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Review: Tinashe's 'Joyride' Is the Sound of an Innovator Trying to Fit In

After helping set the stage for artists like SZA and Khalid, the R&B singer's sophomore album compacts brilliant vocal nuance into Top 40 packages

Tinashe's second studio album is 'Joyride.' Credit: Dennis Leupold

For all of Tinashe Kachingwe's club-to-bedroom bangers – and on her sophomore album, Joyride, there are many – the young R&B singer's vocal control comes across in unexpected ways. Take "Salt," a heavy song about being ditched in a hotel lobby that's full of subtle brilliance. Tinashe sings the words "Darling" and "I've been slowly dying" a touch after the beat, dragging her voice to full stops again and again like she's waltzing in shackles. Throughout, Tinashe demonstrates that she's a pro at keeping time, whether it's the breathless Ciara throwback "No Contest" or the surly island dirge "Joyride."

The complexity of Tinashe's musicianship can be overlooked in part because she is so good at conforming to pop standards. She often plays the smooth vocal foil to big-personality artists with limited ranges like Britney Spears and Charli XCX. In hindsight, Tinashe's 2015 debut Aquarius, with its scintillating breakout "2 On," was a bellwether for the way R&B – "rhythmic pop" as she has branded it – would permeate hip-hop, blunting its edges to make space for a new class of chart-topping singers like Khalid and SZA. On Joyride, her sophomore album, Tinashe joins this rank, but has trouble standing out. Her singles lean on radio's heavy-hitters to reintroduce her after an uncommon three-year delay since Aqaurius (she released the pseudo-mixtape Nightride in 2016). The infectious "No Drama" borrows Migos' downer-trap vibes (plus Offset); Future upstages on "Faded Love"; and the lively, Latin-tinged "Me So Bad" comes complete with party players French Montana and Ty Dolla $ign to help tap the keg and pet the dolphins.

If R&B were Mean Girls, Joyride would be Lindsay Lohan's character, the straight-A student downplaying her smarts to fit in with the popular crowd. Kachingwe, the daughter of two college professors, grew up studying lofty subjects like ballet and jazz in middle school. Her falsetto (see: "He Don't Want It") could remove paint from the ceiling and she can dance like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat in full-body rubber. Vocally, Tinashe is probably more musically adept than half of the artists she emulates. But she won't truly carve out her own space until she figures out who she is.