For those who don’t know, JR Aquino is a homegrown Filipino-American musician originally from Anchorage, Alaska, who is now working from out of Las Vegas. He began performing over the popular video sharing-based community website some years ago, with his earliest video on his current channel harking back all the way back to April of 2009. Just one year and one full-length album later, Aquino had finally reached his magic moment and stride upon the initial YouTube debut of a performance of his original song, “By Chance (You & I)”, which as of today has accumulated over 6,000,000 hits. He later joined the third season of popular televised music competition “The Voice” under Team Cee Lo after a stellar audition, but was cut during the battle rounds, and made it to the Top 40 of “American Idol” during its fourth season. He is also a part of the popular online variety group YTF (YouTube Family), comprised of such faces as comedy sensation Ryan Higa, musician and ex-“Disney 365” reporter Chester See, “American Idol” alumni Andrew Garcia, and “So You Think You Can Dance” winners D-Trix and Victor Kim. At one point in time, this group also featured Chinese-American vlogger and “Amazing Race” alumni, Kevin Wu.
As far as YouTube artists go, Aquino is fairly prevalent, and it shows in the production of his second album, “This Time Around”, released the first week of April. While his first album, “Exposure”, partially followed a path very much akin to a mix between the early sounds of artists like Chris Brown and Usher mixed in with some John Legend and was fine in its own right, “This Time Around” produces a totally refined and classy acoustically-centered production all its own. In fact, the closest Aquino gets to his old sound comes within the first track off of the album, which incorporates an undeniably poppy backbeat to get listeners up on their feet and excited for what’s to come. Even then, however, it’s down in a way that is much more refined than “Exposure”; one can’t help but feel that the production of “This Time Around” is incredibly different from Aquino’s first full work in the greatest way possible, showing that he is open to criticism and knows how to properly evolve into a sound that is truly his own based off of the foundation on which he was always structured upon.
In his sweet and smooth yet clearly emotionally-charged vocal it is evident that Aquino has grown into taking full control of his natural instrument rather adequately since “Exposure” and his YouTube debut whilst still constantly keeping his original R&B vocalist and pop star inspirations in mind. As a true musical artist, though, Aquino knows better than to get his listeners accustomed to just one sound throughout his album. At some points, he is more Ed Sheeran or even Maroon 5 than smooth R&B, and he’s never just straight pop. Songs like the infectious “In a Perfect World”, which contains feel similar to the pop-rock band’s most recent hit, “Daylight”, make this case. This is ironic given his direct ties to frontman Adam Levine’s fellow “Voice” star, Cee Lo Green. However, again, what each song of his is most importantly infused with is a sound that, while it may at the same time hark back to any number of inspirations on Aquino’s iPod, unique to the man that wrote them.
Though the main focus is clearly on Aquino’s fronting vocals and his own acoustic guitar playing, there are multiple other impressive layers present in each track on “This Time Around”. From the earnest piano and haunting backing vocals present on “Between the Lines”, to the sweet bass line on the aforementioned “In a Perfect World”, to the grooving, smooth electric on “Alternate Reality” and “Down For You”, and to the excellent self-harmonization on his newly-recorded version of “By Chance” and beyond, it is very evident that Aquino knew exactly what he was doing when crafting his sophomore effort.
On an ending note, look out for the catchy lo-fi Ernie Halter-esque rocker, “Down For You”- and Aquino’s killer falsetto!
Especially for an independent effort, JR Aquino’s “This Time Around” is incredibly impressive. Incorporating a lush variety of styles and sounds and mixing it with admittedly occasionally cheesy- (Hey, at his defense, love is cheesy!) -but heartfelt lyrics and a catchy arrangement per each track, Aquino has, one might daresay, created not only one of the most well-done full-length records of every YouTube artist in existence, but also one of the best albums of the year thus far. With the right evolution of sound and the right business ethics, Aquino could very well remain a force to be reckoned with on YouTube for decades to come, and he could just go way beyond what anyone might ever expect in the actual music industry. He’s already on the right track to potential stardom.
Top 5 Tracks:
1. “Down With You”
2. “In a Perfect World”
3. “Let Us Go”
4. “By Chance”
5. “This Time Around (Acoustic)”