Review: BANKS – LONDON EP

BANKS
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opinion by BRENDAN FRANK

Jillian Banks is unusually interested in developing a personal relationship with her listeners. Although she gets her manager to handle all of her social media pages, a personal cell number is posted on her Facebook profile, and she encourages fans to call. In an era of informational assault, the idea of having a one-on-one conversation with a musician is almost absurd. It’s an atypical sort of M.O., to be sure; but as the four tracks of her debut EP crawl through your speakers, it becomes apparent that Banks is more focused on keeping the people already in her life from leaving.

Recording under just her last name, Jillian Banks hails from Los Angeles, but her EP is titled London. Fittingly so, as it has much more in common with the dim, turbulent, microprocessed pop that’s currently being turned out by the likes of FKA Twigs, London Grammar and Jamie Woon (who chips in on production duties here) than with anything west of the Atlantic. Backstopped by reliably intimate music, her fervid lyrics mostly deal with abuse, loss and obsession. These songs catch your ear like pop music, but they stick with you for entirely different reasons.

The most fascinating object on London is Banks’ voice. We begin with “Waiting Game”, where she continuously sounds as though she’s singing with half of a breath in her lungs. What begins as a mild-mannered piano ballad is swiftly overthrown by roiling subbass, right after Banks offers up her thesis: “What if I never even see you ’cause we’re both on a stage…I don’t wanna say your love is a waiting game.” There’s a restlessness to her delivery, as if patience is the only thing that she is currently incapable of.

The middle tracks delve even deeper. On “This Is What It Feels Like”, the gloom invades fully by way of stun-gun electronics and eerie, groaning melodies. As implied by the title, Banks takes her time to revel in schadenfreude, with a venomous barb at the chorus that seethes with unequivocal resentment. The production has the quality of a fever dream, with noises sounding off from an impossible distance. From a strictly sonic standpoint, it’s London’s strongest song. Following up is the inconspicuous “Bedroom Wall”, where Banks debates the merits of leaving reminders with indoor graffiti amidst hushed, twitchy rhythms and cascading chimes.

The conflict between the need to move on and the paralyzing fear of “what now?” reaches a full boil on “Change”. Banks’ words reveal themselves more as ordinary conversation than prose. “You self-incriminate by avoiding all my questions and calling me an instigator,” she sings, the words crumbling the instant they leave her mouth. A poignant synthline sputters around playfully, and introduces some warmth to an otherwise icy collection. The arc is left largely unresolved, but it’s not unsatisfying by any stretch. The fuse has been lit. London is just a prologue, but it’s an exceedingly promising one. [B+]

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