Jhené Aiko’s ‘Souled Out’: First Impressions

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With sponsorship from iTunes First Play, a convenient [and free] source of sneak-peek streams for upcoming albums, fans of the silken-voiced Jhené Aiko can get an audible taste of her newest project and second EP, “Souled Out”. And from the initial album stream, it sounds like gold.

While ‘Meditative-R&B’ may not be an official genre yet…Jhené should–without delay–be confirmed queen of its throne. A starkly solemn contrast to her lighter, past projects, the singer’s newest studio album–confirmed for release on September 9th–stands thematically distant from its pop-ier predecessor Sail Out (2013), serving less as an album and more as an imprint of the habitually-pensive 26-year-old’s psyche.

The 12-track album operates with magnetization: dreamily, and–at times–dejectedly, the foundational emotions for the artist’s raw presentation. She speaks bluntly, vaguely, and at times in aquatic metaphors, like “wading”–poetically entwining it with her real-life “waiting”.

The opener, “Limbo, Limbo, Limbo”, reminds us of Jhené’s calm state of mind. This self-granted serenity, however, doesn’t constitute naivety…regarding guys, the music biz, or otherwise. “Off the grid and into paradise, her whole life was on a ride”, she introspects, but applies this “ride” to a more flawed context: “your whole life is on a ride, always on the wire/used to be so different, you were not this type of guy”. While life’s “ride”, for Aiko, is synonymous with unwavering optimism and independence, it’s more so shallow thrills and reckless self-indulgence for her male counterpart. Functioning much like a signature Drake outro, the dual-phased track turns from dreamy and content to softly bitter with a melodic shift and development into an acutely personal session of venting. The sole threat to Jhené’s good vibes? Skeevy guys.

While one of her persistent themes on Souled Out is straight-faced, guy-induced rue, another is pure gratitude for the core of family. “W.A.Y.S.” is an unembellished testimony to Aiko’s prime motives for living: her daughter and spirituality, mostly. Decorated with vocal runs and recurring, echoey drums, the track pauses for selflessness and a turn away from the R&B spotlight. Namiko, Jhené’s daughter, later guest-appears on “Promises”.

A sometimes-member of the Common/James Fauntleroy neo-soul collective, Jhené collabs with Cocaine 80s on the bare-hearted “To Love & Die”, a no-nonsense offer for conflict resolution, and shining star on the album.

Jhené’s melodies cover a lot: the musical-stoner’s propensity for chilled-out instrumentals and ‘herb’-woven lyricism, and the rhythmically-hungry R&B devotee’s palate–satisfied with hip-hop-minded freestyles and decorated vocals. Aiko makes the otherwise oxymoronic content of drug-y imagery and spiritually-guided searches for life-fulfillment completely coexistent. Anything works once her voice touches it, and therein likely lies the allure of the ultra-complex Jhené: the multi-ethnic, tranquilly-voiced songstress whose style borders on “urban” and “island”–and pulls off both [and more] in an impossibly graceful way.

The Track List:

1. Brave
2. To Love & Die (Feat. Cocaine 80s)
3. Beautiful Ruin
4. It’s Cool
5. Lyin King
6. Wading
7. The Pressure
8. Eternal Sunshine
9. Limbo Limbo Limbo
10. Promises
11. W.A.Y.S
12. Pretty BirdiTunes

Stream Link, Souled Out:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/station/idra.904428943

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