TOM BROADLEY takes us through Tinashe’s latest mixtape.
2014 was a strange year for music; relatively few big artists released new albums, leaving plenty of room for newcomers to make their mark. One of these arrivals was LA-based singer-songwriter Tinashe who started the year by dropping ‘2 On’, an infectious and moody party anthem. The single blew up in the US and she followed its success with her debut album Aquarius. Here, she expanded the sound previously explored on her earlier mixtapes by drawing on current electronic trends as well as early 00s idols like Aaliyah, creating an album full of brooding, futuristic R&B and darkly rhythmic pop.
Clearly not one to rest on her laurels, last month Tinashe dropped a new 7-song mixtape, recorded over Christmas and intended as a thank you to her fans. While Amethyst is no massive departure from her previous work, it does display a clear progression. Opener ‘Dreams Are Real’ plays like ‘2 On’s’ sunnier sibling. Crystal-clear piano chords chime above deep bass notes while Tinashe turns her success over in her mind. While ‘2 On’ promoted a carpe noctum hedonism, here she reflects on the everyday struggle to reach your full potential, but a sense of optimism still pervades as she delicately sings, “sky turns blue / love flows through / how you feel / dreams are real.”
Aquarius saw Tinashe gathering a whole host of the most celebrated producers of the moment, from DJ Mustard to Devonté Hynes, but still achieving a cohesive musical vision that was unmistakably her own. She’s done the same on Amethyst, joining up with Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth on highlight ‘Wrong’. They sample Kool and the Gang’s ‘Summer Madness’ to produce a blissfully melancholic atmosphere. Meanwhile, the lyrics and vocals capture the multifaceted nature of heartbreak. In one moment she triumphantly celebrates her emotional independence – ‘wake up inside of my castle / I’ve banished you from my heart’ – but then states ‘I’m still in love with you’ in a voice tinged with mourning and loneliness.
Elsewhere on the mixtape, Tinashe branches out into new, less familiar sounds. Closer ‘Just The Way I Like You’ she creates something that Kanye might have created if Yeezus had been aiming for a chilled R&B sound rather an aggressive hip-hop one. An unsettling and abrasive synth runs underneath the whole song, occasionally punctuated by machine-gun percussion. Together, they threaten to overwhelm the glistening guitars and her soft, whispered vocals in a way that’s surprising but enjoyable. On ‘Worth It’ she takes cues from another celebrated contemporary R&B singer Jhené Aiko, with water-drop percussion and retro synths. It’s far less experimental than the other songs and potentially less affecting overall, but a sultry sax coda enlivens the whole track.
While Amethyst doesn’t reach the heights of brilliance that Aquarius achieved, it does showcase the skills of the most compelling voice in alternative R&B. And although most of the songs sound like works in progress rather than completed tracks, it’s still undeniably impressive for a mixtape recorded in a bedroom studio over the course of a few weeks. It proves that Tinashe is an artist in possession of a unique vision and restless creativity.