The summer of 2014 has meant resurgence for pop-infused R&B music. Lana Del Rey added an unadventurous yet radio-friendly sophomore album in Ultraviolence. More notably, How to Dress Well released album of the year candidate What Is This Heart?, stepping out of long-term underground fandom into a more accessible spotlight. In her full-length debut, LP1, FKA Twigs earned comparisons to a new-age, trip hop version of pop icon Aaliyah.
At the tail end of a busy summer, how does downtempo starlet Jillian Banks (known simply as Banks) stack up with her full-length debut Goddess? Well, Goddess seems a fitting title after multiple listens. While hipster music authorities at Pitchfork are quick to denote Goddess as a ‘boring’ follow up to 2013’s London EP, they neglect to acknowledge the intentional drift from her contemporaries that Banks has taken. Expectations for Banks’ Goddess were quite lofty following an international tour with crooning R&B star and Drake label mate The Weeknd. The now 26-year-old was also nominated for BBC’s Sound of 2014 award, which only generated more hype.
Goddess is exactly what the pop music scene has been missing for quite some time. It is daring in its extremely minimalist approach; Banks lets her vocal range speak for itself. Each beat sounds nearly incomplete, only offering subtle nuances to supplement her commanding, immaculate voice. Teaming up with highly esteemed electronic music producers such as Shlohmo and Sohn, Banks had soundscapes designed to match her vocals, rather than the other way around. This was a risky approach that some will consider to be the pitfall of Goddess. Too slow, too melancholic, too hushed, they will say. At seventy-six minutes long, some critics will simply not understand its worth.
Unlike the majority of her female contemporaries, Banks does not use her collaboration with big-name producers to take on a faux-rap persona with her vocal delivery (think Jhene Aiko, Lana Del Rey). Much of the appeal of Banks comes from her inability to be bombastic. Her debut serves as an earnest confessional. Goddess wears its heart on its sleeve, but wants you to appreciate it from afar. It is an album that will not demand your attention with catchy hooks and cookie-cutter song structures.
The most likely of tracks to spread to the mainstream radio is the epic “Waiting Game”, providing the most heartfelt moment of the album, as Banks bellows “Don’t tell me to listen to your song because it isn’t the same.”
Banks displays a similar brazen attitude on “Brain”, giving her vocals free reign over a bed of Shlohmo’s cathartic, droning production. “Drowning” is the kind of heart-on-the-sleeve track Lana Del Rey has tried to perfect for years, but took her clichés a bit too far.
Overall, Goddess is by no means a departure from recent indie pop and R&B trends. In fact, the album embraces all of the trends, but approaches them with a more balanced approach. There is no groundbreaking lyrical approach. The album is riddled with hip song titles and punchy choices in profanity. The album art itself is nothing but trendy aesthetic featuring the heartthrob herself, Jillian Banks.
What stands Goddess apart is its ability to prioritize vocal prowess over glitz and sex appeal. L.A.-based Banks knows she has a trifecta on her hands, and only the right audience will truly get it. Goddess has the kind of soul-bearing artistry lacked in debut albums released by Banks’ camera-friendly electronic R&B colleagues.
Tyler Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org