Seething with subterranean synths and peppered with poppy hooks, BANKS' sophomore effort folds her own brand of cerebral darkness into what is essentially a radio-friendly pop record.
Given the dire straits that the genre is currently in, I don’t normally go in for pop. Saturated as the market is with unanimously bland, anaemic trite, it’s not a stomping ground I normally find much nourishment in. However, once in a while an artist comes along who navigates the thorny pathway of creating intelligent, idiosyncratic pop without falling into a sidelined sub-genre as a result of their individuality. BANKS is one such artist.
Having followed with great interest the steady stream of singles that have led us to The Altar, I’ve been greatly impressed with BANKS’ music. From late 2015’s teaser ‘Better,’ which sadly didn’t make it on to the album, to this summer’s lead singles ‘Fuck With Myself‘ and ‘Gemini Feed,’ through to autumn’s ‘Mind Games’ and ‘To The Hilt,’ BANKS has demonstrated a considerable development in sound from her wonderfully moody if slightly limited debut Goddess, expanding not only in scope of production – an inevitability after a successful debut – but in her songwriting abilities too.
Opening with the tense ‘Gemini Feed’ and avant-garde-leaning ‘Fuck With Myself,’ our first glimpse of unheard material comes in the form of ‘Lovesick,’ a breathy expounding of raw sexuality that notches up the genteel yearnings of ‘Gemini Feed’ to an impatient beckoning. It’s worth mentioning at this point that there has been an anti-romantic narrative developing over the course of this album’s gradual slew of singles. Starting at ‘Better,’ we find a woman hurt by a cheating partner who is desperately looking within herself for a cause. ‘Fuck With Myself’ finds the same woman coming to terms with the event, and finding solidarity in her own self-love. ‘Gemini Feed’ actively turns the blame around onto the adulterer, and chastises him for his misadventures, whilst acknowledging a lingering of sexual attachment.
A strength of self is coming to fruition here, and considering that she has in interviews spoken of such an event – one that broke her first relationship – it may be safe to assume the woman in the songs is her. ‘Lovesick’ can then be seen as a turning away from the shackles of her painful past love, and an almost predatory launching into her new conquest with full, unabashed gusto. A healthy reawakening of primal desires then? It seems so. With its three verses containing the same lyrics, the simplicity of the message comes through with added clarity; there’s no poetical obfuscation here: she wants a good shag, plain and simple.
‘Mind Games’ throws us back into the emotional complexities of the former broken relationship, utilising snappy wordplay to express the contradictions inherent in her own psyche about it all. ‘Trainwreck’ is, for want of a better word, a banger and a startling departure in tone, illuminating for the first time the depressing mindset of her cheating partner and allowing herself to break free of having look after him, escaping any guilt she may have about it in the process. The rest of the album continues in such a way as to bring a number of perspectives to the same issue. Like a multi-narrative novel, we get different sides of her personality telling the same story. The Altar is a musically pleasing and emotionally fulfilling listen that will have you coming back again and again – like BANKS herself, unwilling to put the experience to rest after one go.
The Altar is out now via Harvest Records