Jillian Rose Banks introduced herself to the world as BANKS in 2013 by publishing a single Soundcloud track, “Before I Ever Met You”, and was quickly ushered into the limelight. Known for her intense vulnerability, intricate soundscapes and moody undertones, BANKS crafts a magnetically dark atmosphere that’s entirely her own. Since that first track was posted on her private Soundcloud account, she has released two EPs, Fall Over and London, toured with The Weeknd, and came out with her debut album Goddess in 2014.
But her craft takes time — with lyrics that hold such graphic imagery and performances that truly put her physical stamina to the test. Given the emotional and mental energy each song asks of her, it’s no wonder we haven’t heard much from her since 2014. While she partnered with TALA to create “Wolfpack” in October 2015 and released a teaser of sorts with “Better” in November 2015, BANKS has been pretty much off the grid. But thankfully, she recently returned with some of her material yet: The Altar, her second album, composed of vocal allegories that are more exposed, more discordant, more haunting, and more evocative with each listen.
It would be wrong to begin with anything but “Fuck With Myself,” the first single from The Altar; the track is a sonic and visual interpretation of the voice inside of our heads — the one that’s your biggest supporter and your greatest enemy. The track and music video literally have her at war with her own person (BANKS claws, licks, kisses, and gnaws at a bald effigy of herself), illustrating the internal turmoil we constantly create as we confront our own self-perception. It’s a powerful piece because it shows just how cruel and affectionate we can be as we grapple with these emotions.
While “Fuck With Myself” is hair-raising and eerily dissonant, “Trainwreck” is piercing, rhythmic, rigorous and vocally demanding. The song is incredibly fast-paced both sonically and lyrically, with BANKS reciting (almost rapping) a bewitching incantation throughout the entirety of the song. She touches the top of her range at the end of each chorus, hitting us with a ton of bricks each time.
“Weaker Girl” combines orchestral elements with Banks’ thunderous beats. Lyrically, the song reveals the confidence she has gained from her experiences over the last three years: “I think you need a weaker girl/Kind of like the girl I used to be…’Cause I’ma need a bad motherfucker like me.” It’s any girl’s badass, post-breakup, #boybye anthem. “Poltergeist”, “Judas”, “27 Hours” and “Haunt” are bottom-heavy and electronically driven, with lyrics that are sharp and cutting. In each of these the pain is deeply rooted, but is faced head-on with vigorous conviction.
There are more, and I could go on, but I suggest you take a listen for yourself, because BANKS’ dark pop is in a league of its own. She puts all of herself into her music, openly reckoning with depression and mental health and exploring the exceptionally inharmonious and grievous times in our lives. While yes, the album could be understood as a meditation on our tenuous connections to others, it should also be recognized as a project that comes to terms with the relationship we have with ourself. The Altar gives those struggling with these same thoughts confirmation that they are not alone and the knowledge that our most beautiful and creative ideas can be born in our darkest moments.