Songstress Jhene Aiko serenades straight from the soul. “Souled Out” puts you in musical limbo between love and pain, freedom and commitment, the spiritual and the fleeting.
The talented Jhene Aiko released her new “Souled Out” album today (Sept. 9). As a big fan of her music, I was excited to give it a thorough listen.
I’m tend to not stray away from traditional album reviews, mostly because everyone does them, and there are music writers who can pen one much better than I could. But when my favorites artists drop albums, I’m compelled to unpack them. What drew me to Jhene Aiko in the first place was her music was so spiritual. And I don’t mean in the gospel genre sense, but it hits your soul. Her voice is so calming, and serenades your spirit. Sailing Souls was the first project I heard from her, and since then, I’ve been hooked.
Love is a central theme in much of her music, and is very much so in this one. Love is something we all think about. It’s something I brood over more than I would like, but music like hers matches the energy and complicated feelings that arise when I think of old flames and new sparks. In an interview with VIBE, Jhene talked about love in Souled Out:
“I would say that Souled Out says that love is everything. Love is pain. Love is happiness. love is acceptance. Love is just the strongest energy in the world, in the universe. Every song on Souled Out is really based on love. It starts off with relationship, then family and just life, all these different things. And I just think it’s because love is the universal energy that creates everything. It creates life. It creates death. Yeah, I think that answered the question maybe”
I also think she’s one of the most beautiful women on earth, which makes me enjoy of her music even more. At times I felt bad about that, thinking it was superficial to like someone’s music because I’m attracted to them (even though that obviously couldn’t be the only reason). But I think it’s a very human thing to do.
Musicians give us a whole new world to explore through their chords and choruses. But most of the time, the experience of listening to our favorite artists is a very intimate and isolated one. Jhene isn’t singing about me in any of her songs. But she doesn’t have to, because when I put my headphones on and vibe to Souled Out in solitude, she is singing to me. I put myself in the musical landscape she created. The only passengers on this voyage are her and I. It’s something we all do with music, because though we like the same artists for similar reasons, our interactions with their art is purely, hopelessly, wonderfully singular. They offer their love songs and we project love experiences onto them. We from mini-relationships with the artist for the duration of the song. This is the exchange between the artist and the listener. It’s called empathy.
When I think of Jhené, I think of that high school crush, the one ALL the guys wanted. She is “out of your league”, but nevertheless, you rest all of your hopeless romantic dreams on her. When she smiles at you, you take it as flirting, whether it is or not. When she subtweets love song lyrics on Twitter, you hope she’s talking to you. But that Facebook status is about you, even if you act like it isn’t.
Did I break your heart / Was it all my fault? / If you don’t knock it off / You know like I know where this was headed – Spotless Mind
But it’s more of a projection than anything, and you know what the deal is. If she does return your affections, the roller-coaster ride begins. You know she will have her cake and eat it too, no matter how you many arguments you have in your head about what you want and what’s “fair”. She’s made it clear that it’s a no go on titles, so you “play it cool”, knowing you want her to be yours and only yours. Your beating heart is on your sleeve, and you hope she doesn’t see it. But you know she does.
Men know this way before they get emotionally involved with her. And yet, cautions to not feel too deeply too fast doesn’t stop them from swan-diving head first. Why? Maybe a gorgeous woman causes men to not think clearly (which scientifically, is actually true. The sight of attractive women actually turns parts of mens brains off ). Or maybe, more simply, love makes us take that risk.
Jhené Aiko’s music asks many questions about the existential angst of love, to love, and to be loved. Why does the free-spirit capture us more than the one who hands us their heart too easily? Why is love something to be won, and lovers to be owned or conquered? Why is lust so necessary, yet so incompatible with love? Why does everything change once feelings get in the way? Why is being vulnerable so damn hard? Why is love the thing we want the most, and the thing that hurts us the most? Is there a such thing as The One?
In tracks like “Limbo Limbo Limbo”, she sings about being free-falling through life, a feeling liberation and control. “To Live & Die” the paradox of living for love, even though life lasts but a fleeting moment, and the anxiety of men forcing love on her. On “Promises” she sings about her brother who passed away, and her daughter, promising her she will always be there for her. On “Blue Dream” she talks about dreamlike high of being in love with someone.
Jhené aiko is a wanderer. But wanderers usually aren’t doing so aimlessly, they’re searching for something. Maybe it doesn’t exist, maybe it does. It could be happiness in a person or happiness in life itself. It could be to recapture that illusive “old feeling” or to create a new unfelt bliss; a divine connection in a sea of attachments. If she is searching for The One, he’s not just someone she can give her heart to, but someone she can give her soul to.
Why she hasn’t found these things (at least in her music) isn’t clear. Maybe she’s been hurt too much, or “The Pressure” isn’t worth the drama. Maybe “needing” someone is a scary feeling she fights and embraces. Maybe she was ready when they weren’t, and when they were, she wasn’t. Maybe she will be “Wading” until she turns blue.
Searching can be at times rewarding, lonely, frustrating, and peaceful. Her words are a reminder for all of us: you’ll only find what you’re looking for if you keep searching. There’s many “W.A.Y.S” to find that thing you are looking for.
But above all you gotta keep going.