Jhené Aiko produces a highly personal, deeply-felt meditation on grief and self-discovery in her new album Trip. Seattle rapper Macklemore's new album Gemini reaches a high in his collaboration with Kesha on "Good Old Days." Ohio rockers Walk the Moon make a triumphant return with an upbeat, honest new single. Irish crooner Dermot Kennedy finds new levels of intensity and sadness on a many-layered heartbreak track. And Cuban artist Xiomara Laugart contributes her own rich sound to a strong collection of Cuban and American soul tunes.
"Jukai," Jhené Aiko
Sink into the dreamy journey of Jhené Aiko on "Jukai," one of the syrupy tracks off the talented R&B singer and writer's latest deeply personal project, Trip. Conceptualized in three parts — as an album, as a short film and as a book of poetry — Trip documents Aiko's journey, emotionally and physically, as she copes with the loss of her brother and navigates the rocky terrain of grief and self-reckoning over the last few years. Over 22 tracks and 90 minutes, Aiko's voice — sweet and light — finds new expression in raw honesty. "Hell is other people," she sighs on the atmospheric, ethereal "Jukai." "Or the lack thereof. And their lack of love."
"In sharing this... 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," Aiko wrote of releasing the work, which was four years in the making. The experience of listening is therapeutic, above all else: in a trance, Aiko guides us down her path of healing.
"Good Old Days," Macklemore feat. Kesha
Macklemore's brand of melodic rap comes in strong with "Good Old Days." Partnering with Kesha on this one is particularly potent; the Seattle rapper has a knack for choosing female vocalists to feature whose expressive voices smartly balance his gruffness, and Kesha especially — in the midst of her current musical renaissance — has never sounded better. The nostalgic, bittersweet "Good Old Days" plays on what we know about both artists: Macklemore with his history of addiction, and Kesha's legal and emotional battles in the music world. "I've felt some pain and seen some things, but I'm here now," they duet at one point. We know that both of them are on the upswing, too, adding poignant truth to the soaring, emotional tune.
"Moments Passed," Dermot Kennedy
For a small country, Ireland is on a roll lately bringing out talented, moody male solo artists. First there was Hozier. Then there was the grown-up Niall Horan. And now you can get your fix in the form of Dermot Kennedy, whose brand of melodic melancholy sounds like a hundred shades of blue and grey. "Moments Passed" sees Kennedy near-rasping over electronic-boosted production, bringing a new level of intensity to his layered approach to the heartbreak track.
"One Foot," Walk the Moon
If you're seeking an upbeat rock singalong to jam out to this fall as you walk to school or work, "One Foot" will do the trick with aplomb: "One foot in front of the other" is, after all, the main refrain. From the Ohio quartet of masterminds behind 2014's breakout hit "Shut Up and Dance," this new song from Walk the Moon has the same tendency towards instantaneous catchiness. But its poppy, new wave rock, while bright on the surface, is underlaid by a darker lyrical honesty. "Through the wilderness, you and I will walk into the emptiness," singer Nicholas Petricca suggests. "All we have is each other."
"Zun Zun," Xiomara Laugart
Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart's smokey, deep voice shines on "Zun Zun," a track off an unusual new collection of songs spanning the Cuban and American soul traditions. Produced by music industry legends Vivian Scott Chew and Ray Chew, Two Beats, One Soul is a loving exploration of two rich musical cultures, collecting voices and crossing genres seamlessly thanks to a veritable laundry list of contributors like Little Louie Vega and Eric Benét. Laugart's "Zun Zun" stands out for its immediate, sultry danceability — and for that irresistible quality in her voice, conjuring wild nights we can only dream of up north.