Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jillian Banks, otherwise known as simply Banks, has been labelled with the tag “Artist to Watch” since the start of the year, garnering nominations for BBC Sound of 2014 and MTV’s Brand New for 2014, after Banks released her first two EPs, Fall Over and London, to positive reviews.
While Banks was more than deserving of the early recognition which came with being nominated for such awards – especially after the brilliant brooding intensity of Before I Ever Met You – such plaudits can be less of a blessing and more a curse. The exposure is certainly great, but it does also heap a whole lot of pressure on the artist. As a result, expectations for her debut LP, Goddess, are understandably high.
However, anyone who has been following the early stages of Banks’ career will be largely familiar with much of her first studio album, with several of the songs from her debut EPs making the cut. Although that is not necessarily a problem, it does take away some of the excitement surrounding the release of the record – something that is not rediscovered by the remainder of Goddess.
Those tracks that had previously made an impact still make an impression, with Waiting Game just as wonderfully compelling as it was when it appeared on the London EP. The track builds on Banks’ most prized assets, her vocal and the piano – which she taught herself as a teenager to get through her parents’ divorce – as she aches: “Don’t tell me listen to your song because it isn’t the same/ I don’t wanna say your love is a waiting game.”
The same goes for the Jamie Woon and Lil Silva-produced This Is What It Feels Like, which is another favourite from the London EP and demonstrates Banks’ at her woozy, R&B-inspired best. Then there’s the minimalistic Change, where she sounds assured and confident in her direction – displaying the sort of raw emotion that resulted in her opening for The Weeknd in 2013.
Yet for all the individual moments of sleek electronic beauty, Goddess as a whole often sounds frustratingly unconvincing and almost fragmented in its production. The tracks that had already been aired ahead of the album’s release sit uncomfortably amongst the rest, with part of the problem due to the number of producers involved over the lengthy 59-minute running time.
The end of Goddess, in particular, seems to completely ditch the electronic element that seemed at the core of Banks’ first few releases. Someone New is a straightforward acoustic ballad that sounds rather out of place, while closer Under The Table is a forgettable attempt at finishing the album with a track dripping in heartfelt intimacy. Far better is the piano-driven You Should Know Where I’m Coming From, even if it is somewhat heavy handed in its delivery.
It’s a shame as well, because the album starts off impressively with the Sohn-produced excellence of Alibi, where a moody electronic beat provides the foundations for a far more powerful and wide-ranging vocal delivery from Banks. Lead single Brain also makes good on the promise of those early EPs, with its stuttering beat slowly building towards a dramatic chorus that sees her really let loose.
That said, the overwhelming feeling that Goddess leaves is one of a missed opportunity. The album’s best moments only go to highlight how average the rest of it is and by the end it just begins to drag, with tracks like Fuck Em Only We Know sounding like an inferior version of Jessie Ware. Indeed, as talented as Banks is – and she remains a bright future prospect – she will struggle to justify the hype until she really nails down her sound.