Before working on her third album, BANKS needed a bit of a break. After the whirlwind of her first two album eras – we got Goddess in 2014 and The Altar in 2016 – she deserved some time to absorb everything and live more freely. The break didn’t last too long, but it did give BANKS enough time to grow and find inspiration for her most daring album yet. Her third record, III shows more sides of BANKS than before, making it a fuller, richer musical experience.
The first single we heard from III was “Gimme,” a bold and demanding song that hinted at BANKS’ newfound confidence. Indeed, throughout the album, we hear how increased self-assurance is leading BANKS into new lyrical and musical territory. She’ll taunt and mock an unworthy ex; she’ll bombard your speakers with brutal distortion one moment and soothing rainfall the next.
While the music is dazzling, you may have a harder time understanding the lyrics, at least at first. BANKS plays with her voice more, and sometimes it gets lost in the distortion and effects. But it is worth it to decipher the words, because the songs feature some of BANKS’ finest lyrics to date.
Perhaps the best part of III is how experimental and dynamic it is. BANKS has never shied away from unconventional sounds and production, but with III she pushes even farther. The music is mesmerizing – an expected feature in BANKS’ music – but it’s also daring. The music is sometimes jazzy, sometimes trippy, and always unafraid to move into very unexpected territory.
It makes for a more difficult first foray into her album, but it also ensures a more rewarding experience and one that will last longer. Indeed, you’ll keep going back to the songs to get a better understanding of the music and lyrics. Like all of her albums, it does take a bit of extra time so it can grow on you. But give III a few listens and it’ll have a chance to sink in its teeth and ensnare you.
III is a natural continuation from BANKS’ first two albums, but also one that pushes forward and keeps the music fresh. The album is bold, dynamic, and vulnerable, and it shows BANKS growing both as a person and as an artist. Listen to III a few times, because it’s a dazzling, profound album that will stay with you once you let it in.
Track by Track
“Till Now” – III kicks off with traffic sounds and a haunting, a cappella chanting. “Till Now” only grows wilder as it goes, experimenting with sounds and layers. BANKS admits, “I hate the way I miss you sometimes.” But what starts off as a hurt breakup song grows more intense, getting louder, more emphatic, and more vulnerable. BANKS declares, “I let you push me around til now”; she’s not taking it anymore! By the end, “Till Now” is a brutal assault of sounds cut short by a sudden, simple breath. It’s an intense way to start III!
“Gimme” – Next up is the album’s lead single, “Gimme,” which we first heard in late April. The song opens with intricate chanting before swiftly moving into a sparse soundscape. Low pinging provides a backdrop as BANKS murmurs the verse, a declaration of her desire for someone. The pre-chorus is more melodic and more direct. BANKS asks for confirmation that she is this person’s type, because they’re her type and she’s interested. “Gimme” then breaks into a chorus of skittering synths and percussion, with only a few direct lines repeated over the top. BANKS doesn’t shy away from being demanding or provocative here. “Gimme” isn’t as instant as BANKS’ earlier singles, but it improves with each listen and will become a favorite.
“Contaminated” – Following that daring anthem, III now moves into ballad territory. Released two days ago, “Contaminated” served as the last preview before the album dropped. Whereas the first two songs are stomping and provocative,”Contaminated” is more subdued and hazy. It starts with atmospheric piano and murmuring vocals followed by a heavy, silent pause. BANKS sings in a high, vulnerable voice, but low harmonies give her words more weight. Percussion doesn’t come until 75 seconds in, adding strength to the track. It’s a melancholic, overcast song, but the arrangements and production add extra emotion and power. At nearly 5 minutes, “Contaminated” has room to grow and sink in its teeth, making it a song that will earn extra attention.
“Stroke” – “Stroke” launches with a stripped down chorus, altered vocals initially unrecognizable as BANKS. It’s the defining spoken “stroke” that punctuates and divides the song. As the track moves into the verse, the most noticeable presence is the heavily distorted drums. It sounds like they’re underwater, while BANKS’ lyrics seem to echo from far away. The pre-chorus gets momentarily ’80s-influenced before moving into the chorus again. The brutal sound continues until it finally eases up on the bridge. Here we get a refreshingly clear and funky vibe. It’s the best part of the song, but soon enough we return to that distorted drum. On top of all that, BANKS’ vocals are high and clean, a stark contrast to the rest of the music. “Stroke” is certainly an original song that pushes into new territory.
“Godless” – Following the short spoken end to “Stroke,” “Godless” starts with faded, atmospheric vocals. BANKS sings over finger snaps, stripping away her distinctive layers in favor of vulnerability. Synthesized vocals back her until the pre-chorus adds explosions and distortion. The chorus is where it’s really at, more defiant and yet grooving. “Godless” shows strength wrapped in a pretty, inviting package. Further, the lyrics are slicing, as BANKS says, “you’ve been my god, and when you’re gone, I’m godless.”
“Sawzall” – Jangling, sweet piano opens “Sawzall,” a jazzy interlude until it fades out in favor of acoustic guitar. BANKS sings over it, her voice slightly hoarse as if she was crying beforehand. But her voice quickly grows stronger and clearer in spite of how gentle the song is. The chorus twinkles as BANKS laments, “Caught you singing from the ceiling; I thought that meant you were healing” and asks, “Why didn’t you say you need me?” Interspersed, a small child – BANKS’ niece? – can be heard saying “I told you I’m sorry,” adding a new layer to the track. “Sawzall” is an interesting collage of a song that moves in delightfully unexpected directions before echoing away like ripples of water.
“Look What You’re Doing To Me” (featuring Francis & The Lights) – Following “Gimme,” “Look What You’re Doing To Me” was the second single off III. It’s a polarizing song and the only track here to feature another artist. The song starts with desperate vocals, BANKS asking, “Why don’t you tell me you love me too?” The song grows into a stomping, alternative pop direction, with BANKS’ strained vocals overlapping with those from Francis & The Lights. It plays almost like a remix, echoing the song’s tale of two lovers in a back-and-forth relationship. “Look What You’re Doing To Me” is more immediately accessible than lead single “Gimme,” and perhaps the most kinetic songs BANKS has released so far.
“Hawaiian Mazes” – A delicate toy piano invites us into “Hawaiian Mazes” before dropping into something more old-school and sultry. Strings flutter in the background, sweetening the deep sound of the bass and beat propelling the song. Meanwhile, pings and ruffling sounds add extra dimension, making it impossible to pin it down to one mood. On the chorus, sighing vocals and descending piano riffs complement BANKS’ monotone “I can’t let you go – oh – oh – oh” refrain. “Hawaiian Mazes” is perhaps the most dynamic and intriguing song on III – quite a feat considering how diverse the tracks are. It has swagger and a modernity that’s at odds with the older vibe it harkens back to. The song ends with a black-and-white movie romanticism and splashing pool sounds. It’s a clear standout on the album.
“Alaska” – Another highlight comes with “Alaska,” a booming song that opens with bombastic drums and a jungly keyboard melody. BANKS taunts in a high voice, “You could put me in your pocket; wouldn’t you like that?” Over a rolling drumbeat, the chorus find BANKS describing a guy named Jimmy who ran away to Alaska. But in spite of the cold northern destination, “Alaska” sounds more like it was inspired by a humid forest near the equator. It’s a wild and unpredictable song, which makes it all the more fun to listen to.
“Propaganda” – Perhaps the most immediate opening on III is with “Propaganda,” which launches directly into synths and vocals. It’s a shockingly straightforward song – by BANKS’ standards – and more instantly accessible than the other songs here. In spite of the swearing, it would sound most at home on the radio. Although the verses are simpler, the chorus is undeniably infectious. The lyrics are also more vulnerable than expected, as BANKS sings, “I need help; I think I mad some bad decisions.” The song fades out on a stripped down, a cappella version of the chorus.
“The Fall” – “The Fall” also gets right to it, BANKS singing along with some synthy harmonies. Acoustic guitar grounds the song a bit, but then it lifts into an impactful chorus. “Girl, you almost made it through the fall,” BANKS sings – almost being the key word here. On the bridge, we hear something new from BANKS: She raps a bit, mocking the jealous, ungrateful woman who deserves her fate. Even on this simpler composition, BANKS still finds away to surprise her listeners
“If We Were Made Of Water” – III returns to enchanting sounds when tropical bird calls open “If We Were Made Of Water.” It’s a serene backdrop that sets the stage for this gentle, intimate song. Over solemn chords, BANKS croons, “You apologized one too many times,” yet admits that this guy has “gentle eyes that I love that I hate that I love that I hate that I love.” Sparse pulsing continues through the minimalist chorus. BANKS regretfully says, “when you asked if I could forgive you I should have said no.” Despite a stronger bridge, the song never moves out of its soothing soundscape. It allows the poignant lyrics to really shine. “If Were Made Of Water” ends with rain falling down.
“What About Love” – The final song on the album starts with sweet, jazzy chords before BANKS declares, “I belong to no one; you belong to someone else.” Strings swell, promising more to come as BANKS asks for one more chance. Her vocals are raw and honest on the chorus as she daydreams about a future with someone. But that dream is cut off by a melancholic return to the verse, even as hopeful instruments continue to suggest a chance for something better. Details flourish in the background, giving “What About Love” a jazzy vibe that recalls a big city of decades ago. BANKS’ niece says “I love you” as everything fades, a cute and sweet response to a lonely song. String swell again, a shrieking end to the music even as the city sounds continue and swish away.
III Score: 4.5/5
Highlights on III include: “Godless,” “Sawzall,” “Look What You’re Doing To Me,” “Hawaiian Mazes,” “Alaska,” and “Propaganda.”
- Review: Alicia Keys Offers Best Album in a Decade with ‘ALICIA’ - September 18, 2020
- Review: Sara Bareilles Offers ‘More Love’ in ‘Little Voice’ Concept Album - September 4, 2020
- Hayley Williams Takes Listener on Emotional Journey on ‘Petals For Armor’ - May 8, 2020