In the press materials for Son Little's third album, 2020's Aloha, Little (known to his mom and the tax people as Aaron Livingston) says he had written a big batch of songs for his next project and recorded elaborate demos working out the arrangements. Then the hard drive in his recording setup went wonky on him, and suddenly all that hard work vanished and Little had to rewrite the album from the ground up in a few weeks. The moral to this story is that Son Little apparently responds well to pressure: despite the drama leading up to the album's recording, he sounds as confident, assured, and intelligent on Aloha as he did on 2015's Son Little and 2017's New Magic. It also marks the first time Little has worked with an outside producer, in this case Renaud Letang, and the record's approach suggests a compromise between the styles of his first two albums, combining the hip-hop-informed one-man-band recording techniques of his debut with the more open and organic tone of New Magic. At the same time, it's a quiet and introspective set, rarely working up to the heat of the vintage soul-funk grooves of the first two LPs. Little is in great voice here, as usual, but his arrangements (where he plays most of the instruments himself) are leaner and more efficient, with open space and atmosphere playing a larger role than before. Letang (best known for his work with Feist) has a history with ambient music, which informs Aloha as much as Little's old school soul gestures, and that gives the music a stronger middle-of-the-night feel, especially on the moody "O Clever One" and the blues-infused "That's the Way." That's not to say there isn't some genuine fire here, evidenced by "Third Eye Weeping" and "Mahalia," but there are enough broken relationships and painful second thoughts in this music to make the simpler and more downbeat sound absolutely fitting. It says a great deal about Son Little that he's made three albums that confirm his status as one of the smartest and most original talents in the retro-soul underground while each LP has a sound and personality very much its own. His songwriting is distinct while his imagination is broad and varied. The more subdued affect of Aloha makes it a less immediately satisfying listen than New Magic, but that does nothing to change that this is a rewarding effort from an exciting and engaging talent.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming