As I was shuffling through a Spotify playlist in 2015, I came across a beautifully haunting sound that was none other than “Goddess,” the title song from Banks’s debut album. Now, I knew who Azealia Banks was, but I had never heard of this alternative R&B singer that conveyed so much emotion and heartbreak in a single lyric. After a thorough investigation, I became submerged in the world of this mysterious artist. “Goddess” contains a mixture of powerful mid-tempo R&B songs and slower instrumentals that highlight her vocal ability. Her sophomore album, “The Altar,” continues to show vulnerability through confessionals that arise from her darkest moments.
Each track Jillian Banks has released has further illustrated her growth as an artist. From dropping “Before I Ever Met You” on Sound Cloud in 2013 to “The Altar,” she has only gotten better. Expansive singles and opening up for The Weeknd on two of his latest tours have resulted in a swift rise in acclaim for the alternative singer. Zane Lowe, radio host on BBC Radio 1, played “Before I Ever Met You” on the radio, and immediately Banks was signed to Harvest Records. In addition, many of her singles have been featured on “Grey’s Anatomy” and other popular dramas that crave her dark alternative vibe. Her music has reached acclaim from critics and other artists in the music industry, such as Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd and Fiona Apple.
While one can definitely view “The Altar” as a sequel to “Goddess,” it does not feel repetitive. Rather, it serves as a continuation of Banks’s story. The songs are more varied and powerful, and she does not hold anything back, which can be seen in “Fuck With Myself,” the album’s debut single. In contrast to the loathing that was prevalent in “Goddess,” Banks asserts self-love. On the chorus, she chants, “I used to care what you think about me. Cause my love’s so good / So I fuck with myself more than anybody else.” In an interview, Banks explained that the song is about being there for yourself, and basically being your own best friend. The minimalist single reveals a more confident, realized Banks.
Banks returns to her signature sound on “Gemini Feed,” the album’s second single. It references the altar in its lyrics, which may indicate a marriage proposal gone wrong. It details a particularly powerful relationship and its toxic nature. The track opens, “And to think you would get me to the altar, like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water. But admit it, you just wanted me smaller. If you would’ve let me grow, you could’ve kept my love.” It is the first track on the album and it hurls the listener into Banks’s twisted world.
Another promotional single, “Mind Games,” narrates Banks’s spiraling relationship and his inability to cope with his manipulative nature. She repeats “Do you see me now?” throughout the track, as she is pleading for him to fix their relationship. She opens, “I foresee it’s true, that you would love me better if I could unscrew / All your moods that make me wanna run away. But I got stuck with faulty legs.”
“The Altar” seems to possess a depth that was never reached on “Goddess.” Experimental songs such as “Poltergeist,” “Trainwreck” and “Haunt” deviate from the comfort of Banks’s characteristic brooding. The electronic-heavy “Trainwreck” provides a much-needed change in production, propelling her powerful vocals through the track. She describes the lyrics as streaming from her consciousness, and she angrily cries out, “Hey, I heard it from the state. They told me you were never gonna let me get away. And if you took me fishing you would never give me bait. I had to get away, I had to get away, I had to get away.”
In similar fashion to “Goddess,” the album has its share of slower, instrumental tracks. “To the Hilt” is a beautiful alternative pop ballad that details Banks’s yearning for a past lover. She broods, “Hated you for leavin’ me. You were my muse for so long. Now I’m drained creatively, but I miss you on my team.” Banks expresses how difficult it is to maintain a relationship when you’re in the music industry, and how drained she feels without her partner.
In addition to “To the Hilt,” “Mother Earth” is a stripped down track that was written as Banks was coming out of depression, and it details her healing process. Banks wrote it to discuss the feelings of powerlessness that accompany being a woman in the music industry and the need to be supportive of one another. She sings, “Follow me to my bed / ’Cause every time you fall, I’ll be holdin’ your head up. And when will you get tired of feeling bad? And every time you fall, follow me.”
While “The Altar” continues to illustrate tremendous growth from this young artist, it does not fail to capture the essence of Banks through powerful, emotional tracks. Banks stated in a recent interview that she imagines her music as “a dark cave with a fire, and people dancing around it.” From the beginning of “Gemini Feed” to the end of “27 Hours,” Banks takes us through her dark mind. Yet I still yearn for more from the somber singer, and I cannot wait to see what she delivers in the future.