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Why Banks is an Alt-R&B “Goddess”

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The first song I’d ever heard from Banks was “Waiting Game.” I’d spent my 16th summer riding in my grandmother’s car, surfing YouTube while she prattled on about mundane things. Suddenly, I’d found a video swathed in black with a woman looking morosely at the camera. I wanted to find out who she was, so I clicked. It was Banks.

I was a The Weeknd fan, so I was used to sultry, dark, raunchy and heartbreaking alt-R&B, and I’d originally wanted to listen to an artist that gave me the same vibe. The first few dark, harmonic hums of “Waiting Game” hypnotized me. Banks crooned with a dark, yet fragile vibrato, “I’m thinking it over…” — and I was hooked.

Her lyricism and voice gave off a knowing, sinister vibe, as though she’d written the song specifically for the listener. Her voice, while beautiful and agile, was a dark, occasionally raw whisper, and I got the vibe that she was singing from the darker parts of love, relationships and the listeners themselves. It was like a response to the occasionally drug-addled escapist, slightly broken women that populate The Weeknd’s own dark lyricism and pleading voice (with whom she’d toured).

But Banks isn’t only a dramatic, shadowed siren crooning about broken relationships.

Banks is actually Jillian Rose Banks, and she’s a 25-year-old musician from Orange County, California. She started writing songs at 15 as a means to cope with her parents in a fit of what she calls melancholy and helplessness. It soon became a private hobby and helped her to release her pain. She began posting tracks on Soundcloud. Soon, her popularity spread with her first single, “Before I Ever Met You,” which was streamed 250,000 times before she even signed her first record deal.

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Her music videos are usually gothic affairs with the ever-present edgy covering of one half of her face, somewhat heavy eyeliner and apathetic, piercing stare that highlights her image. Yet, she also possesses a very relatable feel, as with another song of hers, “Brain.” There’s a knowingness in how she sings, as though she can see right through you. Also, the air of mystery she exhibits works very well for her. The image she exhibits (often a brooding, complicated siren set against a dark backdrop that matches her signature style of music) is both attractive and dour, yet also somber and soulful.

Unknown-6Banks is a fresh, fascinating addition to alt-R&B. Her sound, both pure, heavy and agile expresses pain, love, regret and knowing. Her debut album, “Goddess,” is the absolute best of Banks, though I’m sure she has so much more to offer. (Her latest single, “Better,” for example, is a hopeless, desperate plea on behalf of side-chicks smitten with their stolen lovers.)

“Goddess” is an enveloping mass of love, regret, mystery. From the heaviness of a love that slowly pulls away (“This is what it feels like”) to sexy, seductive, yet slightly upbeat tempo of “Stick,” Banks gives so much to these songs and to all of her work. Passionate, relatable, soulful, with a pure, smoky, Aaliyah-like falsetto or the bright, sharp, almost accusatory belt that she displays in “Brain,” or even the pleading, broken “Better,” Banks is the artist I have come to appreciate the most. When listening to a Banks song, I’m hearing my own true emotions repeated from a stranger who knows me so, so well.

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Invest some time in Banks. You won’t regret it.

 

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