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Ok, so I am super late to the BANKS bandwagon, and that might not be such a bad thing. Why? Because all too often the “hype” of a new artist can overtake any rational and unbiased thoughts and then create preconceived ideas that many times affect how we see any or all of said artists work, both the good and the bad.
That said, untainted opinion in tow, Jillian Rose BANKS, known professionally by the mononym BANKS, is most definitely one of the finest artists around today. She first burst onto the scene back in 2013 with two extended plays (Fall Over & London), but it was her debut full-length Goddess in late 2014 that caught the world’s attention and catapulted her into Billboard’s top 20.
Her follow up album The Altar (2016) seemed to somewhat repeat its predecessor’s success by also entering the top 20, but it was most definitely the album’s lead single “Fuck With Myself” that cast off any doubt that that this incredibly talented woman was definitely much more dynamic than just her debut. Rooted in what some have labelled “dark pop” or “dark R&B,” it is safe to say that any generic labels can be shaken off as the listener delves into a reality that shows BANKS baring her struggles as a human and not just as a singer-songwriter—something many attempt to do, but for whatever reason, are unable to achieve. BANKS not only achieves this, she resonates profoundly with all those that listen.
Fast forward to our current month and the world has yet again been blessed with more music from BANKS. This time in the form of her third album, simply and aptly titled III. Thirteen incredibly crafted and well executed tracks make up the album, all co-written by BANKS with ten of these tracks produced by BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Low, Lizzo). Delving into everything from the album’s lead single, the unapologetic “Gimme,” an electro pop number with a deliciously distorted sound breathing new life into the well-trodden electro pop formula, all the way through to the whimsical and heart-wrenching goodbye ballad “Hawaiian Mazes.” BANKS ensures that no stone is left unturned when it comes to covering love and all of its complexities.
It would be wrong to ignore the obvious here: BANKS’ musical evolution is clearly visible. Her first two albums are nothing short of beautiful, both embodying unique, unfettered sophistication coupled with a modernistic sound, allowing her to truly stand out in the crowd from her contemporaries. But III seems to be steeped in a maturity that only comes with age and experience, most noticeable when listening to tracks like “Look What You’re Doing To Me” featuring Francis and The Lights, where vulnerability, fear and passion collide to create a song about the emotional recipe that is love, giving you a front row seat to BANKS’ much anticipated and somewhat belated arrival.
Moving through III is an effortless journey into BANKS’ multifaceted being. A prime example is the lyrical simplicity of “Stroke,” examining the complexities of being in a narcissistic relationship and then being thrust straight into “Godless,” a song that speaks of worshipping love on a god-like level, only to eventually be lost and the emotional aftermath this leaves. It is these gentle contradictions that keep you enticed as well as connected, allowing you to explore your own experiences within love and relationships, almost as if the artist and the listener have in some way, become symbiotic.
Usually the end of the album gets the obligatory “round out” tracks, the ones that nearly didn’t make it and will essentially become fillers. III is having none of this and to be brutally honest, the surprise in the album is its last two tracks, arguably the most beautiful of all and most definitely a welcome surprise. Continuing with the album’s overall über cohesive theme of “love,” “If We Were Made of Water” and “What About Love” establish BANKS as a newfound member of the “ballads” club.
Although both songs share the pain and despair of love lost, “If We Were Made of Water” lures the listener in with ethereal vocals, set to an almost acoustic backdrop allowing for the focus to be set firmly on the message in her words. A slightly rawer approach is given on “What About Love, as a heavy hearted BANKS sings, “I belong to no one / You belong to someone else but / Maybe if we just rewind the tape / Give me one more chance to.” Even the hardest of hearts will be moved by either or both of these poignant songs, with the latter not only being one of BANKS’ strongest tracks, but one that captures a moment of true vulnerability for the singer-songwriter.
III is most definitely BANKS’ best album to date and one that everyone should own.
Notable Tracks: "Gimme" | “If We Were Made Of Water” | "Sawzall" | “What About Love”