I had the opportunity to see Banks at the Greek Theatre and, like an idiot, missed it. As a fan of the downtempo, murky, R&B sound in general, I have a predisposition to her type of music. The singles she’s released thus far have been right up my alley. The track “Warm Water” in particular struck me as notable. It’s sexy, but simple. Even tempered.
The London EP could be seen as the aftermath of the relationship that started in that track. It’s probably not, BUT that’s the lens I’m looking through mainly because it gives Banks’ releases a good narrative. Does it make a good album though? Let’s see…
“The way you make me feel all sexy, but it’s causing me shame.”
That line sets the overall tone throughout London. She’s a contrast to the empty, ultimately futile landscape of relationship nonsense that plays itself out on the more masculine channels of pop music. She’s feminine. Not weak, but clearly quite concerned about her love with said dude.
The music is by SOHN, a producer/singer whose own work walks that same path of melancholy. The production is a deep, plodding thing. It thumps along like the slowing beats of a dying heart, while the lyrics are full of conflict and hesitation and doubt.
Of course the person she’s talking about is a performer. Perhaps she means that in the literal sense (he’d be a player, similar to the stereotypical male R&B/hip-hop character). Perhaps, the figurative sense (he’s acting when he should just be honest). She’s in love with a dude who’s an asshole and probably a musician.
It’s, like, the most LA story ever told.
“This is What it Feels Like”
This is my favorite vocal range for Banks, easily. I like her voice; I just don’t think that she can manage every type of singing. This mid-tempo, sexy R&B thing works for her. At one point the track breaks down to just a sweeping low frequency where Banks takes over the hook. Aw yiss.
This was the first track that really gave me a feel for how Banks’ voice performs by itself. Easily, this is my favorite track to hear her sing. Not my favorite Banks song — that honor goes to “Warm Water” — but it’s good. Also, Lil’ Silva deserves a hearty pat on the back for this production. You will need subwoofers for this one.
Speaking of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Banks enlisted his production for “Bedroom Wall” as well. Her already airy, understated sound gets turned down another notch here. Banks carries on about a broken relationship, a damaged promise, and losing shit for another person. She’s…kinda soulful. I like it mostly. The first three minutes are the best part.
“Change” (prod. Tim Anderson)
Oh shit. He called you an instigator? This dude makes you cry just because he feels like it? What a jerk! This whole song is about what a giant asshole her boything is. It’s basically a checklist for determining if you’re in an abusive relationship.
The song is good. It’s only got a drum, bass guitar, and some effects. She’s simultaneously pleading and sorrowful. Her voice doesn’t really stray from the lane you’ve been hearing for the rest of the album, but that’s okay. I think she’s at her best when telling a story through song instead of singing for the heck of singing. The understated nature of her sound makes it an ideal format for telling lyricism and showing off poetic ability. That detail is not going to get lost in showiness.
Ultimately I think that’s the part of Banks’ image that I like the most. Her music (and her marketing) eschew the loud, look-at-me flashiness that pop music usually relies on to draw attention to itself. It’s not like she couldn’t because the reality is she’s smoking hot gorgeous. She elects elegance and understatement over extravagance. That’s a movement that seems to be picking up steam.
As much as I like London, I’m more interested in what we’ll be hearing from Banks next. I now know that she can sing, that her production is good, that she can write, and that “Warm Water” and “Before I Ever Met You” aren’t flukes. I hope she’s comfortable with attention because I think she’ll be getting a lot more of it soon.