Just a few years ago, I stumbled across a song in a “For You” playlist on Apple Music. As I began to listen to the soft piano ballad, I was moved by the songs lyrics as well as the emotion and power in the singer’s voice. The tune was called “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From,” written by an artist who I hadn’t heard of before: Banks. Now, the Indie R&B singer is on the top of my list of favorite artists.
While there are tons of well known musicians that almost everyone loves and has heard of, there are also many who don’t get as much recognition as they should. One of the several singer/songwriters who I believe more people should know about and listen to is Banks.
Jillian Banks, who uses simply her last name on stage, has released three studio albums titled: Goddess (2014), The Altar (2016) and III (2019). Although all of these albums have their own sounds that differentiate them from one another, all of Banks music is unique and unlike any other contemporary artist. If you ever listen to each of her albums in chronological order, you can see how her music and emotional expression has drastically grown and transformed.
After the first Banks song I heard, I tried to listen to her entire first album but surprisingly, I couldn’t really get into it. However, as she began releasing singles for her second LP, I went back and tried again and now Goddess is probably my favorite project of hers. Right when her second album, The Altar, was released, I knew all of the words to all of the tracks almost instantly. Ironically, even though it was the easiest to catch on to, it’s probably my least favorite album of hers now.
Again, when she first released III and its’ singles, “Contaminated” and “Gimme,” I didn’t really like it as much as her prior work. But, after forcing myself to keep listening, it is now one of my favorite albums of the year and I often still have it on repeat.
One of my favorite songs ever is a Banks x 6LACK collaboration. The song, titled “In Between,” is a feature on the deluxe version of the famous R&B artist’s album Free 6LACK. In the song, the artists talk about being stuck in a relationship, where the time has come for it to end but it is really difficult to.
The theme of relationship hardships is present in most of Banks music, as it is in the majority of music in general. Nevertheless, she is able to stray away from the pack by using writing and sound techniques that other artists can rarely handle well. A large number of Banks’ songs have symbolic titles and contain metaphorical lyrics that help tie together the stories her songs are attempting to convey in a twisted way, which leads listeners to become more interested in the content.
In the song, “Beggin’ For Thread,” Banks sings about anger from a relationship where her partner messed with her head and thought he could only be around on his own terms, when she really needed more. “Stopped down and out, you got me beggin’ for thread. To sew this hole up that you ripped in my head,” she sings. While she doesn’t directly state what the song is about, you can imply the meaning from the wordplay and context.
Her ability to manipulate words into becoming almost riddle-like, sets her apart from other music artists with larger audiences. This is one technique that tons of writers use, whether they are working on a poem or a nonfiction novel and Banks’ uses it incredibly well throughout all of her albums.
Another more unusual skill Banks’ includes in her music is often using her own voice in the background rather than instruments or computer generated sounds, which is something she discusses in an interview with Apple Music. “Before I started working with other people and collaborating and going to studios, I would hear a guitar line, a synth line, how the drums should go and would record them all on my computer in separate takes with my voice,” she states.
She goes on to talk about how this began a habit of her using her voice as background instruments, which is why most of her songs have melodic chants in them. “It’s the kind of language I’m most fluent in,” she adds. This ability is prevalent during the start of the song “Better,” and the entirety of III’s introduction track “Till Now,” but as stated previously, can be heard on almost all of her music.
Not only are her audio skills elite but her music videos and performances are immensely creative as well. In the visuals for her songs “F**k With Myself,” and “Gemini Feed,” you can see these innate abilities. She also is very open about her sexual fluidity, which can be seen in all of her productions. I had the pleasure of seeing Banks live back in 2017 and was enamored by the unique choreography from both herself and her back-up dancers. Every Banks’ project is different, which is a positive attribute compared to some artists whose music and style all stays the same or is similar to other people’s.
While Banks discusses common topics that everyone can relate to, she elaborates them in a more interesting and engaging way than most. She is an icon of female empowerment and shows women it’s okay to be brave and emotional. No matter your age, gender or usual music interests, she is someone you should definitely take a listen to. If you haven’t heard of Banks till now, you have been missing out on an amazing artist and should add all of her albums to your library as soon as possible.