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Arts in Review

BANKS releases astonishingly soulful debut album

After several tantalizing singles, 25-year-old Gillian Banks, known simply as BANKS, released her debut album, Goddess, at the end of the first week of September.

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By Martin Castro (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 17, 2014

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After several tantalizing singles, 25-year-old Gillian Banks, known simply as BANKS, released her debut album, Goddess, at the end of the first week of September.

Goddess opens with “Alibi,” a track that introduces BANKS’ emotionally charged, soulful voice and calm, minimalist production work. “Goddess” immediately follows, giving the listener a soundscape full of space, while BANKS croons over sparse beats.

“Waiting Game” is one of the record’s best tracks, opening with a very simple piano melody; BANKS starts off in a very reserved mood as synthesizer notes build up in the background. Eventually, we’re treated to a climax that perfectly blends modern, synth-laden production with BANKS’ powerful voice.

“Brain” follows; an exemplary track, it highlights BANKS’ ability to hold her own in a lower register. Banks delivers a very passionate chorus that conveys desperation, while still keeping her trademark R&B influence. “Brain” is followed by “This is What it Feels Like,” which is home to some of the most emotional lyrics of the whole record. Its calm vulnerability gives way to a drone  which signals the beginning of a staggeringly powerful chorus.

Perhaps the best song on the whole record, “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From” stands starkly in the middle of Goddess. Starting from a seemingly unsure and hesitant sentiment, “You Should Know…” builds up in tension until the final chorus, where BANKS belts out one of the most hauntingly beautiful choruses I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. The solitary piano makes her delivery stand out even more than before; this song relies pretty much on just vocals to carry it along, and it definitely succeeds. This is, perhaps, a perfect track.

“Drowning,” one of the record’s lead singles, is  amazing, exemplifying all that I’ve come to love about BANKS. There’s a lot of space in “Drowning:” the song takes its time, and BANKS herself gives us one of the best vocal performances on the record. Her sultry voice and stark emotionality abound.

From this point on, Goddess only gets better (barring “You Should Know,” which is easily the highlight of the record). “Begging for Thread” is more pop-influenced, but each verse is possessed by a soulfulness rarely found in music today, as well as once again showcasing the sheer beauty of BANKS.

“Change” is a track that has easily the most intimate lyrics in the record, again barring “You Should Know.” BANKS’ voice wavers slightly while singing, which produces an amazingly appealing effect.

“Someone New” is the only fully acoustic song on Goddess, but man, does it get the job done. The song, which plays out almost like a ballad, is incredibly bluesy, making use of BANKS’ smoky voice. The song conjures the image of a lounge-singer crooning at a nightclub in which every left hand holds a glass of scotch and every right hand holds a cigarette. “Warm Water” has a muddled, restrained urgency that gradually washes the over everything.

Goddess is quite literally one the best debut records I have ever seen an artist put out, and leaves me in awe of what BANKS might produce as she refines her craft.

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