Banks' debut album Goddess is reflexively honest and dripping with desire
Jillian Banks just has it. Take even the briefest glance at her endless stream of black-and-white photoshoots, or her equally dramatic videos, and without even hearing her music, you might already know what she sounds like. It takes a certain kind of audacity to call your debut album Goddess, but only fearlessness lets you spend so much of it exposing your all-too-human flaws instead. Goddess may sound like on-trend 2014 alt-R&B, but Banks deserves your attention for its name alone.
Pop music is inherently sexual, even - especially - when it won't admit it. It's in the uninhibited rush of emotions, the Freudian obsession with self-affirmation, the way those teenage symphonies straddle the line between euphoric and embarrassing. But on Goddess, even the climaxes feel untouchable. It's the absence of sex, where pure desire rules, or when you finally get what you want and you feel more distant than ever. Or it's when you might finally be in a good place, when you've repressed all your little perversions, but you can't help revealing them anyway.
Banks' ideal self is the femme fatale; scorned by past lovers, driven by revenge fantasies, toying with men's emotions in return. But over the course of the album, you can never tell who's more broken. “Brain” starts off brooding, but halfway through, a showstopping octave jump turns the same lyrics into vicious, wounded taunts. It's as if she needs those two minutes just to build up the courage. Her fearlessness is far more than a front, but even her most imposing songs deliberately feel like they might shatter on impact.
For all her classic LA noir mystique, Banks' willingness to play the villain doesn't make her any less relatable. She's reflexively honest; you might not get through nowadays, but her personal phone number is still on her Facebook page. You see Jillian Banks in the sunlight, and she's just some uncommonly precocious 26-year-old. But a fully realised popstar is so much more than a singer. Music, make-up, styling, movement; they're all performing the same fierceness. Deep down, she doesn't entirely believe her own invulnerability, but take one look at her, and you should know better than to fuck with a goddess.
Goddess' emotional climax comes as a coda, between its quietest moments. “Under the Table” isn't the album's first stripped-down acoustic track, but the instrumentation's almost irrelevant. It's proof Banks is entirely herself in any circumstance. She can embody pop flawlessness, but she's still just as damaged as everyone else. Fed up with games and illusions, she allows herself to let go. “I'm tired of waiting for permission to love”. She sings it three times: first as a confession, then as a demand, and finally, as a mantra. “Won't you be my problem? / It's okay if it hurts.”