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Album review: Jhené Aiko’s smooth vocals a nice alternative to a summer of club-bangers


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In 2011, Jhené Aiko set souls sailing with her debut mixtape “Sailing Soul(s),” followed by her extended play “Sail Out” last year. Now, listeners get a deeper look as Aiko bares her everything in her debut album “Souled Out.”

A new entry into R&B, the album delivers what “Sail Out” was too short to offer.

Aiko doesn’t take long to express her mind as she opens with “Limbo Limbo Limbo,” where she reminds a conceited man that he once didn’t let his pride get the best of him.

Men, relationships and family are among the topics addressed in the 12-song tracklist, allowing her listeners to learn more about the Californian songbird.

Instead of adding to the long list of club-bangers this summer has experienced, Aiko keeps it smooth and simplistic, with percussion standing out from the slow, and sometimes repetitive, beats. This allows for listeners to focus more on Aiko’s sultry and almost hypnotizing vocals.

Aiko’s songwriting and effective storytelling on “Souled Out” is praiseworthy. With her use of metaphors and clever wordplay, such as on “Wading,” she offers a warning to a man who is on the verge of losing her if he keeps her waiting.

However, not all of her songs are melancholy.

“It’s Cool” has Aiko talking to a man that has come into her life at just the right moment, while “W.A.Y.S” sees the songbird talking to herself as she reminisces about her late brother and makes promises to her daughter.

Her daughter also appears on the hook of “Promises,” an open letter Aiko pens to her, while the second verse is dedicated to her late brother Miyagi, who died of brain cancer in 2012. It’s one of the most sentimental tracks on the album that chooses a more uplifting tune to complement her optimistic outlook on life.

A positive takeaway from Aiko’s debut effort is that her vocals take center stage. However, the songs have a tendency to blend into each other without much differentiation — though it does contribute nicely to the cohesiveness of the album.

“Lyin King” is a track that is reminiscent of “Sail Out”’s “The Worst” and is one particular standout track that deserves more than just one replay.

The lack of guest verses is notable, considering Aiko’s collaborations with Kanye West, Miguel and Drake on “Sailing Soul(s).” Rapper Common does show up to do spoken word at the end of “Pretty Bird (Freestyle),” another encouraging track that finds Aiko crooning that there’s a blinding light inside of all of us.

“Souled Out” is an emotional journey delivered in a way that is almost emotionless and detached, with Aiko narrating her own life and delivering the bigger picture to her listeners. The atmosphere is ideal for a relaxed coffee shop, and the album is a great introduction to her distinctive vocals.

It’s an impressive debut effort and leaves just enough to the imagination to anticipate what else Aiko is capable of musically.

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