When you hear the warm, lived-in voice of Son Little on his new record aloha, you’d never imagine the emotional turmoil he went through leading up to making it. A short time before he planned to begin the process of a new album, technology failed him in the worst way when his hard drive died, taking with it his demos. All the work he’d put in up to that point was gone, and the only thing left to do was start from scratch. It is an all too familiar human experience —letting go and starting over — but it never gets any easier.
Months later, newly freed up from all the panic and stress that had ensued, Little wrote aloha in about a week. Recorded in Paris, not a single note feels rushed or chaotic. Instead, there’s a liberating sexiness to the songs on aloha and to Little’s performance of them. He has always exuded sensuality in his music, but aloha slinks around in a different way. Little sounds at ease, relaxed into the soulful little rasp in his voice. It is especially evident in the repeating chorus and smooth vocal runs of “neve give up” and in the playfulness of the groovy “about her. again.” Little continues to embrace an old-school R&B sound, but none of his songs feel like period pieces. The hooky “mahalia” has the hypnotic draw of the best pop songs, and the slow-burn “that’s the way” gives us Frank Ocean-meets-D’Angelo vibes with a thin veil of distortion.
The sense of relinquishing control is apparent in every detail of aloha. Little is playing with sonic elements of tropicalia, blues, and psych-rock, never confining himself to one genre’s sound, and playing all the instruments himself. He can strip it all away (“o clever one”) just as easily as he builds up layers (“3rd eye weeping”). Little’s exercise in resilience resulted in something that sounds and feels as fresh as it is.