October 4, 2014

MIXTAPE | Banks

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By ZACHARY DE STEFAN

Jillian Banks — commonly known just as Banks — is currently at the forefront of what might be best described as the “moody” R&B genre. Drawing well-deserved comparisons to The Weeknd (with whom she toured throughout the past year) and Aaliyah, Banks has managed to craft a sound all her own; at its best, her music is mesmerizing and thought-provoking. At its worst, some of her songs may come across as a little too brooding or depressing for certain tastes, and I can understand that; her music isn’t for everyone. Yet there is an undeniable elegance to her voice and a deepness to her lyrics that is unfortunately uncommon in today’s pop “standards,” those same five or 10 songs you hear being replayed on every radio station across the country.

Earlier this month, Banks dropped her debut album, Goddess, consisting of 18 tracks, many of which she recycled from her previous EPs, Fallover and London. This is not to suggest that she is lacking in creativity. Whereas a number of her songs touch upon very similar themes of heartbreak and empowerment, I can’t help but embrace the majority of them with open arms, perhaps because I’m still in love with the first song I ever heard by Banks — her cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” which was originally made famous by its appearance in the 1989 teen drama, Say Anything…, starring John Cusack.

Your best bets from Goddess are arguably the Shlomo-produced “Brain” and “Drowning,” which features production by Shux. “Brain” is a slow burner that really explodes when it reaches its second verse, as Banks taps her upper register and tauntingly belts, “I can see you struggling / Boy, don’t hurt your brain.” What begins a collected, almost soothing song evolves into a powerful cacophony of distorted vocals and menacing background chants around the two minute mark — definitely give this song a listen if just to appreciate some of Banks’ eclectic choices when it comes to production. “Drowning” is less bitter than “Brain,” but just as mocking — over a gently pounding percussive beat and looped vocals, Banks sings, “You are not deserving” so many times that we get the impression that she just can’t let go of whatever she once had — hence, her repetition of the line, “I’m drowning for ya.” Yet “Drowning” is far from your typical break-up anthem; there is no wallowing in self-pity here. At its core, it is a song of empowerment, and though curt at times, “Drowning” is a very mature selection that feature Banks’ vocals at their sultriest and strongest. Take note, Taylor Swift — there’s a new break-up songstress in town. And if Goddess is any proof, Banks is most definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Zachary de Stefan is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at zad6@cornell.edu. Mixtape will run alternate Fridays.