Jhené Aiko: Chilombo review – sexual, spiritual and wildly over-long

Aiko’s third album documents the bitter dissolution of a relationship, but the final goodbye never really arrives

Prior to recording her third album, Jhené Aiko got immersed in the practice of sound healing. She incorporated the vibrational hum of crystal alchemy singing bowls into every track of Chilombo. Pu$$y Fairy (OTW), for example, features a bowl in the key of D, which apparently corresponds with the chakra that governs the sexual organs “to help balance you out in those areas”. Seemingly documenting the bitter dissolution of a relationship, Chilombo also thrives on a less spiritual form of healing: the unvarnished kiss-off. “You ain’t no friend of mine, motherfucker,” she sings on Triggered; “get your bitch-ass off my phone, I am not your girl any more”, on None of Your Concern. The production balances the sacred and the profane: Aiko airs her grievances with a meditative, should-have-known-better sigh, while the production is liquid, mellow and self-possessed.

Aiko is no stranger to an ambitious concept project: her 2017 album Trip turned her grief at the death of her brother into a psychedelic odyssey. Chilombo has a similarly large scope, following her journey out of the ruined relationship. She sings practically a cappella about her gratitude for small pleasures on BS, her emotional immediacy (reminiscent of Ariana Grande on Thank U, Next) preventing it from getting saccharine. She airs her explicit sexual desires in contrast to the delicate sound of Happiness Over Everything and, in sync with the visceral fricative beat of Pu$$y Fairy, her unapologetic demand for pleasure and rejection of judgment electrifying the 20-track album’s midpoint.

Unfortunately, neither Aiko’s narrative nor the fairly one-note production can sustain that focus across this wildly over-long record. It lacks the variety of Trip, and could do with more moments like One Way Street, which sets Aiko’s existential breakdown to a dubby gleam, or the raw Born Tired, where a simple acoustic guitar motif showcases her vocal range. And while you obviously wish Aiko happiness after her breakup, it’s disappointing, after the enjoyably visceral put-downs of the first half, that the album seems to conclude with a reconciliation, rendered in never-ending, luscious rhapsodies that keep coming like a film that doesn’t know how to end.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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