Check our review for Banks’ III project.
I remember 2001 vividly in music. At the time MTV Base was still one of the most popular television channels and it premiered the hottest new music in rnb and hip hop daily. It was during these months that Aaliyah premiered her self-titled album which featured the single “We Need a Resolution”. The song was produced by Timbaland and it offered up an expansive beat over jumping melodies and dark rhythmic eloquence.
I had not heard anything like it and it premiered what I thought would be a new age in production. As somebody raised on the sounds of Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack and Portishead. This song felt like what Aaliyah, Static Major and Timbaland had done was to take R&B away from the modern ubiquity of the sound and move it into post modernity. The sound at the time was limited in emotional and sonic scope and had become boring and repetitive to me. I thought this single would herald a new age of sampling and composition. Sadly, the movement for me never progressed. It eventually would come of age with The Weeknd and his three mixtapes which would eventually be collected in Trilogy. What he managed to do was to add samples from artists not involved directly with the genre like Emika, Portishead and many others. What this did was to unite genre stories of sex, lust, loss and romantic betrayal with the urban expanse and metaphorical loneliness of the city. This sound created an alternate rnb sound in which the likes of A$AP Rocky, Beyonce, Kanye West and Chance The Rapper would use to embolden their sound by working with Indie and dance artists like Tame Impala, Francis and The Lights, Gesaffelstein, James Blake, Bon Iver and Boots.
Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), for me was at the forefront of this sound as he brought immediacy and poise to shallow stories of sex and drugs whilst embracing the hypocritical paradigm of feeling lonely whilst surrounded by models and strippers. Whilst his music is special it still felt at times that he was playing a character. What I personally yearned for was an artist who could unite his musical spirit and sexuality with the gravitas that only personal understanding and relationships can bring.
This brings me to the third album by US artist Banks. Her first album Goddess was released in 2014. At the time many of it’s singles had been released on EP’s or on their own. This seemed to hamper the album for many fans as when the finished album arrived we had already heard most of what was to be offered on the album. Jillian Rose Banks had also brought her vocals alongside Lil Silva on his 2014 EP Mabel with the songs “Don’t You Love Me” and “Right For You”. Goddess featured production from Silva himself amongst SOHN, Shlohmo and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. These producers are artists within their own right and they brought the same distinct synth pop vernacular to this album. Yet Banks was still able to be singular with her own vision on this album. Songs like “Waiting Game”, “Begging for Thread” and “Brain” offered reflections on sensuality, the self, and how that reflects upon the present. Over layered production and some glorious hooks Banks established a sound for herself that for me was second to none. But as a long playing album whilst I loved it, I felt that it told personal stories without the prevalence of an understanding of idiosyncratic history. The album was still excellent and it was backed by some of the best music videos I have ever seen.
Banks followed up Goddess with The Altar in 2016. This album added in production from Tim Anderson, DJ Dahi along with her previous collaborators. She continued her use of one word titles for her songs mimicking the movie like aesthetic and expanse of her previous album. Like the movie directors Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve who also favour this use of a one word title (their next projects are called Dune and Tenet respectively) even this title use added a sense of beauty, melodrama and immediacy to every song. This album was superb, and again it was set against inventive music videos and solidified a wildly appreciative fan base. The album was more intimate than her predecessor but again I felt it was an almost perfect album because it was lacking a sense of historical emotionality.
Banks then went away for three years, only releasing a collaboration with TALA called “Wolfpack” and the single “Underdog” on her own. She alluded to this time out in an interview with Billboard magazine in which she describes the need to take some time for herself and reflect on her own artistic history and personal experiences. I can say this hiatus has led to the best album of 2019 so far and one of the best albums I have been privileged enough to listen to with: III.
III is able to marry and refine her sound whilst combining it with a sense of personal history. The album feels like the sequel to Aaliyah’s album from 2001 and takes the post modern R&B I have previously mentioned to new heights. Unlike The Weeknd, this does not feel like listening to an archetype but somebody in complete control of her emotionality and musical ability.
On the tracks “Sawzall” and “Hawaiin Mazes”, Banks is able to offer a beautifully naïve sensibility to her vocals with a sense of vulnerability. It is also prevalent that both of these songs offer samples of children and people playing in the water against succulent strings and piano. These samples place the songs within the context of how feelings regurgitate over time if only on a subconscious level. This elevates the songs and shows a progression from her previous albums for me.
Album opener “Till Now” is a vulnerable song realised with aggressive synth percussion by Bon Iver, Francis and The Lights and Lizzo producer BJ Burton (who produces 9 of the tracks on the album). This opener reminded me of the chopped up samples used by Kanye West on his work with Kid Cudi and Pusha T last year as well as Kanye’s own “Lost in the World” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Till Now gives way to the album’s first single “Gimme” which is a stunning call to arms for sex positivity, ambition and self respect. The track is set against a back drop of Timbaland like loops which actually betters the work Timbaland and writer Danja did for Justin Timberlake on “My Love” from 2006. The accompanying visual is a stunningly sensual video in which Banks conducts a beautifully choreographed set of dancers who dance to her tune. It also references the holy trinity and sex with the prominence of a triangle in the video which evokes psycho- sexual imagery and the movie The Neon Demon. Which is also ironic as that movie is about the shallowness of beauty which Banks transcends across this entire album. She wants the listener to understand the woman behind the beauty which is essential to help people avoid simple objectification in today’s society. Sensuality and beauty are wonderful but they should also be married to respect for yourself and others.
“Contaminated” is probably the most beautiful song on the album. Here we witness the results of a toxic relationship. The slowed down vocal sample is used again as the song explodes into an anthemic chorus. “Godless” offers gorgeous vocal metaphors about the singularity we place on the object of our affection and the paradox of that love. Set against tribal like shouts and drum loops. Again this song is luscious. “Stroke” brings 1980’s synths whilst also a sense of humor and fun to proceedings coupled with the musical change ups which I would usually associate with a much longer album. One of the gifts of this album is that is relatively short but yet it feels like you are sat here with a longer novel.
“Alaska” has a salsa like flavour as we meet Jimmy who is headed to Alaska in the most fun of the choruses on the album. I would also guess amongst her fans this will song will lead to many memes on social media. This up tempo feel is carried over to “Propaganda” too.
“The Fall” evokes Ginuwine’s “I’m Crying Out” from his 1999 album 100% Ginuwine which again was produced by Timbaland. Yet Banks stamps her identity on it with handclaps and even raps on the track to stunning effect. The album closes out with two ballads “If We Were Made of Water” and “What About Love” these two songs offer a vivid sense of personal sadness, vulnerability and love against wondrous sounds of water and 808 like pre suppositions.
The album features production from Frank Ocean collaborator Buddy Ross and Hudson Mohawk (Yeezus). They give every song a sense of identity and singular scope that is iconic. It is to Banks credit that at no time is she ever overwrought by their production and always maintains her brand and vision.
In 2001 I yearned for a sequel to Aaliyah’s album. In 2019 I was lucky enough to get one. III is an album with one eye on the past but running virtuously toward the future. It is emotional, fun, expansive and is the best album of 2019. If anything comes close to matching the glory of this album this year I will be surprised.
This is the type of album I am grateful for as a listener. It is a modern classic.
Editor’s Score: 10/10
Words by @Theghostwriterc