Solange dazzles in celestial, entrancing new release

R&B singer-songwriter Solange released her hip-hop and jazz-influenced fourth studio album, “When I Get Home,” through Columbia Records on March 1. The project follows her critically and commercially acclaimed 2016 LP, “A Seat at the Table.” Courtesy Neon Tommy via Flickr
When I Get Home
Saint Records/Columbia

The best album of the year (so far) has been going critically and overtly under appreciated. This oversight of Solange’s “When I Get Home” is a slight of colossal proportions. It must truly be an era of darkness if such shining, exemplar craftsmanship goes unnoticed. So let’s get into it. You should listen to this, and then be addicted to the world it brings you to.

The clearest artistic influence I see on here is Frank Ocean’s “Endless.” Both records exude the feeling of low-key mastery, where vocal samples and sonic journeys bend minds and flood through our bodies. I didn’t think anything else could make me feel the high-towering emotions of Ocean’s “Rushes.” And yet, I found my skin glowing warm to the euphoric outro of Solange’s “Time (is).”

This is all to say that the album contains music that goes straight to your soul; to that part of you that can soar and sink with vigorous energy. And this was the design of the album from the start. In an interview with i-D radio, Solange said that this album aimed to express what she felt, as opposed to “A Seat at a Table,” which was intended to express her thoughts and what she had to say. Or, as she puts it, “A Seat at the Table” was a thesis statement; “When I Get Home” is personal.

Much of this album is dedicated to the city of Houston. The songs are filled with collaborators, references and motifs related to Houston and its iconic status in the world of music. The album is also celestial in scope. Futuristic synths, electronic bleeps and a cosmic ambience ennoble its vibes.

Also significant is the importance of the body. In 2017, Solange revealed she had Autonomic Disorder, an illness that essentially robs people of control over their own bodies. “When I Get Home” is a musical reconciliation between Solange and her body.

The final track, “I’m a Witness,” showcases this reclamation perfectly. The song’s lyrics feel like a prayer addressed to her own body, with lyrics like “I’ll be your vessel/I won’t stop til I get it right/Good night/Takin on the light.” There’s a melodic quality to Solange’s vocals that reveals itself over a softly cosmic beat. The spacey, oscillating keyboards couch Solange’s vocals and, as I see it, represent the embrace between spirit and body. There’s an affirmation on this track between bodily lim- its and noble aspirations. It gets very metaphysical very quickly.

But like Frank Ocean’s “Endless,” there’s clear grounding in all of this spaciness. The vocals on “I’m a Witness” are particularly strong in their ability to cut through the beat, all while never feeling disassociated from it. The rest of the album shares this quality.

The Earl Sweatshirt-produced “Dreams” is another favorite of mine. The slow, lulling beat feels could shine on any “lofi beat” YouTube playlist, but Solange’s swirling vocals stir the listener.

Speaking of features, this album is chock full of dream collabs that I never would have expected from 2019. Like Animal Collective’s Panda Bear showing up on the track “Binz” with rock solid singer The-Dream, or Tyler the Creator producing a track that features Gucci Mane—“My Skin My Logo,” or the plethora of other guest producers and collaborators that stem from all swaths of modern RnB. This album is equal parts collaboration and celebration, and it is all for the better.

The supreme “Almeda” is another standout in this regard. The trap-style snares from Pharrell’s guest production work wonders for Solange’s almost constant vocals that jump from topic to topic in a breathtakingly dreamy fashion. “Can’t even be washed away/ Not even in that Florida water” is a refrain that gets repeated throughout this soft track.

Playboi Carti on this song is an absolute highlight. Rolled in through ad-libs peppering Solange’s last verse, Carti surfs over this track in such smooth excellence. It was a shocker for me to hear Carti sound this smooth after such octane-heavy performances on his last two projects. His baby-voice delivery makes me smile every time I listen to it.

If I have any negatives for “When I Get Home,” they stem from the plethora of interludes. They’re scattered throughout this already short album, and they don’t add much. The worst slight I can make toward this collection is that it can feel like just one big song as opposed to a full album. When a work is so spacy and so short, these one-off interludes and vocal samples really debase a listener from any sort of clear movement.

But this isn’t exactly a misfire. Like “Endless,” the vibe is supreme: created by short vocal samples and instrumental flourishes, it feels kaleidoscopic, like Solange converted Houston into YouTube videos and blazed through them. Or like she framed Houston against a glittering cosmic background.

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