Like the Big Island, Chilombo‘s recording location, and its steadily pulsating, molten rock phenomena, Jhené Aiko’s third album ebbs and flows with healing power while narrating the singer’s personal journey through grief and self-discovery. Musically, the album is a tranquil R&B production flooded with Aiko’s characteristic zen vocals and effortlessly savage lyricism. Though critics have described the work as excessively drawn out and maybe a little too zen, I have increasingly found Chilombo to be a calming and humanizing presence amidst such global chaos.
In addition to the Island’s volcanoes, which Aiko likens to the eruptive energy of “Triggered (freestyle)”, she cites the use of traditional Buddhist singing bowls throughout her album. Aiko has long dabbled in ‘sound-healing’ or ‘music-therapy’, a practice which we receive a full introduction to in the singer’s attempt to open up and realign the body’s different chakras. In addition to being highly soothing, Chilombo is also charged with sex and defiance – in “Pu$$y Fairy (OTW)”, Aiko riffs her way through declarations of her own sexuality, asserting “‘I got you sprung off in the spring time/Fuck all your free time/You don’t need no ‘me time'”. The track carries a hypnotic dance rhythm while detailing the give-and-take of pleasure in an intimate relationship, and is purposely set in the key of D, which corresponds to the chakra associated with sensuality and located in the pelvic area.
Other favorites of mine include “Born Tired”, “Lightning & Thunder (feat. John Legend)”, and the various interludes that serve as peaceful prefaces to the narrative-style songs that follow. In “Born Tired”, Aiko infuses acoustic instrumentals with somewhat of a musical pep talk, encouraging the listener to “Rest your weary heart/Dry your teary eyes/I know you are scarred/And torn apart inside/Darling so am I”. The message is uplifting yet grounding, a defining characteristic of Aiko’s music which I thoroughly appreciate. Instead of pushing forth a high-energy beat with unrealistically upbeat advice, Aiko aims for unfiltered empathy in “Born Tired”. This sense of self-acceptance and positivity is somewhat of a theme in Chilombo; rather than considering “Triggered (freestyle)”, and “None of Your Concern (feat. Big Sean)” as diss tracks towards her on-and-off partner Big Sean, the singer considers them more as meditative outlets for “talking shit out of frustration and passion”. “Lightning & Thunder (feat. John Legend)” sets itself apart from the rest of Chilombo with the blissfully unaware, head-over-heels sentiment conveyed by lyrics such as “What kind of spell do you have me under/What in the hell? Starting to wonder/I am not well, I’m going under”. Aiko and Legend’s voices merge to further the song’s dreamy, entranced mood, resulting in a track that perfectly encapsulates the lack of control over one’s own fuzzy headspace that inevitably arises in the process of falling in love.