You won’t find many artists as unabashedly honest as Banks. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter will take you on a disillusioned trip through her darkened world of brooding alternative R&B trip-hop aesthetics. Fresh off the release of her sophomore effort, The Altar, the dark-haired phenomenon Banks has had an epic year.
Although she’s toured with The Weeknd—twice, actually—Jillian Rose Banks started off small. She had always been a writer, but began to experiment with melodies at age 15 after receiving a toy keyboard as a gift. Her influences range from Lauryn Hill to Fiona Apple, evident in her empowering message. These years led to a natural progression in self-expression and the release of her first single on SoundCloud.
It didn’t take long for her first effort to gain traction—“Before I Ever Met You” soon spun on BBC Radio 1 with DJ Zane Lowe. Banks signed and produced an EP, London, which included the incredible “Waiting Game.” The haunting, beat-driven jam appeared in Divergent and Grey’s Anatomy. She released her debut LP, Goddess, in September of 2014 to critical success. Her edgy style in standout singles such as “Beggin for Thread” led to comparisons with FKA Twigs and Ellie Goulding. Banks’ brand of R&B was dark, magnetic, and unforgettable.
The Altar was released on September 30, 2016. It is more authoritative than its predecessor, due to Banks’ self-evolution and growth in confidence. She struggled through personal trials after her debut, from fame to depression. She insists that she be nothing but honest; not only for herself, but her fans. The lyrics are graphic and candid, the production dark and electrifying. Her voice soars and swoops through the R&B beats, twisting alongside the synthesized melodies with forward ease. She doesn’t hold back, describing both successful and failed relationships in gritty detail. Banks has a psychology degree to her name, and it shows in her lyrical ventures. She explores the blurred lines between lust, love, honesty, and betrayal. She mimics the multifaceted and often disarming qualities of a relationship through distorted voice tracks and winding rhythms.
The second single, “Gemini Feed,” is the first track of the album and an instant highlight. It opens with a sonic xylophone and bursts into a commanding, emotive chorus that contemplates the wicked ways of a manipulating ex.
The explosiveness of “Trainwreck” is evident from its opening beats and the entrance of Banks’ tenacious vocals. Her commanding lyrics spill out over slinky whizzes: “Hey, I heard it from the state, they told me you were never gonna let me get away.”
Not all of her emotional tracks are about a wrecked love—the stripped-down “To the Hilt” delves into the pain of a longstanding member leaving her team. It’s a vocally intense standout with little instrumentation besides a forlorn piano. The change of style is captivating, and felt from the first piano strike to the last abandoned cry.
Banks has managed to craft a style unique to her, singing in shades of black and crimson, wailing over the beat with cracks of emotion. With a voice and artistry like Banks, it’s no wonder she’s become an underground sensation. “If you connect to my music, you connect to me, and I connect to you,” she says.