It’s hard to believe R&B singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko’s debut album came out over three years ago. Despite its mixed-bag tendencies, Souled Out had a fluid sound that I enjoyed. Aiko’s voice never felt forced or fabricated. Though it never felt vibrant or adaptive either. When Jhené is on the track, she stands out. She has a unique sound. However, across a 90-minute, 22-track album, her sound becomes blander by the minute. Aiko’s lyrical messages always spread positivity. That’s what I like most about her music. She guides her listeners through miniature spiritual journeys, focusing on love, oneness, and heartache. Jhené is certainly a fan favorite. Her empowering lyrics are admirable. Yet I must admit: She hasn’t grown much since her debut. Where Souled Out succeeded was in its ability to shift from mellow to wavy smoothly. Conversely, this sophomore follow-up traps Aiko inside of her own comfort zone.
I assume Jhené justified this album’s 22-track length by calling it Trip. In my opinion, that was a mistake. This project is way too long. I could hardly stay awake halfway through. Trip suffers from a rocky start. The only compelling song I heard in the first seven was the lead single, “While We’re Young”. It’s a solid track to say the least. But is it enough to counteract the countless vanilla vocal performances? Unfortunately, it is not. Aiko’s singing style was a breath of fresh air when she first entered the limelight. Fast forward a handful of years, and not much has changed. I don’t expect her to alter her entire vibe. However, I haven’t heard improvements in her vocal range awareness. Her debut supplied her with supportive production that matched and highlighted her tone. On Trip, the production value has compromised quality for a hodgepodge of simplistic sounds.
In many ways, simplicity can be a wonderful artistic route. Yet rather than show the many sides of simplicity, Aiko chooses soundscapes that all run into each other. She then follows that up by dumping an unnecessary amount of tracks here. I don’t want to call this album a burden, because it’s not. Many of the songs found here are pleasant to the ear, but don’t accomplish anything significant. “New Balance,” “Psilocybin,” and “Picture Perfect” are impressive efforts. There are a couple others too. Though they’re so sporadically sprinkled, it’s hardly worth sifting. On the bright side, Trip is easily a background soundtrack for a chill get-together. I’m just sick of saying that about albums from artists I know are better than an ambient pity play. Jhené has real talent. Still, she’s not helping herself progress with flat and bland production like this.
I simply was not moved by much on this album despite the occasional serviceable track. One beaming positive comes near the album’s close. “Sing to Me” featuring Jhené’s daughter Namiko is incredibly touching. Normally, I might label it as corny or kiddy and refrain from mentioning it out of respect. However, it was a delightful offering that made me smile. A similar value encompasses Trip‘s final seven tracks. After a long stretch of mediocrity, Aiko reclaims her intrigue starting with “Psilocybin (Love in Full Effect)”. She improves her songwriting by the album’s end as well as her vocals. “Picture Perfect (Freestyle)” is a noteworthy ballad. Sadly, it’s the only one here, which is disappointing. Additionally, I would’ve preferred if the accompanying short film sound bites weren’t present, mostly due to the singer’s poor acting. Jhené’s voice is as pretty as she is, but pretty only goes so deep.