Ahead of her third studio album, Ailee released Lovin‘, a cohesive pre-release mini-album, in which listeners follow her through an exhilarating and heartbreaking journey of love. Each of the six tracks in Lovin’ are full of different emotions, covering a wide range from infatuation to anger and regret. There is a nice mix of acoustic instrumentation, acapella and synth effects throughout the album, but above it all, Ailee demonstrates why she is the vocal queen.

The album kicks off with “Tattoo”, a track that is brimming with passion for a lover. As Ailee croons lyrics like “I wanna wear you forever” and “I wanna engrave you inside me”, the soft acoustic instrumental builds in an extremely satisfying way. While the acoustic vibes remain throughout the song, its beat intensifies in the pre-chorus sections, before exploding in the powerful choruses. All of this is carefully balanced and moderated, however, and the song never detracts from its focus on Ailee’s beautifully thick voice. With the vocal fillers that are scattered through the song, as well as the ad-libs she throws in towards its climax, the texture of the song is rich and dynamic, marking a great start for the album.

In “Tattoo”, the strong feelings she has for her lover is compared to the permanence of having a tattoo engraved on her body, but Ailee presents another dimension of this intense love in “525”, a song that focuses on the experience of insomnia. With the way that her lover intoxicates her and fills her thoughts, she is completely unable to sleep at night. This sultry track which embodies her deepest desires has Ailee singing delicately in a higher register than usual, along with a soft rap section, a welcome surprise in this vocal heavy album. Her voice conveys power even while tackling these higher notes, and the vocal acrobatics she does here is truly worthy of applause.

Passionate love does not just come all at one shot, it can also build gradually over time, and Ailee explores this in “Lose myself to you”. In this raw, vulnerable and emotive track, she describes how her love gradually blooms like a flower, a flower hiding in the seasons. Ailee is brilliant at expressing herself through her voice, but she really pours out her emotions in this song, even while demonstrating her unique lyrical flow in the faster verses. Musically, this is one of the most “familiar” tracks on the album – this mid-tempo ballad is something we have heard Ailee do before, but a little bit of familiarity, especially when she does it so well, is always welcome.

Now that she has confirmed her feelings for her lover, deep and intense as they are, she tosses the ball into her lover’s court in “Make up your mind”. Its grand introduction (which is also its pre-chorus) conveys that exact sentiment and immediately increases anticipation for the rest of the track. A few surprises are in store, however, with the verses being more laidback than expected, and sound effects that take turns to pop up in each ear (listen to this with earphones, the split sound is wonderful!) The chorus is also more electronically infused and “empty” than expected, considering the impactful pre-choruses leading up to it, but it is ultimately a very enjoyable listen, perfectly suited to be a title track.

Ailee clearly understands that less is more, and she demonstrates that with her killing part in the bridge. All the instrumentation is stripped away, leaving just her powerful voice and the piano. Instead of the impatience and urgency present in the rest of the track, this is just a final, desperate plea, stemming from her strong desire for her lover. “Ain’t talkin’ about me” is similar in this regard – there is a good balance of echoes, synth soundscapes and silence, distinguishing different sections of the song and giving it dynamism at every turn. The sharp contrasts between the sections are not dramatic enough to be jarring, rather, it creates a rollercoaster trajectory that enhances the listening experience of the track.

“Ain’t talkin’ about me” describes a relationship that has turned rocky, now that her beloved is cheating on her and it presents a contrast to the beautiful picture of love that has been painted till now. With love comes the potential for disappointments and betrayal, and what better way to express this than through a track filled with a fantastic beat, and a bass that simply snaps? The split sound is also used very effectively here for the repeated lines “why you” in the lead from the pre-chorus to the chorus. By allowing these lines to move from the left to the right ear, it breaks the monotony of this repetition and emphasises the accusatory tone of the song. Ailee’s vocals shine here (once again) as she seamlessly transits between her head and chest voice multiple times throughout the track.

Her head voice takes centre stage in “Spring Flowers”, the final track of the album. She sings in a light and delicate manner, as if she were dancing gracefully in a flower field. The sadder, more nostalgic counterpart to “Lose myself to you” – the song looks back at the beautiful seasons the couple had shared while still together and expresses her desire for the spring breeze to blow her away and let the flowers bloom beautifully.

The spring breeze is blowing
My heart is withering baby
Letting go of love like this
I’m learning again

While there is regret, there is also a tinge of hope for the future, now that this painful chapter has finally come to an end. Ailee took part in the lyric-writing for this song, which is also the second title track of the album, although it could not be more different from “Make up your mind”. It starts out sounding like a ballad acoustic track, in other words, the conventional token ballad that every album has, but it defies expectations with its lightness and upbeatness, thanks to the gradual addition of synth riffs and beats throughout the chorus. The instrumentation is fun and never gets too heavy, but the acapella section is simply glorious, as well as the part where Ailee sings all by herself – with no instrumentation, no vocal effects and no acapella vocals, just her pure, beautiful voice. What a wonderfully understated climax! These elements really elevate the song, making it a stand-out for this album, and a fantastic way to close off this exhilarating but tumultuous journey of love.

It is hard to imagine that this story of love is just a pre-release album, but it certainly leaves me wanting more. Ailee is an experienced and well-known singer, and her vocals are always a delight to listen to, but her unique capability to convey her musical identity through each song, no matter their music styles, is something that continues to surprise.

[Youtube. Images via Rocket3 Entertainment.]