Although she’s not necessarily a household name at this point in her career, 26 year old Jillian Banks has already made quite a name for herself in the music world. Leading up to the release of her first LP she has already checked more boxes than many of the leading artists within her unique genre of alternative R&B. Her resume boastswhole tours opening for moody, alternative R&B pioneer the Weeknd, an appearance at Coachella, and a nomination from the BBC for Sound of 2014. Her two EPs Fall Over, and London garnered critical acclaim for their atmospheric blend of woozy hip-hop beats and confident vocals, leaving legions of music critics and fans wanting more from the reclusive singer.
Banks certainly delivers a great deal in her 14-track (18-tracks for the deluxe edition), LP Goddess. With a runtime of 59 minutes Banks gives herself more than enough time to showcase her musical ability. At its core, the album lives up to the hype, with tracks such as “Beggin For Thread,” “Before I Ever Met You,” and “Brain” injecting the lengthy album with life, and showcasing the raw emotionality that initially characterized Banks’ music. Although these high points carry the album, it is the excessive, more-than-enough portion of the LP in which she gets herself tangled up.
The length of the album itself is not necessarily a critique, it is actually in the composition of Goddess that gets Banks into trouble. Every single song from her previous two EPs (except for “Work” from her 2013 EP Fall Over), six songs in total, are featured on Goddess. While these holdover songs are great, their addition makes the album feel unnecessarily overproduced rather than something that came together naturally, and the added length detracts from the accessibility of the album as a whole.
However, if we peel away the excess material we see that Banks has actually delivered quite a vulnerable album that extends and deepens the personal relationship she has been developing with her fan base as of late.
In an age where fans can observe pop stars and celebrities 24/7 through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, Banks has taken an unconventional approach to connecting with her listeners. Although she gets her manager to handle all of her social media pages, a personal cell phone number is posted on her Facebook profile, and she encourages fans to call and chat (It went to voicemail the one time I tried contacting her). In an era of informational assault, the idea of having a one-on-one conversation with a musician (and a very popular one no less) is almost absurd, and it’s quite an admirable personal outreach coming from an artist who sighs, “you should know that solitude fits me like a glove” midway through Goddess.
It’s been publicized that Banks began songwriting in high school as a way to cope with her parents’ divorce. The morose nature of this life-altering event in her life sets the personal tone for Goddess. “What if I said I had problems that made me mean?” Banks asks a potential lover in a song titled “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From.” The song stands out because of the honesty that Banks has with herself more so than the fact that she is willing to reveal her personal struggle with intimacy to her audience. Her ability to reveal personal struggle is again on display in the song “Waiting Game” where she sings, “What if I never even see you ‘cause we’re both on a stage” to another performer, highlighting her problems with her new life in the spotlight.
The highlight of the album is the infectious “Beggin for Thread.” A catchy track driven by an upbeat drum beat and a contagious chorus on which Banks admits, “I know my disposition gets confusing/My disproportionate reactions fuse with my eager state.”
Banks doesn’t paint her struggles or difficulties with her newfound fame as excuses to run and hide. Instead she approaches them as stark realizations, that maybe she will get over in due time, but are still what she has to live with here and now. She is the rare artist that realizes her problems and shows the willingness to deal with them. In the end, the goddess suggested by the title of the album doesn’t come across as one who pretentiously bemoans her existence like so many other artists within the genre. Instead she is in-control and aware, making her all the more appealing.
Although the debut isn’t without blemishes, most notably the exhaustive length and its crawling pace, Banks’ initial foray into the bleak world of alternative R&B is a solid debut from a mature artist that waited nearly a decade to release any of her music out of a desire to consistently improve her work. Hopefully she retains that mindset as she ventures on to her next project and delivers more emotionally barring work.