Singer/Songwriter Jhené Aiko Displays Her Ambition And Range On 'Trip'

Oct 5, 2017
Originally published on October 10, 2017 1:30 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of singer-songwriter Jhene Aiko's new album called "Trip." In recent years, she's collaborated with other pop and hip-hop artists such as Drake, J. Cole and Big Sean. Ken says Aiko's new album has 22 tracks carefully organized to showcase her ambition and range.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREQUENCY")

JHENE AIKO: (Singing) Frequency frequently - as I release this frequency, speak to me. Everything oath, I'll listen up. Please keep from me. As I release this frequency - oh, free my city, free my...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: On her new album, "Trip," Jhene Aiko is intent on erasing the distance between performer and audience. Her voice is heard most frequently as an intimate murmur, singing that is one step away from quiet talk. The effect is to make you the confidant in a one-way conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICTURE PERFECT")

AIKO: (Singing) Picture perfect - you are picture perfect to me. So I keep you in frame. Keep that frame in my brain. When I don't want to see what is in front of me I, I do see you perfectly.

TUCKER: With this album overflowing with 22 tracks, Jhene Aiko has a lot of music to share. The songs most often deploy keyboards and percussion to create spare, chilly soundscapes. Aiko's voice emerges from the mix, swirling around the other instruments like smoke. She hits her rhymes with a firmness that is at once precise and subdued.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOMENTS")

AIKO: (Singing) These are the moments in time that we've been waiting our whole life to find, that we've been searching for all through the night. Just tell me it will be all right 'cause, baby, in a world full of cancer where everyone needs a ransom, my mama said love is the answer. So when I call, you better answer me. Right now I need you here on me - no substitute. You the one and only. Please take away the stress I don't need. You got me on my knees, baby. James Brown, please. The time is ours, not for borrow - both got a past full of sorrow. Let's cancel everything tomorrow. I always get caught in the moment with you, with you, with you, with you, with you, with you. I get caught in the moment with you.

TUCKER: In interviews, Aiko has said that some of the music here was created as a response to losing her brother to cancer. There is sorrow and grief in a lot of this music, as well as an attempt to escape from grief, either through music or romantic relationships or drugs. The album title refers to both geographical journeys and inner-mind alteration. Aiko could not be more direct in songs with titles such as "Psilocybin," "LSD," "Sativa" and "Bad Trip." The music is varied and vivid. Sometimes she wants to convey what it feels like to be on a certain kind of high. And sometimes she wants to lay out the thinking behind her use of these substances. The result, on a song such as "Overstimulated," is her own brand of trip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVERSTIMULATED")

AIKO: (Singing) Don't get it wrong. Don't get it twisted. Don't mix it up. Got to get lifted. You know we're young. You know I'm gifted. I'm on a roll. I'm on a mission. Yeah. But I need your light. I need your light. I need your guidance. Yeah. Already high, I'll be all right. I want to try it. Crushing the line, cutting a line, crossing the line, bumps in the night. Got me - got me over here overstimulated.

TUCKER: This album has its upbeat moments and those connect Aiko's best pop music instincts. On the song "Ascension," she collaborates with the '90s pop star Brandy on a warm, lovely ballad. And on this song, "Only Lovers Left Alive," Aiko crafts a witty echo of the disco music of Donna Summer with a funk backbeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLLA (ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE)")

AIKO: (Singing) Fireballs falling out of the sky, sky, ricocheting off the brain into the eye, eye. It's the fate we created in our mind, mind. If we stay, we'll be hated. Looks like we're the only lovers left alive. Baby, we're the only lovers left alive, left alive. Clearly we've been running all our lives to survive. We're the only lovers left alive. Look alive. We're the only lovers left. We're the only lovers left alive.

TUCKER: It was recently announced that Aiko will be the opening act for another expert in bold vulnerability, Lana Del Rey, when the latter goes on tour early next year. It's a good match. Jhene Aiko is a singer-songwriter whose confessional lyrics are delivered with feathery phrasing, strengthened by a firm grasp of how she wants to shape a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASCENSION")

AIKO: (Singing) What do you do it for? What are you running for? What are you running towards? What are you trying to prove? What do you got to lose? What is the path you choose? I lost my way. I lost my way, lost my way, lost my way again, lost my way again. Then you showed up and I got up. Yeah, sort of. Found my way again. Found my way again. I'm on my way. I'm on my way. I'm on my way. I'm on my way to heaven. I'm on my way. I'm on my way. I'm on my way.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Jhene Aiko's new album called "Trip." After we take a short break, David Edelstein will review the new "Blade Runner" sequel starring Ryan Gosling. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.