I think it’s safe to say that it’s a universally accepted fact that music makes us feel things. You listen to a song and experience an emotion, whether that be happiness, sadness, hope, or a combination of all of the above and then some. You form a simple opinion like, “This song is a banger,” or “Wow, the story behind this song is really touching.” With so much music out there, sometimes this emotion or this opinion is superficial; you experience the emotion in the moment of listening to the song, but once the song is done that feeling and opinion recedes back into the back of your mind, to be woken up on a repeat listen. More rare is the song that really, truly makes you feel; a song like that takes up permanent and prominent residence inside your brain. It gives you the kind of happiness that radiates and warms your whole body, or the kind of grief that can instantly drop your heart like a stone. While some of this can be attributed to personal experiences and relationships to artists and songs, much of it is bolstered by strong musical artists and excellent musical craftsmanship. Jillian Banks, more commonly known as BANKS, is definitely the former, and her second album, The Altar, contains a ton of the latter.
First off, and most clearly evident upon first listen, is the fact that BANKS has a phenomenal gift for singing. She can belt like the best of them, maybe most notable on a few of the album’s slower numbers like “Mind Games” and the tender “Mother Earth.” BANKS’ lower range also sounds perfect, and she thankfully utilizes and dips into it often. “Fuck With Myself” is a vocal standout, with a multitude of vocal deliveries, cadences, and range over dissonant strings and thumping bass. In a lesser vocalist’s hand it would be easy for a song like this to falter, but “Fuck With Myself” is one of the highlights of the album here. Another technique BANKS uses quite frequently on The Altar is the use of accentuated auto-tune effects to give a piercing edge to her voice, and it definitely works. It’s a great blend of vocal manipulation and natural talent, and the result is an album that’s easy to revisit and admire from a vocal standpoint.
This vocal talent comes in handy with BANKS’ writing. She clearly poured her soul into this album, and the result is an emotionally complex and deep piece of music. It’s equal parts self-exploration, melancholy, rage, and confidence. You can feel the hurt in “Gemini Feed” as BANKS details the emotionally abusive tactics of an ex (“And you’re passive aggressive, convinced me other people, they don’t care about me). There’s longing and passion in “Love Sick,” a deep and cutting feel of betrayal in “Judas,” and profound loneliness in album closer “To The Hilt.” Just try not to have the sadness wash over you when she sings, “We backed each other to the hilt, now I live in this house we built.” It’s impossible.
“Trainwreck” is a towering inferno of cascading synths, with BANKS’ anger-fueled delivery as an accelerant. “You try to compensate for thinking with your one brain I should decapitate,” is just one of the amazingly brutal lines that I love. Then there’s BANKS at her most confident, triumphing through the aptly named “Fuck With Myself” mentioned above and “Weaker Girl,” which is an exceptionally well-crafted collection of synth and string that finds her reflecting on her growth after moving on from a relationship. “I’ma need a bad motherfucker like me,” she sings to her ex—and she is in no way wrong.
With The Altar, BANKS has bared all of her being to the world, in all its nuance and raw emotion and determination, and it’s wildly effective. It’s like BANKS sitting down in a room with you in person to talk about her life, which makes this album especially compelling and impactful. When you listen to this album, sit down and listen to it in full, and let BANKS move you as she has so deftly shown she is capable of doing.