Album Review: The Altar
Banks delivers fresh new beats without losing her voice at “The Altar”
Following a two year hiatus since the release of her sophomore album, “Goddess,” Banks welcomes us back into her world with “The Altar,” released last month by Harvest Records.
Filled with familiar distorted sounds and hypnotic beats from beginning to end, the album makes a point to hypnotize fans into feeling as though Banks never left. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore the underlying message that transforms the work into something fresh and new.
“The Altar” is Banks’ way of desperately pleading to be saved from herself. Seeking redemption from the pain she had held onto so steadily in the past would ultimately lead her to experience growth, rising from the ashes as a stronger musician. The only way she is able to achieve this is through her music.
The track “Gemini Feed” demonstrates this as she moves away from “Goddess” and flows into the newest album. Lyrics such as, “but admit it that you wanted me smaller/If you could have let me grow/You could have kept my love” reveal how she couldn’t rely on the music industry to support her growth, as they instead tried to hinder her from reaching her true potential. This in turn ignites a feeling of self-empowerment as she becomes a stronger individual in herself and her music. Banks no longer needs to rely on others in the music industry to become the artist she knows she is as described in the bold track, “F--k With Myself.”
Although it is comforting to know we have not lost our artist following her tour with The Weeknd in the past year, it is important to note there is a subtle difference in the new sound Banks presents. Is the fact that “The Altar” sneaks in more dark pop undertones than usual through the choice of beats? Partly. However, one of the most notable differences would have to be the newfound level of strength found within Banks’ voice. Gone are the days of uncertainty, and in its place is the powerful voice that taps into the raw emotion that is just as crisp as when the song lyrics had been put on paper.
This sudden change leads to levels of skepticism as to whether or not the new voice is truly authentic. Songs such as “F--k with Myself,” “Trainwreck” and “Weaker Girl” demand the need for independence and freedom as Banks develops a tone that makes her seem like a tough young woman who should by no means be messed with. Although a part of this has the potential to make one cringe with the feeling it may be forced, we do hear from her own perspective that this is her genuine way of moving towards something different, even if it means experimenting with a variety of styles and sounds while still carrying through with the same message. Banks acknowledges the fact that she is human in the sense that she should be able to express herself strongly and has no reason to apologize for it. Although she vocalizes this throughout the album, it is no surprise the newfound feeling of gaining control may still have areas that are still becoming used to the adjustment, which only continues to capture the humanistic effect of it all.
Smooth contradictions in “Mind Games,” the whispers from her soul in “Mother Earth” and “27 Hours” and the infectious beats in “Judas” and “Poltergeist” made it to my list of songs worth repeating. They blend fluidly within the dark R&B genre while still leaving room for pop potential, which is sure to hook new listeners. It’s perfect for sitting around in your room getting work done, or chilling with a couple of friends on a weekend. The album is beautifully crafted, and I highly doubt you’ll leave it without having at least one song you love.