Earlier this year saw the release of ‘2 On’: a sexy, thumping floor-filler with heavy DJ Mustard beats packing a hefty punch, it was the track that defined the summer and showcased 21 year old Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe as a force to be reckoned with. A self-confessed perfectionist, her debut has been a long time coming, releasing mixtape after mixtape of shimmering harmonies and trippy, sensuous synths that teased its eventual arrival. With production from Mike Will Made It, Mustard, Boi-1da and Evian Christ, Aquarius submerges you in a sound that could not be more current.
As the title track fades out with a whispered ‘welcome to my world’, Tinashe makes it unequivocally clear that she is in total control. She commands authority not through roaring, stadium-filling proclamations (think ‘who run the world?’), but with a softly sung confidence that can be both vehement and ethereal. There’s no rush or urgency in her voice, its inhale and exhale shaping the waves, and the ominous beats the tide pulling ‘Aquarius’ along.
The first few tracks showcase this sublimely. The delicate breathiness of the album opener oozes with a languid sexiness, with her sugary Jackson-eque vocals juxtaposed against a spaced and minimal bassline. Then ‘Bet’ and ‘Cold Sweat’ up the intensity and shift the tone into darker, slow-burning depths, with Devonte Hynes’ anguished guitar solo adding an icy bite. This is Tinashe at her finest: lustrous, brooding and compelling.
Yet at times the vocals don’t really seem to work. With cuts like ‘All Hands on Deck’, the airiness of her voice does not lend itself well to the belting falsetto chorus, making it sound a little overstretched. On ‘Pretend’, too, her syrupy vocals become a little too sickly as Tinashe recounts ad nauseam about ‘a love that never ends’, and A$AP Rocky’s verse contributes nothing of significance (a recurring problem the album's features, particularly from Future and Schoolboy Q). Both cuts are somewhat underwhelming and slightly overindulgent. It’s also from this mid-point that the album loses some of its flare. Whilst Tinashe boasts fierceness on ‘Thug Cry’ and ‘Wildfire’, both tracks lack the ignition to make them truly exciting, and they fall under the shadow of the rest of the LP. Inject the awkward interludes every now and again and the smooth oceanic ebb and flow of the first half breaks, the sultry atmosphere fading further out.
Aquarius is by no means a flawless debut. In spite of its assured confidence, the album aims for stardom but falls but slightly too short. The few generic and skippable tracks keep her chained to the ground when where she really thrives is in the open, the otherworldly. Yet even with these downfalls, Tinashe still remains sonically so addictive and enthralling, and it is cuts like ‘Bet’, ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘2 On’ that keep her flame thriving. Believe the hype for, with all her assertiveness and drive for perfection, Tinashe’s artistic vision is heading for huge things.
Words: Josie Roberts