The first time I listened through Banks Arcade‘s Fever Dreams EP, I was admittedly playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the same time. Writing had proved to be a challenge for me on that day, but I had wanted to do something semi-productive. It turned out that interacting with the cheery critters and island surroundings of the video game couldn’t distract me from the fact that Banks Arcade were onto something great with their sound. This proved to be an impressive soundtrack that stopped me in my (virtual) tracks.
Coming across as broadly versatile in Fever Dreams, the formerly Auckland, now Melbourne based band seemed to be using their sonic paints to express the smoothed qualities of hip hop (or maybe pop?) with the roaring ferocity and also lyrical honesty that I’d expect in metalcore. Genre boxes aside, I went deep into the tracks of Fever Dreams. As a quick intro, Banks Arcade are Joshua O’Donnell (vocals), Jason Meadows (guitar), Kenny Kemsley (synths), James Feekes (drums), and Harlan Allen-Jones (bass).
EP opener “Wilt” set an immediate scene with raw and staticky calls into the oblivion. Frustration turned into something authoritative in its distaste for another. I found that I wanted to savour the lyrics as they flew on by like a rapidly running stream, seeming to capture observations of the impact that the protagonist had upon someone in their life.
My focus went toward the vocals and the way they dissipated into something more fantastical for a moment, before landing firmly in a sultry reality. With the pairing of a lighter/higher backing vocal, it became ever more apparent that “Wilt” was about a twosome and their uncoupling, due to shallowness or something similar. More amped up toward the end of the track, zig-zagging riffs and an unsteady rhythm express the fight and determination in extricating oneself from that situation.
One track in and I’d already noticed and enjoyed the vibe of effortless cool that came across in Banks Arcade’s sound, and also wondered to myself where the band might fit in terms of established fanbases. There are other acts that span a spectrum of R&B polish through to fierceness of metal (alt. comes to mind), and the result is something that comes across as smooth as well as having substance at its core. The challenge is to keep the authenticity without polishing it to be all too shiny, and I feel like Banks Arcade’s blunt approach to lyricism plays an important part in giving it some grounded-in-reality grit.
Moving on! With its “I feel like everybody’s sick of me” hook, “Sick” is easily embraced as an anthem for the paranoid rejects and self-haters amongst us. From its bubbling brook introduction, “Sick” grows into fried vocals and full-bodied riffs, and demands to know the truth in the face of anxious uncertainty.
As “Sick” continues, colourful progressive guitar dances by while echoey vocals drop honest commentary. Swinging between crystal clear smoothness to staticky frustration works well, and dissonant cries aptly express the unease – through to the song’s stomping end.
More sedate perhaps than others before it, “Firework” sets up a wistful scene that’s easy to sink into. With delectable groove and direct lyrics that detail observations as well as lean heavily into metaphor, the song is immediately endearing. The scene that’s laid out is well-painted for the mind’s eye, and the instrumental growth through to a blossoming chorus fits the metaphor of fireworks that’s used.
As a favourite of the EP for me, this bitter and frustrated cut is captivatingly honest in the detailing of the protagonist’s flaws. Amping up into a feverish bridge, the fury and teetering on the edge of burning out (brightly!) is palpable, and relatable to anyone who has been pushed to their limits. The angelic heights and soaring guitar focus before returning to a harmonious chorus had me unexpectedly moved.
In contrast to “Firework”, fourth track “Rat” didn’t pull me in as easily. There are vague similarities to Northlane here, but by way of production I felt that it wasn’t as energised or full of sound as I’d felt that it perhaps warranted. It felt like I needed to wade through white noise to get to the core of the song. Nonetheless, “Rat” showcases the more metalcore end of Banks Arcade’s sound, with interesting searching tendrils of sound at times, such as the soaring vocals.
There’s no mistaking it that “Drown” is something special though, with any uncertainties I have about “Rat” fading away. It seems obvious to me that Banks Arcade are far more at home in these long-winded and beautiful adventures than any kind of metalcore-suit-wearing conformity. “Drown” is breathtaking when taken in as a whole, from it’s sombre introduction and then “We are nothing but air” floating through one’s mind like a neon butterfly.
A song to sink into, the combination of fierce and soaring that’s laid out in the track is satisfying… and suddenly I can see this band on a bill alongside Thornhill due to their similar blend courtesy of Jacob Charlton’s angelic voice and the technical instrumentation. Whispering at times and openly confessional at others, the intimacy of “Drown”, as well as the fact it traverses through retro synthy landscapes through to driven strength makes it feel like a multi-faceted journey of a relationship – or maybe just a heavily weighted moment in time. Stunning. Moving.
The sweetness of “Moonshine”‘s pulsing and synthy introduction is an engaging start to the final track. This slow burn of a track becomes far more than its sweet beginnings express though. Sparks of wonderings have the fuel of fear poured upon them, and raw cries flare out into flame, sharing a call for escapism.
Banks Arcade know how to create great hooks to affix their songs to mind. Frazzled “It’s all we’re ever gonna be” moments collide with the floating free-fall collection of sounds, and the last gasp of Fever Dreams comes across as open ended. At times the rawness of the vocals had me question whether it showed that it was a challenge of skill to deliver them, or simply expressed the end of the rope that the protagonist was at.
Fever Dreams released today, and I hope it means more eyes/ears get to this band, because there’s some gold here. Uncertain as to whether they’re still working to find a sound they’re most at home at, or simply spreading their wings and flying in whichever sonic directions come to mind, Banks Arcade are indeed an act to watch as they continue. Back later, going to lose myself in “Drown” (again).
Such a breadth of sound here. The stories/moments shared through Fever Dreams were engaging and enjoyable to sink into.
As most noticeable to me with"Rat", a bigger and fuller quality of sound would do Banks Arcade more justice at times throughout the EP. The EP feels a little bit like a sampler of what they're capable of, so something more connective across the release would reinforce who Banks Arcade are. It's an impressive snapshot nonetheless.