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Album Audit: Jhene Aiko, Fergie And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 09/25/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

Jordan Rakei – Wallflower

Album Of The Week

New Zealand-born, Brisbane-raised artist Jordan Rakei released his debut record Cloak last year but in many ways Wallflower feels like his proper arrival. For one, it’s his debut LP for iconic label Ninja Tune, home to artists like Bonobo, Wiley and ZOMBY. While many of the artists on that label operate in the electronic space, Rakei is a soul man with an organic approach. Still, his vision for experimental melodies and instrumentals sometimes seems to take cues from the world of electronica similar to BADBADNOTGOOD.

Right from the get-go, Wallflower is a stunning record. Rakei’s voice is ushered in amidst gentle guitar strums on Eye To Eye, recalling the silky tones of Jamie Woon. An introverted artist, Rakei moved from Brisbane to London and has been forced to confront those anxieties head-on. “I was always a clumsy speaker,” he sings on slippery, soulful Nerve and on the acoustic, intimate closer Wallflower he sings, “I’m still trapped by the cages of my lips.”

Still for all those anxieties, Rakei has found a way to be bravely personal on this record. May deals with the death of his grandmother over a sparse, dark key and Hiding Place has him take to a “dark place” in one of his most haunting arrangements yet. Rakei has always had an incredible voice but for the first time on Wallflower we truly get an insight into what’s behind the voice. The lyrics are vivid, personal and poetic. They don’t hand us everything about him on a platter but they give us brief insights into his troubles and triumphs that help you really connect to this record. It’s both a personal and artistic achievement for an artist who is only getting started. 4

Jhene Aiko – Trip

At 22 songs long, Jhene Aiko‘s Trip is a long, unexpected trip. She dropped the record as a surprise on Friday, three years after her last LP Souled Out. A lot has happened since then for Aiko. She’s grappled with fame, entered a new relationship with Big Sean and dealt with the death of her brother, who died of cancer in 2012. While Souled Out felt like surface level soul-searching, Trip sees Aiko tackling mending far more deeply, both through drugs trips and physical trips.

The weightless opener LSD may make you think this is going to be a Flaming Lips-esque journey and while she gets psychedelic at times, her lyrics are far more personal than metaphorical. On New Balance she openly admits to a lover, “You remind me of my brother,” on Never Call Me she sings, “You knew all along that I wasn’t the one for you,” and on Bad Trip she confronts a terrible high.

Throughout the whole record we go with Aiko through everything in a linear storyline. She’s in love, then out of love, then looking for meaning and finally finding peace. She recruits Brandy on Ascension which has her declare, “Found my way again.” It’s a beautiful, elongated, slow-moving journey through wobbly, wonky beats and crystalline vocals but only hardcore fans are likely to stick around for its huge 90 minute duration. A little editing could have made it far tighter and tracks like the glacial Overstimulated and You Are Here could’ve been left of if she wanted to contain it but you get the feeling she wanted it to be a long-lasting trip that wasn’t immediate.

You have to dig to find Trip‘s most immediate, effective moments but they’re there. OLLA (Only Lovers Left) with Big Sean as Twenty88 is a groovy, throwback jam, the New Balance freestyle is a gorgeously melodic minimal cut and closer Trip may be one of the most hypnotic things she’s ever done. It’s potentially unfair to review this so soon after it’s drop given the length and layers to it. For Aiko, it most likely wasn’t an easy project to make and listeners are going to find it’s not an easy project to listen to back-to-front either. But maybe the best thing about it is it’s going to keep revealing itself. 3.5

Fergie – Double Dutchess

You can hardly place all the blame on Fergie that she took 11 years to follow-up her debut The Dutchess. Label delays frustratingly pushed this project further and further back and now we finally have the follow-up that sounds a little late and a little frustrated. Fergie was an icon in 2006 – one that effortlessly walked the line between hip-hop and pop with a little bit of weird peppered through. In 2017, most of the biggest popstars do that and it leaves Fergie searching for a space in the current climate.

Double Dutchess attempts to be modern at many points. Hungry is a grand hip-hop track, Tension is a disco-flavoured electronic bop and Enchanté (Carine) taps into trop-house. The issue with the record is that too often she falls back on the sounds of old rather than finding new sounds like she did in 2006. In fact, Double Dutchess often takes cues from its predecessor. Like It Ain’t Nuttin’ takes London Bridge‘s bratty tone, Save It Til Morning reads like a Big Girls Don’t Cry appropriation and Love Is Blind goes for Clumsy‘s woozy, weightless aesthetic.

There’s just no enough here to prove she’s a force in pop anymore and every attempt to be of-the-time falls spectacularly short. M.I.L.F. $ misses the mark completely with a tuneless hook and even Nicki Minaj fails to bring something edgy to You Already Know. It’s a shame because if it had come a lot sooner, she would’ve been in the zone of pop’s big hitters. 2.5

Starrah x Diplo – EP

Before he was working with the Biebers of the world, Diplo was a sponge for new talent and he always sounded invigorated by it (cc: M.I.A.). For the first time in a while he sounds inspired by the new once again, teaming up with one of the best songwriters in the world right now Starrah (Calvin Harris, Rihanna) for a forward-thinking hip-hop/R&B record.

Together they’ve crafted an effortless, wonky set of songs that teams Diplo’s melodic, minimal production with Starrah’s slinky, sleek top lines. The EP is a cohesive set, moving from a late night jam like Zoo with one hell of a hook (“way way way too lit”) to a deconstructed trap song Swerve that is so silky. There are little changes in terms of the sonic tool kit but they’re supremely written, tight songs that grab you immediately. Lead-single Imperfections is a hit single in waiting that if successful has a really good chance of altering the sound of commercial R&B right now. It’s a stretch but Starrah and Diplo are making sounds for the future rather than mastering what’s already been done. 4