Often categorized under a new wave of modern R&B;, singer-songwriter Jillian Banks’ music certainly perpetuates the classification. But the categorization is merely a scratch on the surface of the atmospheric, brooding sound that BANKS has managed to capture on her album, “Goddess.”
The debut album by BANKS offers a seductive, mystical musical palette with hues of dusky synths and pulsating low-end bass lines.
With eight out of 14 tracks on “Goddess” carried over from her previous EP, “London,” or released as singles, BANKS has established a sound that is all her own – something dark, sultry and unapologetically honest. What truly distinguishes her style is her ability to candidly present the complexity of human relationships – focusing not only on the negative aspects of love and humanity, but also on seeking a source of empowerment from them.
While each one of her releases has been a widespread success thus far, listeners have only been granted one side of BANKS’ style when it comes to her music – a labyrinth of enchanting sound and shaded layers of arrangement that accompany dark, raw lyricism. But with the release of her first full-length album, we are granted access into the multifaceted world that is BANKS.
“Everything I make, I only make for you/ Baby, be patient for me/ And please don’t fall in love with someone new/ I promise one day I’ll come back for you,” she sings against a stripped-back acoustic guitar that eloquently captures the vulnerability she describes in the track “Someone New” – a song about change, love and growth.
In “Someone New,” BANKS relies on her vocal and songwriting abilities to speak for themselves. With only the faint strumming of the guitar supporting her crooning vocals, she stunningly – and in an almost heartbreaking way – captures the sense of melancholy that accompanies having to let go of someone you love for the purpose of personal growth.
While she remains on the topic of relationships, her songwriting shifts to a scornfully sincere reflection of a bittersweet breakup in the track “Drowning.” She sings, “Take it from the girl you claimed to love/ You gonna get some bad karma/ I’m the one who had to learn to build a heart made of armor.”
The muffled vocal samples and moody synths throbbing behind BANKS’ sultry vocals are reflective of the suffocating feeling of a disintegrating relationship.
Although she is singing about drowning in a failing relationship, the song ultimately yields a strong sense of empowerment. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or hostility, she recognizes that all wrongs come full circle at some point.
But no other song on the album evokes ultimate empowerment like the title track, “Goddess.” While it can easily be interpreted as a quintessential “I’m better off without you” breakup song, it is far more about female empowerment – about the acknowledgement of a woman’s self-worth and self-reliance.
Alongside icy atmospheric beats, she sings, “You shoulda crowned her, ’cause she’s a goddess/ You never got this … Finally surfaced above the downs/ Feeling her boldest, she came around/ ‘Cause she’s a goddess, finally saw this.”
Delivered in typical BANKS style, the song “Goddess” is truly elevated by the haunting back vocals deployed in the chorus along with a steady bass. What makes the track especially powerful is that BANKS delivers the track without evoking a sense of misandry – singing about being a goddess in a way that is empowering, menacing and enchanting all at once.
From “Someone New” to “Drowning” to the title track, “Goddess” is an album saturated with tracks capable of standing on their own. But when assembled as a whole, the collection proves to be an embodiment of what BANKS’ album is all about – a reinforcement of empowerment even in times of overwhelming desolation.
Through her enchanting, brooding production and stunningly poetic and empowering lyricism, BANKS delivers a debut album that proves worthy of its title.
– Shelly Maldonado