It has been raining for hours on end when I first play Aloe. An album by Mumbai-based gay musician Coup Jean, Aloe revolves around his experiences with grief, and is a reflection of his chronic depression.
“I sing and write about my sorrow – not to stop feeling it, but to let others who know it well figure out how to be friends with it,” explains Jean.
It was 2015 when the singer lost his sister to cancer. The loss left him feeling anxious and unsettled, with no sense of purpose. Jean stopped singing, until he realized that it wasn’t what his sister would’ve wanted.
Aloe was created by these life-changing experiences, these feelings that Jean couldn’t seem to get rid of. 33 minutes long with five tracks, one bonus track and a reprisal, Aloe is a love letter to grief and its five stages.
“Aloe is melancholy, Aloe is grief,
When all the other flowers dance, Aloe likes to sleep,” states Jean’s website.
In the Victorian language of flowers, it further explains, Aloe signifies grief, longing and a deep sense of loss. It was also the only plant that Jean and his sister planted together in their garden, where they would sit and read for hours.
The cover of Jean’s debut album is stunningly fitting, considering the theme of the album. The cover sees Jean, in black and white with his eyes closed, surrounded by colourful flowers and eye-catching vibrance.
It is an accurate and striking representation of what mental illness and loss often feels like– desaturation and lack of colour in the midst of a world that goes on, vivid and bright.
Listening to Aloe in the rain somehow makes the experience better. It’s like the album was made for the rain, for lonely hours, too-green gardens and grey skies.
Jean’s vocals are dreamy, his influences very evidently pop, jazz and soul.
The album begins with “Hairfall (Why I Sigh)” which is the perfect opening track. A sweet, gentle tune, “Hairfall” is beautifully written and instantly unforgettable, with its vulnerable, dulcet vocals.
The song makes its way to my heart easily, and at first listen, I know it’s going to be my favourite from Aloe.
The track that follows, “The Needle”, is different– more bold and upbeat, reminiscent of 80s soul/jazz. The song focuses on gender norms, and stemmed from Jean’s childhood, when he was bullied for being gay. With lyrics like “Your patriarchal bullshit is obsolete”, it challenges everything mainstream– from society’s expectations and beliefs, to gender roles and limitations of sexuality.
The third track, “July (Nobody’s Dancing)” is another turn from the previous songs. It is a heartfelt ballad, with powerfully honest vocals that bring tears to one’s eyes. A song based on romantic love, “July” explores heavier emotions, adding more depth and vulnerability to the album.
The fourth song from the album is “Sorrow.” Contrary to the title of the track, “Sorrow” sounds more hopeful and optimistic, in comparison to the rest of the album. The music is sweeter and lighter, and the backup vocals only add to this feeling of hope.
“Rainsong”, the following track, is about Jean’s sister. It begins with the sound of a thunderstorm, and the first line relates to the sound, with Jean talking about how his umbrella has stopped working.
With time, the song gets more and more emotional.
“There’s decisions that I need to make, and I have no one to ask,” Jean sings, sorrowful.
It is as he sings the lines “I thought we’d have more time” that Jean proves once again how good of a vocalist he is. Not only does he have an exceptionally strong voice, but also brilliant breath control.
The second to last song, “DNKE” is once again more jazz/soul-oriented, catchier, with a beat that holds your attention.
It is mind-blowing how Jean can go from one beautiful track to another smoothly, despite the contrasting moods of the songs.
The album ends with an acoustic version of the first track, “Hairfall (Why I Sigh).” It is gentler, a perfect final track, releasing you back into the world with a warm hug. The version is complete with gorgeous backup vocals, and once again, the beauty of lyrics like “I’m so fucking grateful that you kept me alive” hits the listener.
The album, when it is over, leaves behind a feeling of melancholy and a dull ache. Aloe is versatile and explorative, and the perfect debut album.
With it, Coup Jean showcases his artistry and pure genius, and proves that he is a force to be reckoned with.