Album Review: Banks, The Altar

the-altar

Banks

The Altar (to be released September 30, 2016)

Banks is back. And good news, she’s as miserable as ever.

I knew very little about Jillian Banks before her debut dropped two Septembers ago.  But when the Cali singer landed, she made a resounding impact. Her brooding brand of music was a potent cocktail of R&B, pop, electronic and hip-hop, infused with cryptic yet brilliant songwriting and murky production.

In an era where seemingly every other act pumps out disposable “atmospheric” music, Banks’ sorrow actually has substance.

That’s what made Goddess so great – and Banks doesn’t reinvent the wheel with The Altar, clearly a spiritual successor to her first outing.

Banks loves to shroud herself in mystery, forcing listeners to take an extra step or two in unraveling her riddles. The Altar is no different – the title alone is a slick double entendre. Banks is laying all her relationship woes on her altar for the world to see, while simultaneously altering the course of her destiny.

And in typical form, Banks ain’t happy about it. Not one bit.

First singles “Gemini Feed” and “F*** with Myself” bubble over with frustration, with Banks literally whispering threats on the latter. That pain is even more palatable on “Mind Games,” where she belts out her misery on a sparse soundscape, pissed that constant “contradictions make it confusing.”

But don’t be mistaken, The Altar refuses to be a pity party.

“Trainwreck” is upbeat – well, as upbeat as Banks gets – thanks to hyperactive synths that are as unhinged as her emotions. The midtempo groove of “This Is Not About Us” is equality defiant: “No, this is not about me/I see you clinging to your pinch of hope/Trying to get up in my bed/You should be thinking of a way of moving on instead.”

“Judas” showcases that subtle, simmering anger that Beyonce does so well (“Said I’d never make it on my own/Maybe I’m just better off alone”). Banks would rather leave on her own terms that play the victim. And that’s what makes “Weaker Girl” such a symbol of strength – “Imma let you do what you wanna do/Imma let you say what you wanna to say/Cuz Imma need a bad motherf***er like me.” The beautiful violins that close the track makes Banks’ passive aggressive barbs even more grand.

Occasionally Banks attempts to switch gears, like the lustful “Lovesick,” but she’s at her strongest when she’s her weakest, like the aching “To the Hilt,” lamenting that “we backed each other to the hilt/now I live in this house we built.”

The Alter is exactly the soul-bearing experience fans would expect. Sure, it’s really raw and unnerving and times but Banks is too busy marching ahead to wallow in self-pity. Unraveling her complex emotions is part of the fun.

Her pain is our pleasure.

Best tracks: “F*** with Myself,” “This is Not About Us,” “Weaker Girl”

4 stars out of 5

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