The second album’s the key these days, isn’t it? That certainly feels like the case with Banks, whose debut stumbled a little under the weight of successful EPs. But now, much like the cover of The Altar, she’s shorn of the frills and adornments that are expected of female pop acts. For the first time, it feels like we’re seeing the real Jillian Banks with clarity.
That’s been evident in the singles she’s already released though. Gemini Feed was a storming bit of smoky R&B that felt leagues ahead of anything on her debut, but it’s Fuck With Myself that (both visually and on record) propels her into Twigs-level genre accomplishment with three minutes of pure marvel. Banks feels less restrained, more confident, and willing to take risks. “I used to care what you think about me,” she says. The fact that she doesn’t any more is wonderfully apparent.
And by the Christ, can she still craft a hit. Lovesick is a perfect blend of structure and melody, and one of the catchiest songs she’s ever made. The mood stays melancholic with Mind Games, with Banks letting loose as a fucked-off lover calling out a litany of shit that could be aimed at both a relationship and, well, people like us. And even while there are songs called Trainwreck, Banks has never been more assured in both owning her own shit and decrying that of others.
It’s a shame this new album hasn’t had much lead-up fanfare, then, because not only does it mark Banks out as an indelible talent but also makes for a supreme exercise in being self-positive, even in its lashings of melancholic monochrome and ownership of fault. We could maybe do without the campfire singalong of Mother Earth, but it’s still important to recognise what The Altar truly is: this isn’t about devotion to a higher power or an ideology so much as a shrine to the self. In today’s landscape of female pop, that alone makes it an essential record… but yes, the banging tunes more than help the case for it being the best of its kind in 2016.