What to call this weird, wonderful world of experimental beat music sung by young women right now? Recent albums by FKA Twigs, Kelela and now “Aquarius” by the L.A.-based Tinashe seem too expansive for the term “R&B,” except in the most literal sense — these records have rhythm and swing yet cut through with melancholy.
Whatever we end up calling this sad, seductive new sound, “Aquarius” might be the record to take these ideas into every American bedroom. It comes on the heels of the summer-defining single “2 On,” a slow-simmering DJ Mustard banger in which Tinashe’s lyrics about her hard partying came streaked with a bad-decisions-at-5 a.m. kind of darkness.
That was a great single, but “Aquarius” elaborates on that template with even more enticing moves. “Bet,” with Blood Orange’s Devonte Hynes, trades overt hooks for pure feeling — its spectral voices and inky synth pads are a perfect setting for Tinashe’s whispered invitations. “Pretend” pairs New Agey keys with a mid-tempo drum crunch that lets Tinashe explore the pull between pain and artifice in love.
Pop-savvy producers like Stargate, Boi-1da and Mike Will Made It add brevity and melody; others like Clams Casino and Evian Christ add difficult, implacable emotions. But “Aquarius” heralds an essential new voice, one that coheres 100 current ideas about women, sex, sadness and musical restlessness in one excellent album.
Three and a half stars