By Eden van der Moere
Every once in a while, a debut album comes along that is truly magnetizing. Goddess, the debut album of solo-artist Banks, is such an album. Banks is an upcoming young singer-songwriter from California—and not the most traditional one. Instead of only using a guitar, a microphone and a loopboard, Banks uses an entire symphony of electronics. In 2013, Banks became an online hype after her single, “Waiting Game”, featured in the Victoria’s Secret holiday commercial. A year later, the same song played in the cinemas, as it was featured on the soundtrack of “Divergent”, the successful adaptation of Veronica Roth’s best-selling novel. On September 4 2014, Banks released her debut album, Goddess, and I have not been able to stop listening.
Her low, jazz-like voice is surrounded by a whirlwind of complex beats and rhythmic synthesizers. In a way, it reminds me of debut albums of similar contemporary solo-artists, such as Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Thomas Azier’s Hylas. Banks, however, sets herself apart with Goddess. She combines thumping, slow, and deep beats with grace and melodies and lyrical focus, characteristics that I associate with artists such as Sia and London Grammar. Banks combines R&B rhythms with personal and heartfelt lyrics. She sings about love gone wrong, loneliness, and growing up; relatable subjects. The result of adding synthesizers into the mix is a breathtaking debut album, Goddess.
Whereas Lorde’s Pure Heroine remains minimalistic, Banks really dives into the depth and complexity of her synthesizer beats. This is most noticeable on one of the high-points of the album, “Brain”. The song starts off slow and threatening; “Trying to look smart / but not too smart / to threaten anything they say”, with echoing beats and glimpses of the grand finale scattered across the composition. All this builds up to the climax of the song, in which vocals and synths dramatically intertwine in an epic finale. Another difference between both Lorde’s debut album and Goddess, is the distribution of the elements in the composition of the songs. On Banks’ album, there is a real balance between both the vocals and the synths, while Lorde puts the vocals in the centre of the song and the synths on the background. Banks uses both elements in a more balanced way, creating an equal and thoughtful ensemble.
But what really sets Banks apart from her peers, are the honest and heartfelt ballads that are featured on Goddess, together with the synth-filled songs. “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From”, “Someone New” and “Under the Table” are impressively accomplished ballads. Every trace of synthesizer has been stripped from the compositions and a powerful core is the result. Banks’ voice is only accompanied by either echoing piano chords and the violin, or soft guitar tunes. With these three songs, Banks goes back to her roots and how she started as a singer-songwriter, composing songs on her keyboard. The contrast between these three ballads and the rest of the album could have been stark and inappropriate, but the same complexity and lyrical focus stitches the two kinds of songs together. The result is, in my opinion, an accomplished and truly amazing debut album.
On November 15th, 2014, Banks performs at Paradiso, Amsterdam. Tickets are still available.
Eden van der Moere, class of 2017, is an Arts and Humanities major from Goes, The Netherlands.