When Spotify recommends me a song and I decide to further explore the artist, it’s usually because I’ve heard something in the track which would be transferable to other songs. It has to be more than just catchy or well-structured – it has to have some temperament, some quality of the sound which I suspect would make for a great album. That’s what I heard in Banks after a few listens to ‘Gemini Feed’, opener from her 2016 album The Altar. The song has ambiguity and depth rare in so catchy a pop song – it uses an ultra-modern pop sound, but with an unsettling edge that takes it to another level. On ‘Gemini Feed’, Banks’ vocal is followed closely by a deep distorted version of itself; nauseated synths oscillate in and out of the track, underpinning the angsty love lyrics perfectly. And yet there is no sacrifice of danceability or catchiness – when the chorus comes in, it seizes my attention every time, clearing the moodiness away to make room for a more overt bitterness and passion. It’s beautifully crafted. And so I clicked through to The Altar, on which ‘Gemini Feed’ leads so easily into ‘Fuck With Myself’ – my next instant favourite.
Banks has a lot in common with Abra. Her sound creeps between darkness and the dancefloor, in and out of the shadows at the edges of the club. ‘Fuck With Myself’ is a gorgeous track, replete with sexiness and implication, but it never drops the Gothic vibe – something to do with the melody, Banks’ double-tracked vocals dripping with reverb, the switches from singing to whispering. There’s aggression underlying its sexuality that arises perhaps from the dark vibe and Banks’ blatant self-sufficiency. Of course, it’s a performance to a potential partner (the ‘you’ is undoubtedly an only partly-spurned lover that she may want to return to later), but it’s a performance telling you that she gets to decide the pace of her relationships – and whether or not she wants them at all.
I connect to ‘Fuck With Myself’ on a more personal level too. It’s not just the aesthetics of the sound, but the mood it captures – a kind of sexy masochism, mournful and yearnful simultaneously (a mood she explores more explicitly on ‘Lovesick’). I’ve been single pretty much consistently for 3 years now, and only partly by choice. I’m fussy; I’m looking for something really good; I’m a busy person. In single life is freedom: not just petty things like having a double bed to myself, but in the complete independence I get in making big life decisions. And most sex I’ve had – with men at least – has been less enjoyable on a physical level than just pleasing myself. Nevertheless, there’s pain there too. I’ve fucked myself in the head with stupid men, as Amy Winehouse would put it; I’ve chased assholes because they were sexy, and allowed myself to seek drama over contentment. It’s left me lonely – miserable in a self-inflicted way. I’ve invested too much in the possibility of love, like a lot of people do, and everything I find falls short. So “I fuck with myself more than anybody else” rings true on so many levels. I masturbate more than I have sex (don’t we all?); I torture myself about being alone; I choose to turn my self-doubt inward rather than inflict it on others; I hurt myself way more than I’d let anyone else hurt me. I fuck with myself more than anybody else. Hearing that ambiguity externalised is really affirming.
I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self to be less of a snob. What I once would have dismissively called ‘chart pop’ can be really great.