Tinashe’s latest album, “BB/ANG3L,” is a brief but sweet collection of forward-thinking R&B that lustrously considers masochistic tendencies, confidence and magnetic tension.
For most of Tinashe’s tenure in the music industry, she has defined herself as the patron saint of alternative R&B by redefining the limits of the genre. After three albums (and plenty of creative differences) under contract with RCA Records, Tinashe parted ways with her label in early 2019. Since her split with RCA, she’s independently released 2019’s “Songs For You,” and 2021’s “333,” which found her experimenting with her music more than ever. Today she’s acknowledged as an artist on the fringes of the mainstream music scene, but that status has granted her the ability to release the eccentric music that showcases her wide array of talents. In many ways, her split with RCA granted her the creative control to become the artist she and her cult following of fans always believed in.
“BB/ANG3L’s” first track, “Treason,” opens with the ominous cling-clang of chimes as Tinashe quickly sets the scene. “I don’t even know when you snuck in/I just heard you come up the steps,” she sings in a crisp tone. She details the push and pull of a destructive relationship she can’t seem to escape from, likening her lapses in judgment to rewinding a scary movie over and over again to relive the thrill. “Must be tragedy I desire/As I’m headed straight towards the firе,” she laments. She knows this connection may not be right for her, but she can’t help herself. An unsettling flurry of half-muted alarms emerge alongside her voice to close out the song, calling to mind the sounds that would open the kind of chilling thriller she sings of.
The lead single “Talk To Me Nice” directly follows “Treason,” and finds Tinashe in a fresh headspace. The self-doubt and second guessing of the first track are quickly pushed aside to welcome a “don’t need you” attitude. A misty pitter patter opens the song before she delivers affirmations in a sweet, laid-back murmur. “I give you feelings money can’t buy/Couldn’t be fake if I tried,” she sings. The song is a level-headed adaptation of her quintessential confidence anthems like “Throw a Fit” and “Company.”
The mid-point of the album is marked by the bouncy, bass-heavy “Needs,” which distinguishes itself as the most hip-hop influenced track on the album. The song cleverly rhymes “knees” with “needs” while Tinashe boasts about her “A1 body” that she also likens to a “buffet.” The song is chill enough to set the mood for a lowkey night in, but also possesses enough outright conceit to soundtrack the last round of shots before the Uber arrives. “Needs” builds off of the more restrained declarations of confidence in “Talk To Me Nice,” but touts a more energized self-confidence.
Even with the sometimes stark lyrical contrasts between tracks, the seven songs never jolt the listener with polarizing sonics. The listening experience moves along seamlessly with Tinashe’s smooth soprano voice leading self-affirming declarations into poignant sighs.
Of all of the songs, “None Of My Business” finds Tinashe showing off her impressive vocal range the most. Clocking in at just two and a half minutes, the song’s gloomy instrumental darts around before the drum loop drops in under her sigh of defeat. Her subject’s tongue drips with a poison that she just can’t get enough of — despite how much it may hurt her. “I know I deserve much more/Can’t see myself gettin’ sober/Now I’m goin’ through withdrawals,” she heaves. The mid-tempo ballad’s exposed lyrics display an artist susceptible to masochistic tendencies, and the allure of love so wrong that it seems right. Even in the midst of the push and pull, she repeatedly acknowledges that “I deserve much more.”
The theme of noxious relationships has repeatedly shown up in Tinashe’s extensive catalog, but her ability to illustrate the dimensions behind these relationships has grown tremendously in recent years. The clear headspace found on “333” has muddied with time, and she finds herself expressing uncertainty reminiscent of “Songs For You,” creating an amalgamation of the two perspectives. Lines like “gravity pulls me down back to you,” encapsulate the situations many find themselves in, but have trouble articulating. Her songwriting showcases her natural ability to derive beauty from the most ordinary and common of themes, and blend them into kaleidoscopic explorations of R&B.
The final song on the album, “Tightrope,” provides a loose form of resolve to the ups and downs of the preceding tracks. She hopes that it all “plays out my way in a different timeline,” but makes peace with the fact that things might not go her way in the present. She sings from what seems to be a more clear headspace, but acknowledges healing’s un-linear trajectory. “And I been healin’ myself, I’m goin’ in cycles/I’m so unstable, I’m balancin’ on a tightrope,” she sings over the puttering beat. In true Tinashe fashion, she can’t help but slip in a lowkey flex: “But now I’m speeding in my Tesla on the freeway/Got a song about you, listening on replay.”
What’s more apparent than ever on this album is Tinashe’s refined ability to weave anecdotes of all kinds into slinky, sprawling and sexy earworms. She sings of virulent love games that pollute emotional states, but then just as quickly details unabashed confidence in securing her “needs.” Rather than reading as hypocritical, the duality of her themes are refreshingly relatable.
The only aspect of the album that severely lacks is its length. For an artist who’s traditionally included a minimum of 13 songs on all of her studio projects, “BB/ANG3L’s” brief seven track run is a perplexing mystery — in addition to the title, which is not directly referenced in any of the songs. She manages to cover an impressive amount of emotional ground across the album, but things come to an end just as quickly as they started. However, if the biggest gripe with the music is that there’s not more of it, it’s safe to say Tinashe’s doing just fine.