“I hope to inspire others to share their grief and pain, because I believe suffering can be alleviated when we understand we are not going through any of it alone.”
— Jhene Aiko
If the music doesn’t move you beyond tangible boundaries, if it doesn’t captivate and catapult you past where any human has ever gone, if it doesn’t expand the already-vast human consciousness, then is it even that good?
Aiko’s 22-track studio album pushes further than the sonic limits of typical rhythm & blues while still touching on topics like love, loss and discovery. This is ambient R&B, illustrating the sensation(s) one is likely to experience while under the influence of psychedelic drugs. Appropriately named Trip, the album title itself serves as a double entendre for both the physical and metaphysical journeys most of us are embarking on.
Trip‘s enveloping tracklist is also accompanied by a short film, written by and starring Jhene Aiko herself. In it, she plays a nomadic writer who is filling a void from the loss of her brother (an endearing tribute to the life of her brother, Miyagi, after losing a battle to cancer in 2012 ) with song lyrics she scribbles into her notebook. She falls into a whirlwind romance with a traveler she meets along the way and finds herself facing a lesson she had been running from for so long–learning how to let go, even after losing it all.
“Oblivion is kind of like nirvana, where you become nothing and you don’t have to suffer over and over again. You’re free to just be nothing.”
— Jhene Aiko
The 29-year old songstress undergoes a rebirth or reawakening of sorts, and with sounds so experimental and dreamy, listeners are invited to set out on the epic voyage along with her. The autobiographical soundscape is a roadmap of Jhene Aiko’s life after being constructed for quite some time, told in its most poetic iteration. LSD, the album’s opening track, is the opening setup for the extensive trip.
We’re led into Jukai right after, where wanderlust leads us into a tempting and seemingly mystical forest. Though mysteries of what may lie within might deter others, they draw her/us in, as does the sound of a guitar strumming alongside Aiko’s harmonizing background vocals. The ode to Aokigahara, the famous “suicide forest” in Japan is not as morbid or dreadful as the tales of the location itself. Rather, it’s calming, though there may be an eeriness in that. She says “you don’t get to die until you get it right, you said/I envy the dead”.
The purpose of this whole trip is to obtain the peace that comes with death–the peace her brother now knows after death–while she is alive.
Drugs play an important role in how Aiko’s art is written, sung and visualized, and it’s refreshing to see and hear the creative efforts that aide in illustrating such profound lyrics. On Trip we’re listening to an otherwise inhibited spirit relinquish her insecurities garnered in all of her human experiences, a proverbial demolishing of the self-constructed limits that prevented her from living life.
OLLA (Only Lovers Left Alive) is a post-apocalyptic, neofuturistic, soulful jam session. It paints a vivid picture of a dismal world that met its doom, and the only hope for those who survived is the love that kept that kept them safe in the first place. Sativa, a hazy groove track with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, showcases how the strong cerebral buzz of this particular Cannabis flirts with its corresponding soothing high.
The album trails through more songs that become more weighted in Aiko’s perspective on desire–to love, to live, to die, to understand and so on. She describes Nobody as her most “introspective and honest” song she’s ever done. On it, she sits in her loneliness and the authenticity of her lyrics is most indicated in her flow. It’s reminiscent of an
adolescent period, where being misunderstood and misguided had us making unhealty decisions.
The album trails into something like an abyss, dark and expansive with limits unforeseen. Overstimulated perfectly embodies addiction in all of its well-dressed temptation that veils a violent tidal wave of misery. Aiko says she was experimenting with cocaine and Adderall at the time, both of which she doesn’t plan to do again, and talks about the horrors of the come down. Perfect segue into Bad Trip.
Of all songs on the album, Psylocibin is by far my favorite. It’s an ode to the plant and its God-given wonders. The song itself is an explorative sonic experience. It opens with the lyrics that draw you in.
“Get it poppin’ on this psylocibin/gettin’ weirder than a patient in insane asylum/I could feel it hit the ceiling when it’s in my body/An out of body experience, a spirit party”
While experimental and authentic, Jhene Aiko levels up on Trip. It’s romantic and experiential for its listeners. The lyrics are impactful and deep yet do not take away from the intended effects of the instrumentals. Among everything else, it is Aiko’s love letter to psychedelics. Though taking substances of any kind isn’t a requirement for audience enjoyment, please ensure optimal safety before taking a trip of your own to this album.