Banks’ new album, “The Altar,” is generally vulnerable, both in terms of lyrical content as well as the composition of the sound. That being said, the description “vulnerable” is not interchangeable with “weak” in any sense. The singer-songwriter is many times associated with a style reflecting the personal nature of the songs.
However, it is especially clear throughout her newest album that she is not ashamed of her displays of emotion and is fearlessly grappling with social restrictions imposed on women and individuality with a new and improved artistic nature.
In one track off of “The Altar,” Banks vocalizes her frustrations with suffocating expectations women face in society, with the song “Mother Earth.” She paints the image of a woman who stays strong and supportive, despite feeling consumed by the societal pressures of beauty that are placed on women at a young age.
She equates the heavy feeling of social pressure to being underwater, while creating a sense of community among the women who experience this same feeling, all within the first line: “Underwater, consuming all my kind.”
The song expresses the rejection of a socially acceptable standard of beauty as she sings that she will not “cover up the freckles on her face.” This lyrical phrase is conveyed over an arrangement that is largely focused on the organic sounds of her acoustic guitar, in contrast to her typically electronic sound.
The sparse nature of the music allows the listener to connect with the music, only interjecting lyrics to gear the musical message.
“Gemini Feed,” is an anthem of self reliance, in which Banks confronts her realization of individual strength. The title of the song relating to her own zodiac sign reflect the song’s association to a personal identity. She references “Gemini,” a sign represented by twins, to show how the commonality in a relationship hindered individual expression. Her confident and smooth voice slices through the comparatively fast-paced track itself, reflecting the straight forward nature of her words as she sings, “If you would’ve let me grow, you could’ve kept my love.” The ambient sounds that grace the background of the music are juxtaposed with a driving electronic beat, while Banks sings of being held back from finding herself while being in a relationship and own individual strength to rebuild. This song represents her own journey to discovering how her relationship, and significant other specifically, was the biggest things holding her back from her individuality.
“Weaker Girl,” is a modern allusion to Beyonce’s “Run The World.” The song is about every woman’s realization of her own independence. The song begins with her signature, whimsical sound on a minimally manipulated track, as it portrays the image of a relationship that is slowly fading away. When the beat drops the song into the chorus, she shamelessly opens up to a significant other about the fact that she has outgrown them.
Unapologetically, she explains that if they can’t appreciate her strength and personal growth, they should search for a weaker girl that they can keep up with. Bank’s word choice refers to the perpetuated idea that a woman needs a man to be complete or strong. She rejects this notion by urging her former partner to “tell them you were mad about the way I grew strong.” Her syntax and lyrical expressiveness help to carry her strong message forward and stays consistent throughout most of the album.
The message of “The Altar” is of strength in vulnerability which directly relates to not only her own journey, but also many people who are discovering themselves. I believe this album successfully conveyed the importance of self reliance, as well as the power of femininity, through an anecdotal account of her own continued maturation.
It’s difficult to throw Banks into a single genre, as she continues to push the boundaries of her previous musical explorations. Her music shows the path of someone in fear of their individuality to that of a confident and expressive individual.
“The Altar” not only pushes stylistic boundaries, but also pushes the boundaries that society creates. I’m sure I’m not the only who is looking forward to the artistic innovations that Banks will bring us with her next conceptually inventive album.