When Banks broke out with 2014’s Goddess, she became the world’s most blogged about artists. With a sound that took alt-pop and R&B to electrifying new places. With every song written and controlled creatively by Banks, The Altar pushes those edges even further and pulls no punches. It’s an inspiring confrontation of complicated love, pain, and self-doubt.
The album’s title, The Altar, honours the spiritual experience of its creation.
“Sometimes it feels like the inspirations for my songs come from somewhere else, where I’m not even thinking, they just come out,” says Banks. “My music and my songs, they feel like my religion, and the altar is the holiest place there is.”
Take a journey with to The Altar, as I dig deeper behind the songs, track-by-track.
The album opens up with Banks alone against a piano, with her voice sending chills in a sense of reverberant distance.
“And to think you would get me to the Altar,” she sings, “But admit it you just wanted me smaller. If you woulda let me grow you coulda kept my love.”
The opening notes foreshadow what is set to come on the record, growth. Exciting in production, with beats that shake the core alongside her restless vocals which become staunch and resolute.
“Open up your eyes, there’s nothing on my body left to see.”
Gemini Feed exclaims a sense of defiance and ownership of one’s self-worth. The contrast is striking when put up to earlier lyrics from Banks, that seem to swell over a sense of apologetic regret. With Gemini Feed opening The Altar, we see Jillian Banks take a huge leap forward, embracing a new kind of strength.
“I pushed myself. I pushed my boundaries. I found my own strengths while making this album,” she says. “I found that when I needed a shoulder to lean on, I could be that shoulder for myself.” Jillian Rose Banks on The Altar
Fuck With Myself
“cause I fuck with myself more than anybody else.” Banks coos as she makes it clear we now have a fearless, self-confrontation from a woman who is owning her shit. The video is a powerful declaration of this stronger sense of confidence.
“In the video, I’m looking in a mirror, because it’s like looking at myself with open eyes. My hair isn’t in my face anymore. I feel less scared to be seen. This is me being present in the moment,” she says. “Not being scared of change, and not being scared of my own strength and my own power.”
Lovesick, the first taste of music not previously released as a single. Lovesick feels like a return to some of the softer feelings of yearning in love and admiration that helped send ripples through the airwaves from the previous songs. A yearning that still boasts a self-aware confidence.
“I’m all in, look at all that I have given” sings Banks over a sensual mid-tempo production. “Cause I’m Lovesick, I ain’t even ashamed. And I’m hard up for some time in the sheets.”
Lovesick calms the mood set by the album’s opening songs. There’s a warmth here, that til now had been missing in the flavours given from The Altar so far.
With a slow burn that sends haunting chills straight to the core, Mind Games challenges the lyrics heard moments before in Lovesick. There is no lack of passion here, but the refrain is much colder.
“Do I ever have to notice? I’ve been standing here and I don’t know why. Did you ever even see me try? Do you see me now?” — a perfect transition from the sensuality on Lovesick, and once again very foreshadowing for the message to come as we delve into The Altar’s gritty core arch of angst.
Arguably one of the bigger departures on The Altar, at least for me. This song is a certified banger in the vein of Beggin’ For Thread with the sentiment and aggressive execution of the vocals in Brain–both of which are stand-outs among Banks’ growing catalogue. Heavy with trap beats and pulsating drum loops, Trainwreck sees Banks speak out against the toxicity of co-dependency and the need to get away from it.
“Talking to ears that have become deaf for as long as I can remember. A self-medicated handicap, so I talk to myself. And I try so hard to get his stupid deaf ears to hear that I’ve become illiterate. I’ve become dumb.” A heavy sentiment to the back and forth tribulations and endless stubbornness.
“my heart goes beat, beat, beat to the music of this sad, same song. It’s quite depressing. There’s no fixing to the problem and you’re talking to an idiot.”
Trainwreck will go down in the books as one of Banks’ most confrontational songs yet. I can’t help but feel a deeper connection between the lyrical content on this record, and am quickly noticing that the albums’ tracklist is extremely strategic.
This Is Not About Us
“This is not about me. I can see you taking it personally. I see you put your pride aside. I wait a minute while you try to compensate.” The opening lyrics to This Is Not About Us.
There is a strategic connection to these songs that speak about a deeper personal experience, much deeper than on the surface. On This Is Not About Us, again we see Banks showing off her stronger sense of self.
This song plays on the classic “It’s not you it’s me” kind of scenario within a breakup, but seems to flip the script to an “it’s not me, it’s not us, it’s you” type of dynamic. Brilliantly placed between Trainwreck and the coming song, I am certain there is a major connection here.
“I could see you wanting me to say, that me walking away was a big mistake.”
Whatever really happened in this scenario inspiring the music comes to a more rounded realisation with Weaker Girl, a song that sits perfectly in the middle of The Altar.
“Tell me what you want from me, I think you need a weaker girl, kinda like the girl I used to be.” The soft beginnings to a trap heavy anthem, sung in a voice both reflective and self-assured.
“Ima let you do what you gonna do, Ima let you say what you wanna say, cause ima need a bad motherfucker like me”
Weaker Girl successfully evokes a strong sense of empowerment. A sense of worth out of the darkness of emotional turmoil.
“Tell em you were mad about the way I grew strong.” sings Banks, as she exclaims outward the craving for matched emotional growth.
The grinding beats softly fade out as the drums die off, highlighting the string-supported melody, played on violin… which seamlessly sets up the 2nd half of the album.
Led by strings and acoustic guitar. Mother Earth delivers a much needed moment softness in The Altar. Though there is a lot of passionate angst on the last few songs, Mother Earth reminds us that Banks is more than aggression and “edges that scratch”. Lyrically, the song holds a deeper meaning towards society’s views on women.
“I wrote that song when I was feeling sickened by this weight that society puts on women,” she says. “It tries to make them want to be as small as possible and take up as little space as possible. Be as perfect and wrapped up in a bow as possible.
A brief and soft moment that is fearless in its own vulnerability.
Sure-to-be one of my favourite songs Banks’ has ever released. Judas is a tantalising story that seems to reflect back on to the negative dynamic of a relationship, whichever relationship that may be.
“I found all your skeletons and closet full of bones” some of the lyrics before the bass drops on a very urban mid-tempo production.
“I can hear resentment in your tone. Said I’ll never make it on my own. Maybe I’m just better off alone. Too numb to deal. To numb to feel the knife in my back. Judas”
For me, this song takes me to a dark place in my own life. One I don’t like venturing back to very often. As I imagine it was for Jillian while writing, this type of reflection is a very therapeutic place to go back and think on.
Immediately colourful on its production with progressive tribal drum loops, Haunt talks about the feelings that stay with us after the end.
“What do you want, I wanna know. You messed me up and you let me go. Now you’ve come back cause your ego is stroked from the way that I cracked up, but you let me go.”
I see your game, you make me wait. You make me wait, dangling on a string. Begging for you to come back to the ring, til I’m salivating for attention that you won’t bring.”
A haunting of emotions that linger, and situation that tries desperately to repeat itself. The duality of wanting and not wanting, and being haunted by these emotions.
“I started all our wars. I’ve been getting messages from my deep waters. I’ve been a resentful caretaker. Blame me for your false indicators. You’ve mistaken all my mistakes for my crooked nature”
Poltergeist, in my interpretation, seems to continue evaluating emotions but on a deeper introspective level. Here we see Banks reflect on her own inner demons and take ownership of them. The production is brooding and haunts every part of my being. This must have been very difficult to write. There is a lot of self-loathing in this song, but it’s a necessary evil. It is reflection like this that defines what it is to grow as a human.
To me, the poltergeist is in fact, a reflection of Jillian herself.
To The Hilt
An emotional ride supported solely by keyboard. Left as the closing track on The Altar. To The Hilt sums up a lot of the feelings I have touched on that are present throughout The Altar‘s 45-minute runtime.
“We backed each other To The Hilt. Now I live in this house we built”.
A sombre reminder of a much softer side to Jillian, one of regret and desperation.
“We started this together, now you’re gone. And when we said forever, we were naive. You saw me as a superstar. And I was a case you helped them to see.” she sings as the closing notes repeat the chorus with so much raw emotion that you can hear her voice trembling.
“I hated you for leaving me. You were my muse for so long. Now I’m drained creatively, but I miss you on my team.”
With that last defining moment of To The Hilt, the standard run of songs on The Altar closes. Leaving me with a sense of somberness and sorrow. As a major fan, I have so much respect for this body of work. The insight Jillian is giving us into her personal life is a truly intimate affair.
The Altar will be officially released this Friday, Sept. 30 via Harvest Records. Banks has one more treat in store that I, nor other media reps have heard. The big question mark of a song, 27 Hours, which is exclusive. How will it connect with everything I’ve laid down here for you? I guess we’ll have to wait a few more days and see.
Please note that everything said here is my personal views on what picture The Altar paints for us. I’m sure in the months to come, some more clarity will be given from Banks herself.