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defend the album is a lyrics-first blog by me, bradley fields, about the stories and moments I find in albums that matter to me. Almost always in fewer than 1,000 words.

Jhené Aiko's Trip

Jhené Aiko’s Trip is a journey through loss. Vivid as often as it’s hazy, it’s spaces she sinks into and climbs out of as she explores how different connections can destroy or restore.

How you like it up there?

LSD exalts the brother Jhené misses, imagining him jetting across the moon. But without him she’s grounded, and that distance is prologue. Minding the gap it creates becomes one of the album’s dominant themes. Trip is, largely, stories of her trying to meet him up there.

“So, the other night, I took a tiny piece of paper and put it under my tongue.” This small action—one filled with hopes for closure—unlocks a universe of consequences. But despite her sense that induced closeness will set her free, the song’s abrupt end suggests she’s on the verge of getting less than she bargained for.

I left the house all clean and tidy.

Jukai starts as a goodbye note. Jhené steps into Japan’s suicide forest (“Know I’m where I wanna be”), curious about what it’d be like to be amongst the dead. If hell is the lack of other people and their love, then hell is now and death is better. When she makes it out alive, though, I’m not sure she’s been saved.

We should rush and do something dumb.

The flow from a new chance at life into While We’re Young is so smooth. But I wonder about manipulation. She’s just so attached. Walking hand-in-hand into the sun seems like imminent burnout.

Moments continues the stay-young-or-die theme, but OLLA (Only Lovers Left Alive) extends the us vs. them mode. “If they don’t believe us, they’ll keep us from freedom.” (With its couples-skate feel, OLLA’s also one of my favorite sounds on the record.)

You lie. I don’t mind it.

When We Love snaps me out of the couples-skate. Jhené holds him up as the best love she’s known. When nothing about his assurances feels warm. When him getting her into sativa is like him watching his setup unfold. When he brushes off her “Don’t hurt me, ok?” with the illusion of substance. Sativa follows with a vibe, but an expensive one.

Most of us are simply more alive in the scenes of our dreams.

In New Balance, Jhené universalizes anger, emptiness, and strife. When she narrows her focus, though—when she calls out the voices in her head—the song takes off. Her confidence in their love feels truer than any other romantic expression on the record. And her ability to draw shared experience out of her own with “Some of us been through it all before; some of us do still come back for more” is one hell of a last line.

That reality gets checked in Newer Balance, though. In sets a foreshadowing feeling. And she arms her intuition with a threat: “Hope you are who you are sayin.”

You’re too good to be real, for sure.

You Are Here continues an abrupt descent—a comedown from New Balance’s heights. Her wonder becomes disbelief. The mood is a warning.

Yes, your mama did; she raised a fool, wow.

Bruh needed to have been gone. In Never Call Me, Jhené has literally called some shooters. She says “my city” like she owns his area code. She shuts down his whataboutism. And she calls their high by its hollow name: “We never shared anything but the drugs.”

Since I was under the age, I been under the influence of pain.

Jhené dives into some of her worst tendencies in Nobody. “I don’t need nobody” is so obviously false. We need what we want the way we think we want it—and maybe our read is right—but nothing about that equals the absence of need. What’s missing is nourishment and place (“Who am I enough for?”).

She seems to realize the substance she’s been fiending for could’ve been dispensed safely. This turns self-care on its axis; there’s danger in the unprescribed. But immortalizing her mother undoes that progress. 

Of course her mother needed people. Thinking she didn’t leaves Jhené vulnerable to the wrong people, like the villain in Overstimulated. “Took it without looking, now I’m looking up the side effects.” That misplaced dependence ends in screams—a nightmare emphasized in Bad Trip - Interlude.

There’s no loving without losing. There’s no living without bruising.

“The world’s a fucking mess… and I’m every bit a part of it. I may have started it.” The weight of claiming this responsibility shook me. Oblivion (Creation) is a plea to feel nothing.

That want for nothing is really an openness—one that Jhené slides into with Psilocybin (Love in Full Effect), where she reflects on where she fits (“We’re on a plane to inner space”). And as she begins to rise from that reflection, Mystic Journey - Freestyle is hope for harmony (“We are truly better as a collective”).

I keep you in a frame.

On the other side of her epiphany, four songs bring better perspective. In Picture Perfect - Freestyle, melancholy surrenders to healthier coping. Painful memories of her brother—and of comparing herself to him—are compartmentalized. And in the straight-up adorable Sing to Me, her daughter’s her motivation to escape her terrible trip (“Wake up, Mommy”).

Frequency is gospel. There’s hope and dismay in “We are never far,” because of its implication: how close we always are. And “Lead them from temptation. Make them royalty”? So say we all. Here’s to Frequency’s better saviors and to the better heights in Ascension.

Please don’t let the darkness keep me low.

In Trip, Jhené abandons thinking there are clean breaks. She also gives up on finding but so much of The Answer in someone else, which does a few things: it challenges Nobody; it marks growth away from the wrong dependency; it acknowledges the ever-present risk of using again. Find all of this in the variety of replies she gives to “Who can save me?”


Notes

Release date

September 22, 2017

Producers

Amaire Johnson (also co-exec.) · Benny Blanco · Cashmere Cat · Dot da Genius · Fisticuffs · Frank Dukes · Jhené Aiko · John Mayer · Julian-Quan Viet Le · Ketrina "Taz" Askew · Key Wayne · Mali Music · Mike Moore · Mike Zombie · No I.D. · Noel Cadastre · Trakgirl

Writers

Amaire Johnson · Benny Blanco · Big Sean · Brandy · Brian Warfield · Cashmere Cat · Chris Brown · Dot Da Genius · Fisticuffs · Frank Dukes · Jhené Aiko · Julian-Quan Viet Le · Key Wane · Maclean Robinson · Mali Music · Michael Volpe · Mike Zombie · No I.D. · Swae Lee · TRAKGIRL

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