Over the summer Tinashe made a strong bid for song of the summer with “2 On,” which took the club by storm despite being a relatively low key banger. The DJ Mustard track is the most upbeat song on her debut Aquarius, which is a remarkably minimalist affair. Even though her past mixtapes were prime examples of experimental R&B done right, too often major label debuts have diluted an artist’s original style. As an actual cohesive body of work, Aquarius stands as the best debut mainstream album this year.

On the surface, the signs of trouble are there if you take a peek at the track list; the hit making team ScHoolboy Q, Future, A$AP Rocky, Cashmere Cat, StarGate, Mike WILL Made It, and more are all here. Tinashe’s style is also equally varied, having been compared to a host of greats like Janet Jackson, Alliyah, and Ciara. While these comparisons are flattering and clear, they do a disservice to Aquarius. Tinahse is versatile enough to evoke the sound of all these artists while simultaneously merging her sound with current trends and managing all the cooks in the kitchen. It’s a thin line, but she walks it with confidence.

Unfortunately, like many albums that intend on evoking a specific atmosphere, some tracks start to blend together. “All Hands on Deck” comes off as a high quality but desperate attempt at replicating “2 On.” Some of the interludes are pretentious and Future almost kills the vibe on the sexy “How Many Times.”

In the end, the blunders can be looked past because there are some real gems in the young starlet’s major label debut. “Feels Like Vegas” may be the best sex song since Beyoncé’s “Rocket” in a genre that has devolved into buff guys singing about how much they’re packing. “Bet” is almost without a chorus but succeeds because Tianshe’s oozing vocals move in and out of the spacey beat with ease. It’s a five-minute sonic experiment that rewards listeners with a euphoric outro by Dev Hynes. On “Cold Sweat,” she shows her range, quickly moving between breathy, rapping, and falsettos.

For such a cohesive work, it is remarkable that after multiple listens, I still can’t pin down Aquarius’ genre. Drawing from pop, hip-hop, traditional and progressive R&B, Tinashe refuses to be pigeonholed – and that’s what makes her truly modern.

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