Critic’s Corner: JRA – Exposure

JR Aquino, who often goes by simply JRA, hasn’t been on my radar for too long but upon hearing some of his work and album previews on Youtube at the early part of this year I was impressed enough to support the guy and pick up his album. That also means we get to take a closer look at it and put it under the microscope to see how it holds up to scrutiny as a complete body of work. JRA is no stranger to talent and always seems to be in good company, frequently singing with AJ Rafael, Erika David, and the like but his debut album is just him going at it solo. There’s no question the kid has skills but can he hold his own for an entire debut LP? Continue after the break to see how Exposure fared.

To You (Intro) – Clocking in at 1:45, the opeining track served as a great introduction to the rest of the album, letting the listener to expect a lot of contemporary R&B. JRA has several layers going on and they all blend together beautifully. It’s a very promising start.

I Luv Myself – If this song had the proper backing and Exposure (see what I did there? HAHA), I have little doubt it would have been a big radio hit. It’s rediculously catchy, high energy, great vocals, no excessive use of autotune… in short it’s just great R&B/Dance music. I think they could have upped the bass a little though. Some extra low-end would have really given the track some oomph.

Closer – JRA switches gears here with an acoustic number more akin to what you would see in his Youtube videos (in fact he debuted this song on YT). It’s enjoyable, and well written but it doesn’t particularly stand out among the masses of other acoustic pop/rock songs out there. It’s got a solid melody though, and I imagin this may be one of those numbers that would sound better live.

Want You (Interlude) – Starting off with the falsetto, the track envokes a Justin Timberlake type feel to it, especially given the dark heavy production. It makes me wish the song was a full song and not just a 2 minute interlude. It may be short but it sounds great.

Lights On – JRA goes into full Usher mode here, with another catchy dance track. The production is strong here and really backs up JRA well. In terms of the lyrics, it’s a bit typical with nothing too original but I’m sure that’s not what people care about when they are the floor. This may not be a deep song but it’s a fun one that I think most would enjoy.

Good Things (Don’t Last Forever) – This song has a lot of electronica elements to it though once again I really wished they added more bass. In general the instrumental seems too quiet to me. This is more of a mid-tempo song though there’s still a fair amount of energy. It’s not exceptional but definitely listen-able. Though I personally thought it could have also used a rap feature.

One Shot At Love – In the beginning you’d swear you’re listening to a Postal Service track. JRA takes a ballad type of vocal and throws it on top of a mid-tempo electronica track and it works better than I expected. But to be honest it still feels like more of a remix after the fact than a bonafide original. Like a DJ decided to mash it up. The rock elements in the chorus actually fit a lot better than the electronica backed verses. I know he was trying to switch up the sounds but it seemed a bit more schizo and less cohesive than it should have been.

Bittersweet – The song seems perfect for a rom-com movie placement. In that sense it has the same qualities both good and bad to match. It has a sweeping emotional type of feel but it does come off a tad contrived and unoriginal. That being said I still found the song enjoyable, especially the instrumental. But JRA really seems to love closing out his songs with the same sound effect.

Man Behind the Music (Outro) – As an outro, the track is also the most un-plugged song on the album. It allows JRA’s vocals to take center stage, which is a great idea, one that I wish he chose to excercise more often in the album. Especially since at under 2 minutes it doesn’t give us a whole lot of opportunity to take it all in.

Conclusion:
JRA delivers a strong debut album, successfully covering a number of different styles including the very pop friend R&B/Dance genre. The track “I Luv Myself” is actually one of the most fun songs I’ve heard in a while and believe it to be a shame that it’s not blasting on radio stations everywhere. Overall I was somewhat surprised by the production direction taken with this album, initially accustomed to hearing him behind a guitar singing to a webcam but I must say he is more than versatile enough to tackle them all. Unfortunately, many of the beats used on this album tend to suffer from a similar flaw, where they aren’t mixed “full” enough, mostly lacking low end. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate choice but the dance numbers in particular could have benefited from some tweaked engineering. The album lost a bit of it’s steam and charm towards the middle but he closes it all out very strong. Although I do wish he did have a couple more acoustic ballads on there, really allowing the listener to appreciate his talented vocals. Overall it’s a great start to a career that shows a lot of promise. Note – There are two bonus tracks that are included with the album but not reflected in this review.

Must Listen: I Luv Myself, Lights On, Man Behind the Music (Outro)

a-Tunes Score: 8/10

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