Tinashe: ‘Aquarius’ Album Review

Aquarius doesn’t officially drop until Tuesday, but Tinashe has made the album available for stream on SoundCloud. Behind the summer radio hits “2 On,” and “Pretend” (feat. A$AP Rocky), Tinashe’s album houses shimmering vocals and brooding melodies, a distinctive debut for one of R’n’B’s most talked-about artists.

Tinashe’s built up buzz for the 18-track project all summer.  Party singles like Schoolboy Q collaboration ‘2 On’ bumped Tinashe into radio rotation and lifted her to Billboard status. It’s a debut album for the Los Angeles-raised singer, so she’s made a point to give listeners a peek into a “multi-faceted” personality. Aquarius, out on Tuesday, is available for pre-order on iTunes here, and can be streamed in full on here.

Tinashe’s airy vocals flutters over bass on the title track, “Aquarius,” a light, fluid entrance to the album. (Is anyone else reminded of Beyonce’s astrological ode, “Signs?). “Bet” is the sleeker older sister of her earlier “Vulnerable,” but drowns under heavy production, and sounds too much like Banks to be considered a favorite. “Cold Sweat” is a standout track, a smoldering, potent story of paranoia and disillusionment (“Always got to co-sign/everything’s a ten/Damn I hate a yes man”). The most familiar, “2 On” (feat. Schoolboy Q), a trap-tinged summer single is perhaps the greatest outlier on Aquarius. It’s a far cry from the sultry low-key mood of the rest of the album. “All Hands On Deck” maintains the familiar ‘success is the sweetest revenge’ theme, but features an inexplicable flute wavering over a club beat. “Feels Like Vegas” is slightly more upbeat, and dripping with lust (“money can’t buy this kind of pleasure”). “Bated Breath” helps close out the album with peaceful piano and sleepy production. Finally, “Wildfire” creates some of the more daring production styling on Aquarius, and as Dazed puts it: “squiggles like late-90s Timbaland.”

Aside from ‘2 On and ‘Cold Sweat’, most of the tracks don’t really blow you away. Instead, the whole album slowly draws you into a simmering pot mid-tempo R’n’B and breathy vocals.  Still, Aquarius works well as fine-tuned portrait of the singer, not simply because it draws on her zodiac sign. More often than not, Tinashe’s sound tip-toes into the pop realm. She has the voice of a practiced singer, a breathy style comparable to predecessors like Janet Jackson or Ciara. Yet, she also has the ability to structure bridges and choruses that get her on the radio, and her delivery is, at times, reminiscent of early Beyonce.  Many have already drawn side-by-side comparisons to current pop-R’n’B figures like Rihanna or Jhene Aiko. Tinashe’s an ideal pop package:  sensuality, guts, an exotic look, even an impressive vocal range, all wrapped up in hourglass figure. Not to mention an ability to link up with some of  2014’s top producers – DJ Mustard, Mike Will Made It, Detail, Dev Hynes, Stargate, Boi-1da, Clams Casino, DJ Dahi. Overall, it’s a solid debut, but we’re hoping to see the young siren take more risks on her next project.