Jillian Banks, better known as BANKS, isn’t the type to fall prey to clear-cut definitions of style and genre, and her debut album Goddess is no different. The highly anticipated release from the Los Angeles-bred songwriter plays out in a slightly poetic tone. From its slow beginnings, Goddess sends its listeners on a torrent of emotionally driven highs and spine chilling lows; conveying a level of raw intimacy that very few other artists have managed to achieve in entire careers, let alone on their debut.
Her voice commands attention at its peak, with the vocal layering bursting at the seams of each song, yet, at times the layers feel a bit unnecessary. In the title track ‘Goddess’, the dense vocals create a sometimes husky and overworked sound. On its own, Banks’ voice is more than powerful enough to make you to absorb every word that is being sung; in the quieter moments of ‘Waiting Game’, it’s clear that the singer has no trouble in making herself heard. Lyrically, she has spent much time developing her craft to the point that her words are able to draw an emotional response from listeners before they’ve even realised it. The sheer desperation of ‘Change’ will leave you feeling stripped bare and vulnerable in the same way you imagine its author once felt.
The album defies the normal boundaries of genre; bending soundscapes to combine elements of hip hop, r’n’b and electronica. While Banks’ sound has often been described as “dark r’n’b”, it’s impossible to fit her into any one category. However, that is not to say that the album is fragmented or disjointed as a whole. The natural highs and lows work together to produce something that flows with ease from one track to the next; the strong emotional undercurrent weaving its way lyrically through each song. Goddess boasts a slew of young producers including Harvest label owner Lil Silva,who is responsible for the feisty bass-shuddering beat of both the title track and ‘This Is What It Feels Like’. Other produces who lent their hand to Banks’ debut include Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs crafting the subtler, dialled-back hazy vibe of ‘Warm Water’, and Shlohmo giving us the enigmatic and aggressive distorted pulse of ‘Brain’.
There are certainly moments that feel out of place amongst the generality of Goddess. ‘Someone New’, which sits at the latter end of the album, shows us a different side of Banks; with its vulnerable tone and acoustic melody making it one of the weaker tracks of the album. It attempts to provide a confessional, stripped-back window into her deepest desires, yet falls just short of doing so by becoming buried under the synth-driven compositions. Similarly, piano ballad, ‘Under The Table’ fails to resonate with the impenetrable layers embedded in the other tracks, sounding both musically and lyrically underwhelming and bare. Fortunately, these moments are rare, as Banks generally sticks to her strengths in powerful vocals and intricate soundscapes.
Despite its naïve moments, Goddess is the kind of debut that holds its head firmly above the water, never once gasping for air. Banks writes with the self-assuredness of someone with three albums under their belt, despite only emerging into our periphery in the past year. The rawness of the vocals is offset by the carefully considered production elements, which allows Banks to connect with her listeners from the very beginning. With the bar set this high already, Banks must in future maintain the level of confidence that Goddess so graciously achieves.