BANKS Returns With “Serpentina”
On April 8th, American singer, songwriter, and poet Jillian Rose Banks (known to the music world as BANKS) released her fourth album, Serpentina! BANKS’ first full-length release since 2019’s III, Serpentina sees the California-bred songwriter diving deep into the concept of the self and everything that comes with it: love, hate, confusion, loss, loathing… everything that can be associated with the self BANKS uses Serpentina to explore. With songs like “Meteorite,” “Fuck Love,” and “Skinnydipped,” she showcases her songwriting prowess as well as her absolutely insane voice.
Let’s take this one at a time, though. Right from the jump, “Misunderstood” shows BANKS expressing a desire to remain misunderstood over timpani and severely altered pianos while using vocal effects that completely shift the tone up another notch. Much like the intros for her previous work, “Misunderstood” shows BANKS warming up to the new project she’s working on, experimenting with a new sonic palette, and showcasing the raw lyrical self-assessment that she has become known for. “Meteorite” is more conventional in a songwriting sense, but the production is where BANKS makes her mark.
As will be referenced several times, the intricacies of the sounds BANKS chooses to use on her songs are where BANKS becomes BANKS. The vocal effects, the keyboard voicings, the claps or clicks, and the synth brass are all fine-tuned and tailored to BANKS’ exact specifications as the primary producer for the record. Of course, we can’t ignore the contributions from TĀLĀ and Shlohmo across much of the album as well. These artists deserve just as much credit for the sounds across this album.
But let’s get back to BANKS. The performances she has put forth on this album are some of the best of her career. “Fuck Love” is the closest we’ve gotten to a BANKS hip-hop song, while “Deadend” uses somber piano, vocal effects, and strings to evoke the strongest possible sense of sadness in the listener as BANKS begs to be “the one who killed” a past relationship instead of letting it just find a stopping point. A dead-end, if you will.
Once again speaking of vocal effects, though: “Holding Back” shows BANKS pushing her voice to be a soul sample from the ‘70s (see any early Kanye West samples for examples) while “The Devil,” BANKS first release after her contract with Harvest Records expired, adds more layered whispers and distortion to BANKS’ excellent vocal performance to give that sense of unease one might expect to feel in the land of the damned. “Skinnydipped” has some of BANKS’ best lyrics on the album, using skinny-dipping as a metaphor for leaving an unfaithful lover. “Burn” once again brings the tone down to a cool level of somber, and “Birds By the Sea” keeps it as calm as waterfowl.
Of course, if the whole album stayed that calm, it would fade out and eventually lose its listener. BANKS knows this. That’s why she follows up “Birds By the Sea” with “Spirit,” a more traditional R&B anthem featuring Samoht, leading into the passionate and sensual “Anything 4 U.” The sequencing on this album feels somewhat off at times, but this four-track run is near perfection. From “Burn” through “Anything 4 U,” BANKS brings the energy down only to ramp it back up in fantastic fashion.
“Unleavable” and “I Still Love You” are solid songs, but they don’t carry as much power as the earlier tracks on this album or the tracks that immediately precede them. They do feel slightly like bonus tracks. Good bonus tracks, but they don’t seem to fit the theme. Particularly “I Still Love You.” Even if it’s a song about self-love, BANKS has said that the album title came from the idea of a snake shedding its skin and moving forward, but that last track seems to reminisce a bit too much.
Other than those last two tracks, though, Serpentina is an incredible album with a fantastic concept that is executed to near-perfection. BANKS has said “there’s a new brightness and warmth to this album that [she hasn’t] really had,” and I would agree. BANKS has always had incredible production, lyricism, and vocals, but there’s something about the instrumentation and this particular palette of vocal effects that gives a sense of home. If you’re looking for a way to ease in, listen to “Meteorite,” “Holding Back,” and “Skinnydipped,” but I would say BANKS has created something worthy of traditional and repeated listens. Check it out below, and let us know what you think!