Banks returns with her sophomore album The Altar, bringing us her bold and brooding take on the alternative pop genre. Written and creatively controlled by Banks herself, the record is a confrontation of complicated love, longing, betrayal and self-doubt. The overall thematic for the LP seems to be a rally cry for women – I have taken control and this is what I am going to do about it. But don’t get me wrong, it is not all burning bras, anti-men, we don’t need a man stuff, it is deeper. It is making a choice in the lives we lead, whether that is chasing a man you want to be with or saying, ‘I need a man in my life who is as strong as I am’.
The album opens up with the track Gemini Feeds, a cool, catchy, alt-pop offering that sets off the collection at full pace. It blends echoing vocals over electro beats before being joined by a dark brooding synth melody. Produced by SOHN, the music itself is mesmerising but with the harsh growling vocals, it gains depth and intensity as she sings about a jilted ex. It is an honest kick in the teeth piece, a perfect taste for what is to come.
Fuck With Myself, which announced Banks’ return on the music scene with the bold and chilling video accompaniment, is the second song on The Altar. The intro has this cool blend of steel drums and pulsating electro beats. It is basically the ethos for the whole record, as she verbalises her empowerment with the line ‘I fuck with myself more than anybody else’. We see she has developed; the singer’s no-nonsense attitude coming through, far from the young pop star of Goddess.
Weaker Girl is all about female empowerment and accepting that you need to find an equal in life in order to have a good relationship, as she sings the lines, ‘I’m a need a bad mother fucker like me’. It features a heavy synth melody and echoing vocals that send a chill down the spine that paired with a string accompaniment makes for great material.
Mother Earth is a stripped down ballad, with just vocals and an acoustic guitar. It showcases her raw vocal ability and makes for a cool, paced down tune. However, it seems a little out of place on the LP and possibly more fitting on a purely pop creation. It lacks the brooding, grittiness that Banks does so well. Radio ready Judas stand outs, as it combines hip-hop sentiments with cool R&B vibes. Fans of The Weeknd will love this piece, it re-ignites the much needed fire that has been dampened by its moderately lacklustre predecessor.
Although this is a great album that will please returning fans of Banks and includes catchy alt-pop to savour the palette – it is nothing ground-breaking. Singles are often indistinct and much like any other female alt-pop/R&B artist currently on the market. She hasn’t got the impact of a debut, as we have already been introduced to her as an artist, and she doesn’t have the weird uniqueness that pierces you instantly after one listen that we get from fellow artists such as FKA Twigs or Grimes. It is safe to say, although she admits to creating The Altar out of a new appreciation and discovery of herself as an artist, she hasn’t taken enough risks. Stand outs Gemini Feeds, Fuck with Myself and Judas get the appreciation they deserve, but it is nothing we haven’t heard before. The Altar is available now.
Words by Lauren E. Hewitt