Despite a music career that has been slow to blossom, R&B singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko captivates listeners with her debut album, “Souled Out.” While she has collaborated with a number of successful artists in the past, namely Drake, “Souled Out” marks her biggest venture into the music world alone. With lyrics dripping with emotional confessions and subtle inspirations, it is clear that this album is an honest and direct reflection of Aiko’s romantic life.
Full of sultry vocals that flow over seductive beats, Aiko’s new album is nothing short of hypnotic. The majority of songs feature a heavy use of synthesizers, minimalistic drum loops and delicate piano riffs. Woven into this musical backdrop is Aiko’s smooth and fluid voice, filled with breathy vocalizations and raw sentiment.
“W.A.Y.S.” is by far the most personal song on the album, as it alludes to the death of Aiko’s brother and the emotional turbulence she experienced. The song title is an acronym for her brother’s favorite saying, “Why aren’t you smiling?” It opens with simple guitar chords that are soon complemented by Aiko’s repetitive, painful lyrics of “I gotta keep going,” speaking to the difficulty of his death.
The first five songs of the album all follow the same, dream-like melodic pattern with silky waves of lyrics and phrases. They blend nicely into one another, and it’s not until the sixth track, “Lyin King,” that we feel a change in the music. This song is a bit brasher than the others before it, speaking of how a bad relationship helped her find her independence. Here, the album breaks up its unified sound and transitions into more stand-alone tracks.
“The Pressure” is a somewhat motionless track that bumps steadily along its theme of vulnerability. It states that “The way you feel is not my problem/But I don’t wanna see you go.” The music video of this song, released earlier this month, includes interesting images of moon phases and psychedelic color changes, giving the song a smooth, calm vibe. A pair of songs on the album, “Eternal Sunshine” and “Spotless Mind” are particularly positive and easy-going. Their titles pay tribute to the 2004 film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Like the movie, these two songs transmit a dream-like vibe that carries listeners away in nostalgic memory. Aiko claims that “Spotless Mind” was the easiest song on the album to write, and yet its relaxing island beat is pleasingly complex.
Aiko’s 6-year-old daughter contributes to the chorus vocals of the song “Promises.” As one of the last tracks on the album, “Promises” gives off the strongest messages of all. It begins as a conversation between Aiko and her 6-year-old daughter and then moves into a remembrance of her deceased brother. Her daughter contributes to the chorus’s vocals, with the sad, yet hopeful lyrics, “Promise I’ll be alright.” After exploring the painful memories of her brother and the maternal worry she has for her daughter, Aiko ends the song on a silly note that reminds listeners of the joys of childhood. “Hello? Echo!” says her daughter into the microphone during the last seconds, which is a welcome mood change after the serious nature dominating the rest of the song.
“Souled Out” ends with a freestyle track, “Pretty Bird,” featuring rapper Common on the last verse. With its surprising vocal twists and relaxing instrumentals, this track displays Aiko’s musical talent and flexibility and is perhaps a foresight to her future releases.
Jhené Aiko successfully conveys her themes of honesty and self-confidence throughout all 12 tracks of “Souled Out.” It is rare to find a modest and genuine female R&B vocalist in today’s modern age, but Aiko proved that she can maintain both her dignity and sex appeal with an innovative sound that is continuously developing. “Souled Out” definitely deserves a full listen, and mellowing out to this conceptual musical journey is well worth the time.