Keys brings back mindful soul

By Nick Erickson, Staff writer

Since releasing her debut album “Songs In A Minor” in 2001, singer Alicia Keys has stood out among other artists. Originally attempting to break into the R&B scene, she, like many others, was put into the pop forefront. Despite this, Keys’ knack for classical piano compositions, soulful melodies and spoken-word shined like a lighthouse in a sea of simplistic, over-processed tunes. Now 15 years later, her eighth studio album, “Here”, carries the emotional intensity she is adored for, with a sight shift in perspective. Rather than a solely introspective focus on romantics, Keys uses her newest endeavor to emphasize social issues in today’s time.

On “Here,” Keys uses vibrant instrumentation to paint an aural picture of the subject matter in her songs. Stories of struggle, race, family issues and love permeate the album making it rich and diverse. The keyboard-laced “The Beginning (Interlude),” opens the albums with Keys personifying the music she plays. “I’m the musical to the project fables, I’m the words scratched out on the record label,” she speaks with vigor. Although a spoken-word introduction is rather unconventional, it’s a precedent to the album’s many shifts in narration and style and keeps a natural flow.

Second track “The Gospel” features the soul of a gospel choir and a military-esque drum beat to back Keys. Singing from the viewpoint of someone from a poverty-stricken household, Keys’ soaring voice conveys the struggles of living in the slums. “Work Out On” features a repeated backing vocal chant as Keys uses her bright timbre and R&B vibes to illustrate a relationship where both sides need to work together to make it better. Her ability to move her voice around a range of octaves toward the latter half of the track is beyond impressive.

Presenting the prominence of crisp acoustic guitars is “Kill Your Mama.” Keys uses a metaphorical approach, singing of how Mother Earth’s childrens’ destructive ways are killing the planet we call home. Keys makes reference to her “makeup-free” movement on “Girl Can’t Be Herself,” touching upon her sentiments of how society views on makeup force women to hide behind it. “Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem,” she asks, her boldness coming off as striking as the Latin-inspired bass and drum groove that back her.

Concluding the album is “Holy War,” which features Keys in her purest form. Arpeggiated, melancholic guitar strums pave the way for Keys to belt a chorus tinged in both reverb and emotion. Singing of the taboo nature of sex and the glorification of war, Keys makes it clear that it’s a twisted reality and the world needs to spread love, rather than hate. It’s a simple, yet beautiful end to the record.

Adamant about presenting her true self, “Here” is an ambitious effort in showing the public Keys is a real person and more than a glorified pop icon. Unfiltered and innovative, she performs to her utmost potential. Combining sensitive subject matter with raw musicianship and passion, Keys’ delivery makes “Here” her most vital release in years and is sure to solidify her prominence on the list of the 2016’s greatest releases.