On ‘Goddess’, LA-based BANKS fruitfully leaned on the alt-R&B minimalist trend that ruled the airwaves – arriving on the scene alongside peers FKA Twigs and Kelela. Now with the allegorically titled ‘The Altar’, BANKS has since undergone a personal epiphany. Exuding an icy vulnerability that has become her trademark, BANKS is even more confessional, ‘The Altar’ representing both the unattainable and the figurative destination. BANKS is more empowered than ever, and through that agency her playful side reveals itself. Take the entendre-filled, affirmative ‘Fuck With Myself’ produced by Al Shux, an ode to self-love backed by a sparse, middle-eastern flavoured beat. BANKS doesn’t need a counterpart, finding fulfilment on her own, a message she wants to convey to her loyal listeners.
With SOHN on production duties BANKS truly excels, the Vienna-based producer able to amplify BANKS’ needling, quivering vocals through the right expanse of moody electronics. Invoking the angst of debut single ‘Waiting Game', ‘Gemini Feed’ teems with a comparable tension, but whilst the former dealt with longing and the price of fame, the latter very much forms the emotional crux of this LP. “To think you could have me at the altar, that I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water”, BANKS embroiled in a love as overbearing and heady as the cyclical synths that climax the song. It’s also BANKS at her best. Indeed paired with ‘Fuck With Myself’, ‘The Altar’ starts of with the vocalist displaying her full arsenal, and you wouldn’t be remiss in thinking it could supersede her debut.
BANKS toes the difficult line between allure and relatability, and most often than not she does it with relative flair, most of which her loyal fans will graciously eat up. Yet the middle-section of the record plays out too much like a freestyle moodboard, lacking any real replay factor, too reliant on production fidgets than actual song craft. ‘Poltergeist’ has good intentions but veers too close to being overproduced, ‘Mother Nature’ an attempt at a stripped-back ballad doesn’t quite hit the mark, even if the stirring strings and guitar strokes signify a shift for the songstress. ‘Trainwreck’ steadies the LP train again, a dizzying, trap-esque affair abiding more by pop conventions – intentional or not, it’s a track that melds breakneck rhythm, vocal malleability and production value seamlessly, a template the LA artist should have utilised more of.
‘The Altar’ is more textured and artful than ‘Goddess’, BANKS growing into her role as a writer, upholding the sensual melancholia that characterised her debut. Yet, it still feels as if BANKS is fine-tuning her sound, and if ‘The Altar’ is anything to go by, she’s not quite there but she’s drawing closer to her pot of gold.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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