This Is What It Feels Like: Banks, London Review

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Banks is a very mysterious, very intriguing musical character. All her fans have is one name. We know she’s fixated with black and white, and that she keeps her plans and feelings close to the vest at all times. Yet those who have seen and listened to her find themselves utterly fascinated with this Los Angeles beauty.  After the release of “Before I Ever Met You“, listeners found themselves bewildered and left in left field.  After the release of “Warm Water“, newfound fans cemented their fandom and found themselves simply yearning for more. The year 2013 has been one  hell of a time for music, and artists like Banks have been able to craft their own lane and flourish in a period where excellence is the only accepted currency.  It can be a hard pill to swallow, but personal sincerity through transparent lyricism is seemingly more open than personal sincerity through public twerking.  And it’s here that Banks has her more popular contemporaries beat.  There’s a certain vulnerability there, with every new track that Banks finds herself apart of and it’s because of this reason that her London EP separates itself from many recent projects that have come and gone. The EP is only four tracks deep, yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, more cohesive collection of songs out this year.

Banks’ voice is by no means “weak”, yet it isn’t quite as strong as others who would be considered her peers. Vocalists such as the powerful Hannah Reid, sexy Samantha Urbani, and even the younger Lorde would give our heroine a run for her money in terms of an outright singer’s battle royale. Yet Banks has them all beat with her seductively sultry sound. Her presence is soft and tender, yet still present enough to make you feel what she’s feeling.

London begins with “Waiting Game”, a track that starts off slow but quickly becomes a throbbing, menacing wave of energy lush with dark synths that barely ever lets up. SOHN, a UK producer who has proven himself with an impressive catalogue (see Lessons) holds nothing back and sets a hard tone for Banks to follow up with. But the new-wave, post R&B singer is up to the challenge.

“This Is What It Feels Like” (which has my vote for top 10 tracks of the year) is the second track, and God does it deliver. The alluring offering enticingly slithers its way along an underlying backbone of electronic whirring. Lil Silva’s UK grime influence is especially present as it combines with Jamie Woon’s spectral chord progression and forms a song that will be hard to top on many year-end lists. Banks’ subtly abrasive chorus “Bring it down/bring it on” is the perfect contrast to her ambivalence of being in a questionable relationship. She quietly implies the object of her affection is afraid to fully embrace her love for her, which in turn makes her even more hesitant to fully fall for him.

Track No. 3, “Bedroom Wall”, possesses one of those slowly provocative beats that lures you in and has a hard time letting go. TEED sets a mood that is dreamily airy, and perfectly frames Banks’ heartfelt reminiscing of “The last time that I tried to sing you a song/I couldn’t get the words out baby”. The pleasant atmosphere of the song masks a less obvious plea, which becomes most apparent when Banks asks “Do I have to write it on your bedroom wall, you fool?”.

The final track, “Change”, is a piece of music that everyone who’s ever been in a relationship can relate to. The murky subject matter deals with being involved with someone who isn’t able to recognize all of what their partner is trying to do, which is completely transforming their self in order to be accepted. Banks’ singing turns from delicately soulful to tenderly earnest. “Baby don’t go, I didn’t know/I’ll change I swear, I’ll change I swear,” is the chorus that passionately resonates with all of those who listen. Banks seems almost naked while fiercely describing her tumultuous relationship through her singing. The final result is a seemingly likable song, backed by keyboarded synths, that hides its true identity like an undecided superhero.

All in all, London is nothing short of exceptional. And while it is only four tracks deep, it should be recognized as a mesmerizing piece of music that has its listeners eager for a full-length album.

Final Verdict: 9

+ Judged on an EP (not album) scale, the variation of the four tracks’ sound is very impressive.

Banks voice finds an alluring middle ground, somewhere in between Hannah Reid and Grimes.

+ Production is top-notch.

Could we at least have gotten a fifth song (too short)?