Souled Out (Deluxe Edition)

Souled Out (Deluxe Edition)

After a brief glimmer of R&B stardom in the early 2000s, Jhené Aiko stepped away from the music industry. In the dozen or so years following, she went through a birth (of a daughter), a death (of a brother), and a revival (of her artist self). Following her acclaimed 2011 mixtape, Sailing Soul(s), the Los Angeles-born singer alchemized all of these experiences into her mesmerizing 2014 debut album, one of the decade’s chillest alt-R&B touchstones. Like its evocative album cover, Souled Out hovers somewhere between the sea and sky, occupying its own infinite space in ambient waves of synths, whispers of live instrumentation, and Aiko’s always cool and calming presence. Producers No ID, Dot Da Genius, Fisticuffs, and Key Wane help the singer embody an airy, acid-dipped aesthetic using minimal sounds to expansive effect. Psychedelic guitar and jazzy horns slither seductively through to give this ethereal odyssey some weight. Aiko’s method of freestyling has a beat-poet mysticism to it, even when her mantras are imbued with bitterness (woozy kiss-offs “Limbo Limbo Limbo” and “Lyin King”). But mostly, she’s open to exploring and exposing her truth. “You gotta keep goin’,” she purrs on “W.A.Y.S.,” one of the album’s more rose-colored reveries. Halfway through the track, she switches pronouns, turning her chant into “I gotta keep goin’.” Aiko does this often throughout Souled Out—speaking to loved ones and former flames as she speaks to herself. “Promise I'll be, promise you'll be, promise we'll be alright,” she coos on the dreamy lullaby “Promises,” featuring music by downtempo duo Röyksopp and appearances by her late brother, Miyagi (via a clip he once sent her), and her daughter NAMIKO, who repeats her mother’s comforting words. Later, on the balmy piano groover “Eternal Sunshine,” she reaches something close to enlightenment, declaring, “If I were to die today, there's not a thing I would change, I’ve lived well.” Sure, there are standout singles on Souled Out, such as the hip-hop sizzler “The Pressure” and “To Love & Die,” a moody confessional featuring Chicago collective Cocaine 80s and a slick sampling of 50 Cent’s “Many Men (Wish Death).” But this LP is meant to be a widescreen experience to sit back and soak in. This Deluxe Edition features two bonus tracks that reflect the sadness and serenity of the album: the heartbreaking “Remember” and the blissed-out “Blue Dream.”

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