The combination isn’t new—take one part sultry vocalist singing heart-wrenching lyrics and combine it with haunting downtempo beats. The result? Instant Internet success—something LA-based songstress Banks has been riding since BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe played “Before I Ever Met You” off a Soundcloud rip last February. And while Banks has penned lyrics for the better part of ten years, her sound is undeniably of-the-moment, in no small part thanks to the trendy producers she has worked with at a time when electronic music is at the height of its popularity.
Goddess, Banks’s freshman album, is a follow-up to 2013’s championed London EP. Boasting the same producers, including Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Lil Silva, SOHN, Shlohmo, and Jamie Woon, the LP continues down the familiar path of atmospheric beats, shrouded in sensuous, shadowy lyrics. These lyrics are what give Banks her edge; as her voice bellows around her words, the vulnerability and honesty you get is one hundred percent Banks—it’s why you continue to listen.
The album opens on “Alibi,” produced by SOHN, who also produced the single “Waiting Game,” and is one of the strongest new tracks on the album. The London-born, Vienna-based producer’s signature icy percussion and synth effortlessly glide into Banks’s dusty voice. “Please, give me something to convince me that I’m not a monster,” pleads Banks, in her first of many odes to fallen love.
On the album’s title track “Goddess,” Banks comes together with British producer Lil Silva, who has been championed for helping establish her distinctive sound. The singer, who is self-proclaimed as shy, feeds her response to any negativity that’s been directed at her with a fictional goddess who serves as an all-encompassing metaphor for those who have persevered. “The song’s called ‘Goddess’ because every woman is a fucking goddess,” said Banks as she debuted the single back in March. Lil Silva’s clicky, finger-snapping breakbeats further serve as the perfect background for the obsessive and sultry “Stick,” as Banks’ voice coats each pulse.
Often filed somewhere between her trip-hop and PBR&B contemporaries FKA Twigs and The Weeknd and the inescapable influence of vocalists like Aaliyah, Brandy, and Fiona Apple, what separates Banks is her raw honesty. Sang acoustically, “Someone New” is a painful letter to a former lover. Calmly yet emotionally charged, Banks sings, “Everything I do, I’m gonna think of you/Don’t know what else to do.”
Goddess reveals a side to Banks has only been visible before in her live performances, namely her acoustic cover of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody,” her ability to sing a ballad. “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From” further highlights her voice with the support of only a piano for the better part of the song, showing there is more to her music than electronic production.
As a whole, Goddess often feels like a combination of freestanding singles (which it is) with ballads peppered throughout (which, again, it is). This isn’t a negative thing. Like the emotions of a relationship, Goddess vacillates between manic obsession and heart-yanking pain; it’s a window into the soul of the industry’s little goddess. Banks puts everything out for us to see, meaning every lyric she sings. In an album where most of the tracks can stand on their own, her brute honesty and relatability are what ultimately may let her crossover into the pop realm, bringing her dark and brooding production along with her.
Goddess is out Tuesday from Harvest Records.
Styling by Maya Krispin. Makeup by Elizabeth Ulloa. Hair by Hether Beckrest at Workgroup using Oribe. Stylist’s assistant: Amy Serrano.
Yelena Perlin is an art director based in New York. She moonlights as a music fanatic. Say hello to her on Twitter @yelenalena.