Hip-Hop

Tinashe, 'Aquarius': Track-by-Track Review

Tinashe -- Aquarius Review

Tinashe's arrival on the mainstream music landscape comes at a time when experimental R&B is rapidly crescendoing. Yet even within the ranks of emerging women singers showing just how quirky and eccentric they can be (Jhené Aiko, Kelela, BANKS), Tinashe may be the songbird best primed for superstardom. Her certified party starter "2 On" has ignited anticipation for her debut album Aquarius like a lit trail of kerosine, ever since it hit DJ playlists early this year. The single peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 chart.

The 21-year old singer could've taken the momentum—paired with the positive reception of 2013 mixtape Black Water—and hit the features circuit, hopping on your favorite rappers' hooks or remixes. But instead, she split time between the stage and her own studio sessions, laser focused on building her fanbase and executing her vision for one of RCA's priority projects. The result is a lustful listen that often centers on either coming together or breaking apart.

Former Bullying Victim Tinashe Gets Her Shot at R&B Stardom

There are fitting rap features that give this impressive rookie LP some edge (ScHoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, Future) but Aquarius is mostly an emotional tug-of-war of thigh-shaking highs or starting-all-over lows. While there are definite follow-up hits ("How Many Times" is an essential), the project is a moody affair, a sum that's greater than its parts. With interludes that are sometimes complementary ("Indigo Child") and other times unnecessary ("Nightfall"), the project often nods to the past with direct influences from Janet Jackson and Aaliyah. Yet still, Tinashe is brightly blazing a trail for music's future.

Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of Tinashe's Aquarius.

"Aquarius" - "Welcome to my world," Tinashe greets at the close of the spacey title track, aptly setting the tone for the whispery soul aesthetic that characterizes much of the album.

"Bet" feat. Dev Hynes - A mystical ride-or-die anthem, "Bet" brushes off haters of love and assures that Tinashe is down for the long haul: "I'ma be around for ever, always." Devonté Hynes' (a.k.a. Blood Orange) guitar outro is an exhilarating exclamation point.

"Cold Sweat" - One of the more dynamic records on Aquarius, "Cold Sweat" finds the budding rookie stepping back and observing the fake friends and overall sycophancy that comes with stardom. "Don't think I've forgotten who was always here,” she notes, over a beat that begins at a crawl before evolving into a pendulum of synths. "Where was you last year?”

In these five minutes you realize just how versatile Tinashe's vocal instrument can be, as she shifts from breathy purrs to shrill FKA twigs-like falsetto to nonchalant rapping before vaulting back to upper registers.

"Nightfall (Interlude)"/ "2 On" feat. ScHoolboy Q - Pour up, light up and repeat. Tinashe's breakout single, "2 On," has steadily commanded airwaves and dance floors for the majority of 2014, getting you faded to DJ Mustard’s familiar synth bounce and Christmastime chimes. ScHoolboy Q's rambunctious bars give this feel-good smash just the right amount of scruffiness.
"How Many Times" feat. Future - Aquarius' true centerpiece, this midtempo red-light special will get you in the mood with one always-relevant query: “How many times can we make love in one night?” Flipping Janet’s 1986 single “Funny How Time Flies,” Tinashe, um, elongates her vowels like Rihanna to
 create a sensual vibe, an aural afrodisiac. But then, just as you’re about to drag and drop this onto your horizontal playlist, Future happens, barking a play-by-play like a horny Major Payne.

"What Is There To Lose (Interlude)" / "Pretend" feat. A$AP Rocky - Powered by Detail's crashing snares and tumbling drum machine, this hard-edged second single depicts a now-fragile relationship that's been fractured one too many times. Lust and denial are the glue holding this love thang together, as Tinashe concedes, "Let's pretend you never lied/ So I can give it up all night."

Meanwhile, A$AP doesn’t live up to his moniker in the sack: "Got her screaming out 'I'm coming’/ Frontin' like you really want it," he rhymes.
"All Hands On Deck" - Finally, the relationship bottoms out and our broken-hearted hostess is on the rebound, looking for someone—anyone—to "fill this empty void." With its hokey flute and thick bassline, Stargate and Cashmere Cat's instrumental wants so badly to be a DJ Mustard beat, but instead feels a bit like "Whistle While You Work." You remember how that turned out for the Ying Yang Twins...

"Indigo Child (Interlude)" - MPC taps and piano keys lay the foundation for this esoteric interlude that paints Tinashe as a "beacon of light."

"Far Side of the Moon" - A reluctant Tinashe pulls the plug on "empty love ambitions" over funky metallic percussion and Sasquatch stomps. "Maybe I was mistaken/ Maybe we could be perfect," she contemplates, before better judgment kicks in. Brandy's influence is undeniable here.

"The Calm (Interlude) / Feels Like Vegas" - The irony here is that this mellow turn-up track feels more like Toronto than Sin City, thanks to Stargate's wintry synths that recall "I’m On One." Still, Tinashe hits the jackpot with a flirty toast to success and rough sex.

"Thug Cry" - Tinashe channels Ashanti of a decade ago, sporting her sweetest falsetto to inform you that her loving is so good it brings tough guys to tears. "You acting so gangsta/ You swear that ya hard/ But I got you wrapped around my finger/ Yeah, you be thanking the lord/ You’re all mine," she insists, rap-singing. All that "Thug Cry" is missing are some guttural Ja Rule riffs and a verse from Vita.

"Deep In The Night (Interlude)" - Did Tinashe swipe a page out of Beyoncé’s book and dig up some old recital audio? Clocking at just under a minute, this intermission features a young girl singing over live piano, adding innocence to Aquarius (though the barely legal singer has been anything but thus far).

"Bated Breath" - Here's where Tinashe has been hiding her pipes for much of the album's runtime. Just on the verge of love, "Bated Breath" is the emotional stalemate just before taking the big leap: "You're still waiting on the moment, breath is bated/ I wish I could hold you, I can't take it." The atmospheric soundscape and extended piano breakdown help this ballad resonate deeply.

"Wildfire" - On a Rihanna LP, "Wildfire" could be a combustible crossover record. Here, it's a strong final song that marks the conclusion of a toxic romance: "You're poison running through my veins/ End it with a spark into a pool of gasoline.”

"The Storm (Outro)" - True to its title, this closer's rolling thunder and rainfall over gentle keys and wailing sends off a solid debut album.