Tinashe’s ‘Aquarius’: Album Review

Poor Tinashe was only a tween when she joined the Vitamin C-founded girl group The Stunners. In the video for the Kesha-inspired “We Got It,” party goers pour orange soda into red Solo cups and chug it as if it was beer, like that would actually happen in real life.

After the Stunners disbanded in 2011, though, Tinashe wrote, produced and released three free mixtapes of moody and experimental R&B. Her voice is small and pretty, but she seemed hellbent on proving that she is more than that. Her first mixtape, 2012’s In Case We Die, had the 18-year-old singer imagining what she’d say to her true love if the world was coming to an end — all done with near Evanescence-level dramatics.

From there, Tinashe’s efforts continued to pay off. She scored her first Top 40 hit with her debut single “2 On”as she once explained, her way of saying “turn up.” While that catchphrase has yet to catch on, the way that Tinashe’s voice skips and glides through rap minimalist DJ Mustard‘s beat (and past that goofy, if not embarrassing verse by Schoolboy Q) felt right on trend – like Chris Brown‘s easygoing club hit “Loyal” without the pesky double standard.

Tinashe’s solid and slinky debut album Aquarius (out today, ) largely works for the same reasons: It’s smart, it’s confident and it feels very now.

While Tinashe imagines herself at the club for “2 On,” she spends most of Aquarius‘ run time in more otherworldly places. Her voice flits, floats and heaves through the cavernous loops of album highlight “Bet,” which owes as much to The Weeknd‘s taste for epic proportions as to Timbaland‘s screwball production in Aaliyah‘s “Are You That Somebody.” (Perhaps it’s no surprise that the song toes that already unreliable line between alt and mainstream R&B; it was helmed by “Worst Behavior” producer DJ Dahi and Grimes‘ pal Blood Diamonds.) The ambient noise in “Cold Sweat” is actually cold as ice, so that even Tinashe’s coy and playful dares (“I do breakfast, we’ll see who will still be here”) seem like daunting propositions. Elsewhere, “Pretend,” the album’s bittersweet duet with a nonchalant A$AP Rocky, sounds fit for the next great teen romance movie.

It’s only a shame that, as if out of obligation, Aquarius sometimes touches back down on earth. The glitzy “Feels Like Vegas” is a near-carbon copy of (Tinashe fan) Drake‘s hook in DJ Khaled‘s “I’m On One.” “All Hands on Deck” sounds as if producers Stargate and Cashmere Cat were tasked to help create another “2 On.” During these songs Tinashe makes this overt show of cooing, quivering and lapping up syllables like a kitten with milk. As with most young, major-label female artists, this so-called sexual awakening feels forced and false.

That’s especially true when “All Hands On Deck” is followed by the 90-second interlude “Indigo Child,” produced by promising Kanye West affiliate Evian Christ. There, Tinashe casts out an intimidating warning to those who dare underestimate her. “I can feel your heart stop, I can feel the future,” she repeats, first with a jarring robotic voice echoing her words and then on her own, over a fog of ambient noise, an ominous chorus of voices and detonating drums. The moments Tinashe spells out her growing ambitions is when she’s most convincing.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5

Christina Lee

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