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Tinashe creates her own atmospheric fantasy on ‘Nightride’

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Only a two-hour warning accompanied Tinashe’s new album, “Nightride,” but that warning was needed.

When the album dropped, it came with a six-minute short film. The film features an impassioned monologue, in which Tinashe expresses that she’s no longer here to please people, and that she wants to be out of the world she’s in.

On “Nightride,” released Nov. 4, Tinashe does just that, taking a step out of this world and making one of her own. The singer’s surprise sophomore album is forceful and eerie. “I will not be ignored,” she proclaims at the end of “Sacrifices.” After listening to the project in full, it’s clear that she won’t be.

Delivering brash and honest lyrics accompanied with moans, chants and humming over heavily-altered instrumentation, the album feels like a trance; it is a deep sleep in unfamiliar terrain.

There have always been two sides to Tinashe’s music. There’s the upbeat, danceable, R&B side that dominates the charts, and the slower, more experimental side that consistently wins the praise of critics. Now, Tinashe has decided to split those two worlds, as “Nightride” dedicates itself solely to exploring the singer’s darker side.

July saw the release of “Superlove,” a bubbly, radio-ready pop song that left some long-time fans disappointed. “Nightride,” however, strikes down any fears of Tinashe moving too far into mainstream pop territory by going back to the roots of her original mixtapes.

Tinashe’s sinister side has always been apparent in her mixtapes, but was only scattered through the interludes and a few isolated moments on her 2014 debut album, “Aquarius.” “Nightride” though, with its sensual, spare tracks, is entirely driven by this other side. In the handwritten note that announced the album’s release, she addresses how “Nightride” is about who she is as a person, and explores one of the many aspects of that identity.

Tinashe’s lyrics and vocal delivery are primarily what drive the album. Its soothing, minimalist production gives the listener room to appreciate her calming voice, which she readily explores on tracks like opener “Lucid Dreaming.”

Aside from her bold lyrics, Tinashe manages to push other boundaries on “Nightride.” The album’s numerous experimental moments, much like the entirety of the album, are all centered on her voice. “Binaural Test” consists of her humming for 14 seconds in a sinister tone as a transition. “You Don’t Know Me” reverses her vocals, transforming her words into foreign chants.

Through these effects, Tinashe truly manages to alter the listener’s reality. Whether it’s by layering her vocals, moving her voice a few octaves down, or by throwing echoes around the mix, Tinashe constantly toys with the listener’s sense of place.

“Nightride” is most successful when it triggers some of the listener’s other senses. The 14-second “Binaural Test” is meant to trigger an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), and send tingles down your spine. The entire album is tingly, ranging from twisted lullabies to steamy love songs, with each change in atmosphere only bringing you closer to Tinashe’s unusual world.

Experimentation aside though, one can still hear in “Nightride” the dancier tracks that fans are used to. Songs like “Company,” “Party Favors” and “Ride of Your Life” have a more mainstream appeal, yet they still cannot escape the darker, more gloomy mood that the rest of the album represents.

Tinashe makes it apparent that “Nightride” is more about her artistic expression than a pure pop album. It isn’t here to create hits nor reach the radio; it’s here to push the limits of her own music and explore the darker sides of the reality she constructs within it. It’s an atmospheric fantasy, one of the few albums that can successfully take you out of your own world.

“Joyride” may contain the upbeat pop songs that some longtime fans dislike, but with “Nightride” one thing is for sure: Tinashe will always be in control of the music she releases, and will never been contained by a label.

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached at [email protected]

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