they do. Regan loves movies, books, film scores, dogs, coffee, playing music, watching "Chopped," and pop music with substance. Her favorite artists are Marina and the Diamonds, Courtney Barnett, Daniel Johnston, Banks, the Smiths, Father John Misty, Grimes, Perfume Genius, and many many more. I hope my music choices make your ears happy!