Banks AKA Jillian Banks feels like one of those artists who is always 'breaking', but has never truly broke into the mainstream arena. Her debut album Goddess was a much written about, blogosphere success but came and went without much furore. On the second go around, The Altar, her winning formula of low key R&B pop is well utilised, with a few new developments in her sound being showcased throughout the set.
The album opens with "Gemini Feed", arguably one of the stronger songs on the record. It's a scathing account of a past relationship, where the two fed off of one another in the worst way. Banks chants "we were so depressive, you and I together we were gemini feed." Next is "Fuck With Myself", which was released as the first single. It's a huge misstep, the mumbly chorus of "cos I fuck with myself more than anyone else" is quirky gone horribly wrong. It doesn't sound interesting, it just sounds ridiculous, not quite the effect they were going for.
"Love Sick" sounds like Banks is having fun for the first time ever, anyone who listens to her music regularly knows that it's more often sad and morose than sexy and uplifting like this track. It's a welcome departure, and the bouncy synths work perfectly. "Trainwreck" is probably the most experimental track Banks has ever recorded, it's a definite change of direction, featuring an almost rap and a frantic, muddy energy. "Weaker Girl" is pure sass, showing a triumphant banks saying she needs "a bad motherfucker", after her last guy who was looking for the titular weaker girl.
"Mother Earth" leads us into the second half of the album, and bar "Under The Table" from her debut, it is her best ballad to date. It's an acoustic conversation with another, telling them she'll be there for them when they need her. It's a beautiful song, with exquisite harmonies and is packed with emotion. "Judas" is another sonic experimentation, it's Banks in full on rage mode, but she's still the cool girl with restraint. "Poltergeist" and "Haunt" have a tropical sound to them, which is on trend, but perhaps a mistake here. "To The Hilt" is another great piano ballad, but ultimately forgettable in the grand scheme. The album closes with "27 Hours", it's familiar Banks territory. Buzzy synths and pitched vocals, not the best ending to an otherwise pretty good effort.
The Altar feels like a step forward from Goddess, but only a small one. A lot of the songs sound like they could've been on her debut, which is a shame. However, she does show progression in songs like "Trainwreck" and "Judas." Even so, when someone is doing something as well as Banks is right now, do you really want something different?
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke - don't fix it.