Review Summary: Don't tell me to listen to your song because it isn't the same
Rewind the clock back 12 months and Jillian Banks was another unsolved mystery, a curious dark heart that approached her bedroom pop with the same brand of confessional frankness that had launched a thousand faces before her. Shrouded in black fabric and internet hype, her retinue of vogue producers have pushed her to a point so far removed from her word-of-mouth beginnings it's hard to look back at the artist as just another midnight social media discovery. With a major-label record deal undoubtedly brokered as much on her cult-like following as her penchant for left-field hooks, Banks has become a true artist of the internet conglomerate, a darling of the digital evolution. An artist who, by her own admission, probably felt like something of a babe in the woods in establishing a clear line of dialogue with her audience, almost nonchalantly giving out her phone number as compensation for her lack of live-blogging. That in itself is something of an analogy for the artist: Banks' persona, and by extension her music, has always been about a perceived loss of innocence. And there's a certain twinge of naivety to be felt for the person who would so drastically attempt to turn around any sense of besmirchment with such an open invitation. But here it's less about being unaware of the kinds of consequences about being so open (at 26, Banks appears world-weary), and more about not caring about the consequences. Or, to take that idea one step further, allowing them in at the expense of love, art... passion.
is a documentary that we've heard before. It's a scrapbook of thoughts, a diorama of diary confessionals. Tales of unrequited emotions, scorned love - it's Taylor Swift without the public messiness, How To Dress Well's morose melancholy without the depressive cynicism. Track names like 'Alibi' and 'This Is What It Feels Like' act as symbolic writing on the wall - we know what to expect here, an open heart lies bleeding over pages of scrawled notes set to equally dissonant digital r&b. The disparaged partner, the confused and awkward introvert - these tricks have all been well played out. And while Banks' lyrics carry as much symbolic heft as the next, it's with her voice that she mercilessly attacks.
While you'll be lucky to read any kind of press regarding Banks without encountering such feminist-centric adjectives as "sultry" or "slinky", Jillian's cast-down approach to lyricism is in stark contrast to her extroverted prowess as a singer. It's too cheap to offer up an image of Banks headlining some bourgeoisie back-alley club; her voice belies her stature, equal parts primal and vulnerable. There's a sneer behind the confidently-conceived seductive facade - it's a confidence that's been building for 10 years. And there's a sense that, in tracks like the Shlohmo-produced 'Brain' or on the closing strands of album closer 'Under The Table' that Banks is all too aware of, and already distancing herself from, the neat and contrived descriptions that befall any young female singer-songwriters. Sure there's a coyness to be found, at times she appears almost playful. But while Goddess
is the result of several different producers, there's still enough of a unified front to keep an almost sexual malevolence dripping caustically in the background.
Banks' multifaceted vocals manage to attune themselves brilliantly to her roster of chic high-end producers, matching the tweaked out downbeats with a cold falsetto, scratching out an identity between the layers of bass and echo. Jamie Woon, Lil Silva, Sohn and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs are all in attendance, doling out neon gloom amidst the expiring isolation. Shlohmo's penchant for reverb and space pair brilliantly with Banks' chiding tones, while Sohn's 'Waiting Game' reappears here in all its raspy bass and plodding threnody. 'Stick' alleviates some of the anguished lamentations with its subtle swing, but while it represents a different kind of outlet for the artist, its come-hither approach clogs with humidity, playing against the security of invisibility that Banks perpetuates for herself. 'Someone New', really the only misstep sonically, bucks that trend however; its guitar-led melody feels out of sorts amidst the album's digital upbringing, a ballad caught against a swell of gospels. It's a dicey maneuver given the small but fair legacy Banks has established for herself, but there's still a reward of sorts to be had in the risk. That Banks is already willing to revise her identity so soon after its infancy speaks to the confidence of the musical character she has created for herself.
is the refinement of all those early promises, it's the education of Banks as she arrives precisely where and how she means to. Confident and complex, it's a standout debut from one of the most promising artists of the last few years. You could level criticism at the reappearance of certain tracks from her EPs, but they in many ways complete the mystery that surrounds this artist. They bring the album full circle, filling in the gaps, adding lost chapters. Banks has a sound all to herself, one that with the continued grace and dexterity she's already shown, will see her through for as long as she chooses to share it with us. She's not "blending with the scene" at all. Rather, she's making it all her own.