Banks exorcises the ghosts of relationships past on ‘The Altar’

Monday, October 3, 2016 - 5:34pm

Banks

Harvest Records

 

The Altar, R&B artist Banks’s newest release, is the very embodiment of post-breakup anger, vindictive stormy skies and the entire month of October. This album is basically Lady Macbeth in music form, and its collection of ominously magical, deeply powerful and altogether all-encompassing songs are haunting in their raw honesty.

In The Altar, Banks is possessed by the ghost of failed relationships past, and it comes out in the form of sensuous vocals and constantly stimulating, heavy beats. It’s the kind of album you want to perform a séance to, and, more importantly, it’s the kind of album that really showcases Banks’s growth as an artist. Through The Altar, she immerses the world in bleak shades of grey and gives whoever is listening a glimpse into the chaos of her own emotions. Beautiful in its humanity, The Altar is alive with the bittersweet aftertaste of past memories.     

The Altar’s incantation commences with “Gemini Feed.” Wonderfully complex, with the contrast between vulnerable vocals dripping in saccharine regret and a dense, steady background beat adding interest in their dissimilarity, “Gemini Feed” is Banks showing the listeners that while she has been wounded, she is not meek. This song (and consequently this entire album) projects iron willpower in every well crafted note. Banks is holding nothing back, and this dedication continues throughout the rest of the album. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its demise, Banks seems to take strength from her own past undoing to produce songs as impacting as “Gemini Feed.”     

Since her debut album, Goddess, Banks’s voice has truly developed and matured; on The Altar, she explores her boundaries to their fullest potential while still managing to never lose sight of her central identity. The immensity of dark, formidable songs that had only been hinted at in Goddess is fully explored in The Altar. Through pulling from discreet R&B rhythms and adding unexpected alternative twists, Banks has pushed her vocals to new heights while still managing to hold onto the same ominously erotic ambiance that she established with iconic favorites such as “Waiting Game” and “Begging For Thread.”

On The Altar, songs like “Fuck With Myself” and “Poltergeist” hold their main attraction in their background music. Constantly shifting electronic rhythms and stimulating, disjointed beats are perfectly balanced, with Banks’s crooning hovering over the entire song like a transparent sheet. “Trainwreck” is very similar; it is not afraid to be dramatic, to be intense, to push the confines. The song’s fast-paced, very stream-of-consciousness lyrics perfectly match the swirling vortex of anger and passion that this song inspires.   

However, The Altar does not solely consist of spite-fueled, chaotic power anthems. It has moments of deep vulnerability that Banks does not shy away from through muted instrumentals and quiet melodies. For example, in the song “Lovesick,” Banks unashamedly chants “please call me your baby, baby, baby / look how long that you have kept me waiting” over an unobtrusive, decidedly simple tune. The songs “Mother Earth” and “To The Hilt” are especially noteworthy in their use of quiet instruments in place of Banks’s usual brazen, alt-pop beats. “Mother Earth” speaks of painful yearning over simple guitar strums while “To The Hilt” features Banks’s lovely voice flowing solo over muted piano chords. These two songs allow the album to take a break, take a breath and gently reflect; they not only present Banks’s impressive range but also help balance out the album as a whole, making it a more cohesive piece when looked at from start to finish.

Overall, The Altar is well connected, with songs that differ enough to be interesting, but still mesh well together to make the album a collective work of art when listened to from beginning to end. To put things simply, this album is commanding. Banks takes control of every one of her songs and dictates every note, every lyric and every beat with purpose and intention. As the season begins to change, The Altar is not only a perfect soundtrack to rainy evenings and hideously grinning jack-o’-lanterns, but it is also a reminder that there is always grace in vulnerability.