Two years have passed since the enigmatic Jillian Banks dropped the dazzling Goddess, which constituted the strongest debut album of 2014 in my book. The raw intensity of the LA-based ingénue’s songwriting, undeniable charm of her versatile vocal range, and top-notch production driven by dark beats and sinister synths combined for one of the more unique and addictive listening experiences in recent past. As evidenced by the stellar singles “Drowning,” “Beggin’ For Thread,” and “Warm Water,” even when BANKS’ lyrics revolved around the weakness and vulnerability of the heart, she sustained a confident swagger that surprisingly never felt incongruous.
Embracing the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” BANKS doesn’t alter—no pun intended—her proven sonic and lyrical template on follow-up The Altar. The album opens with a terrific trio of songs, beginning with the confessional and sonically stunning “Gemini Feed,” which finds Banks reflecting upon an emotionally taxing relationship. Lead single “Fuck With Myself” encapsulates her signature combination of bold, empowered lyrics, seductive vocals, and dark, dense electro-soul soundscapes. Propelled by an irresistibly slinky groove, the sensual “Lovesick” is guaranteed to make more than a few natures rise.
However, too often the arrangements here devolve into plodding, inspid fare that fails to stimulate. Enlisting nearly a dozen producers, including Goddess vets Tim Anderson, Sohn and Jesse Rogg, arguably plays a key role in the album’s general lack of sonic cohesion and captivation. Overall, save for the aforementioned exceptions, The Altar is comprised of songs that sound like the 2nd tier batch of songs that were inevitably relegated to the cutting room floor from the Goddess recording sessions.
Meanwhile, where the lyrics on Goddess were biting and clever, here many of BANKS’ musings simply come off as banal and contrived. The most glaring case in point is “Weaker Girl,” with its juvenile chorus “I'ma need a bad, I'ma need a bad / I'ma need a bad, I'ma need a bad / Motherfucker like me, hey, hey / Motherfucker like me, hey, hey.” While Banks deserves praise for attempting something new with the acoustic guitar-driven “Mother Earth,” her overwrought lyrics and discordant vocals ultimately grate.
While The Altar admittedly has its enthralling moments here and there, it ultimately suffers from the deadweight of mediocrity and pales in comparison to the dynamism of its precursor. For her third effort, BANKS would be well-advised to relinquish the trite elements of her otherwise stellar songwriting and employ a single producer who can help her develop and execute a more unified musical vision.
Notable Tracks: “Gemini Feed” | “Fuck with Myself” | “Lovesick”