Confession time: I only got into Banks at the very beginning of this year – I’d seen that she was on the BBC’s Sound Of 2014 list, listened to ‘Warm Water’, thought it was alright and then moved on with my life. It was only after reading a DiS article on the aforementioned list and finally listening to ‘Waiting Game’ that my opinion did an immediate about face. Though ‘Waiting Game’ hit me instantly, I briefly remained unconvinced by the rest of last September’s London EP – but it wasn’t long before each of the other three tracks on it wormed their way irrecoverably into my head and heart.
But let’s rewind for a second and cover why ‘Waiting Game’ immediately connected with me. Its lyrics concerning separation, distance, and the nagging doubt that a relationship can only ever decline (“What if the way we started made it something cursed from the start? What if it only gets colder?”) are certainly relatable, and the stark piano chords and throbbing sub bass give Banks’ airy vocals plenty of space to breathe while further emphasising the feeling of loneliness that runs through the song.
‘This Is What It Feels Like’ comes next, and its woozy electronics and two-step beats provide a backdrop to another form of heartache – feeling like someone is pushing you away when you want them to hold you closer. “And when you saw that I felt the same/you pulled away, started acting like being with me was too hard,” Banks sings frustratedly, clearly wounded by opening her heart only to have her affection rebuffed. “Bring it now/bring it on,” she demands in the chorus, all the while knowing that her desires will no doubt go unfulfilled.
‘Bedroom Wall’ is the EP’s quietest track, with muted beats evoking a lonely room at 3am even as its synths attempt to sooth with a faint flicker of warmth. It’s absolutely the record’s most heart-on-sleeve moment, a softly desperate dedication to an unrequited love. Banks nervously but earnestly offers herself up to her potential lover (“I’ve been thinking ’bout, thinking ’bout/putting my body, body, body on top of yours”) before quietly mourning his blindness to her feelings with a repeated, fragile refrain – “Do I have to write it on your bedroom wall, you fool?”
It was ‘Change’ that took the longest to settle in, but perhaps hit the hardest – after I came to the uncomfortable realisation that, despite my best intentions, I’ve probably been that guy. You know, the one who makes promises to change, then never lives up to them and can only live to regret the consequences. Banks has clearly been on the other side of that relationship herself, and for all her lover’s apparent failings, she offers the harshest indictment of him by simply quoting his own words back at him – “Baby don’t go, I didn’t know, I’ll change I swear, I’ll change I swear.”
It’s strange to think that a four-track EP can pretty much sum up years of emotional and romantic frustrations and failings for me, and yet Banks has done exactly that with London. But whether or not you’re as much of a fuck-up as I am when it comes to relationships, her haunting, intimate and confessional lyrics will no doubt strike a chord somewhere along the line – by infusing her R’n’B with a deeply personal dark heart, Banks has come up with something truly special.
London is available now on Harvest Records/Good Years