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The Hurtbook — Alex Vaughn

Braeden Forman February 27, 2023

By: Braeden Forman

Alex Vaughn is among the newer artists signed to the LoveRenaissance label, one of the most prolific labels out there when it comes to R&B. Her label mates are a who’s who of the biggest artists in R&B today, including 6lack, Summer Walker, DRAM, and DVSN. 

All that to say – if you’ve got an album out with LVRN, I’m expecting great things from you. And this brings us to The Hurtbook, her first album since signing, and first one since 2018’s The Shift. And the first thing to note here is that this thing clocks in at a tight 24 minutes over 8 songs, which I think actually works in its favor. While it may not have the expansive nature of recent releases from artists like SZA or Brent Faiyaz, it also means this album is all killer no filler – with no features, this is a straightforward set of pop-ready R&B ballads.

In terms of thematic material, The Hurtbook isn’t really breaking any new ground in the R&B genre – it’s by no means a straight up breakup album, but it does touch on a lot of themes of regret, lost love, and what could have been, but also healing, recovery, and self-love. Nowhere is this more present on the song “Mirage”— one of my favorites on the album. Vaughn starts the song off talking about these euphoric highs she feels around this guy, but all of it is just a hallucination— a mirage— and she ends it by accepting, “Back to my senses/Back to the real life/You were never good for me.”

Vaughn’s voice is incredible, and some of the harmonies on the album are just angelic – my mind immediately jumps to “Keep That Energy.” But she really shines when things are more stripped back and low-key – like “Demon Time,” by far the raunchiest moment on the album, where she really flexes her voice but also her lyricism – I particularly loved the line “take me like mental notes.” Maybe my favorite song on the entire album, though, was the outro “No Love” – where she takes a moment and reckons with her pain, but also her healing, and ends the album with the sentiment “I’m hurt — not broken.”

Honestly, in listening to The Hurtbook, my biggest thought was why Alex Vaughn wasn’t bigger sooner than this. This album has hooks for days, and the vibes are immaculate; a lot of songs here sound like they should be ruling the R&B charts. This album is by no means a landmark, milestone album within R&B, but for a major label debut it is really, really solid, and I’m very excited to see what kind of material she has in store for the future.

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorites: So Be It, Keep That Energy, Talkin, Demon Time, No Love — Outro