When I Get Home album review: Solange celebrates blackness and offers a glimpse into her mind

Aatish Nath

Mar 07, 2019 10:22:03 IST

After A Seat At the Table, the 2016 release from Solange, anticipation has been high for what’s next from Beyoncé’s younger sister. Those expecting the next album release have been reading the signs — the announcement of festival performances all over the US and Europe this summer, a sudden increase in social media activity — before When I Get Home was released on 1 March, at midnight.

The new album is both a continuation of and different from her previous masterpiece, still rooted in the black experience, but this time willing to be less didactic. Using its cultural history, an array of collaborators and Solange’s singular aesthetic, the album becomes a portal into Solange’s musical influences. It's under 40 minutes, but demands to be consumed whole — a 19-song suite with interludes, an intermission and a vibe that coalesces, allowing the entire work to breathe – in and out – slowly creating a pace that lulls the listener into a state of calm relaxation.

Comparisons with Beyoncé are inevitable, and sometimes it seems like Solange invites them, especially when it comes to the manner in which this album was released. The almost surprise album drop (its availability to stream was announced via an Instagram post) and then a day later, the reveal that there was a film being released on line as well, are both Beyoncé-approved release methods that have been widely aped in the music world.

Also read on FirstpostSolange's A Seat At The Table: Sonic document of black experience in America in 2016

On When I Get Home though, the album’s release cycle will become a footnote in the face of the music, which is both celebratory, nostalgic and forward looking. The interludes, which feature samples from a range of artists, are a small glimpse into the album and Solange’s mind. The range of samples includes actresses (Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad) to poets (Pat Parker) and even YouTube healers (Goddess Lula Belle). She integrates each seamlessly into the album, giving women (and they’re all women) a platform and the amplification that her celebrity allows. The spoken word snippets, most of which are set to music, give the listener food for thought but also some distance from the music, allowing it to percolate. In a New York Times interview last year, Solange confessed, “I like to be able to tell the story in 13 different ways, then I like to edit,” and it shows. Of course, to do so, she’s assembled a roster of collaborators that includes Panda Bear, Dev Hynes, Tyler the Creator, Playboy Carti, Sampha, Pharrell Williams and more. This line-up has taken their cues from Solange to create a coherent vision.

When I Get Home album review: Solange celebrates blackness and offers a glimpse into her mind

Twitter/@solangeknowles

The album uses these sounds to create a piece of work that sounds like it’s less for the public, and more a celebration of blackness. Whereas A Seat At The Table had a song named 'Don’t Touch My Hair', in 2019 Solange wants to celebrate her heritage, and this album seems to track, honour and memorialise the black American experience for an audience of black Americans. Its larger reach seems almost incidental. However, the album is missing the kind of touchstone or singular focus around which a narrative can pivot.

Her curatorial skills, honed here in the service of the album, are those which could only have benefited from one-off performances she’s done at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Los Angeles Hammer Museum since her last album, and while her last album was conceptual but still had songs that could be classified as ‘singles’, on this release she’s more confident of her place in the culture. This means that while songs like 'Stay Flo', 'Almeda' and 'Binz' have immediate hooks, they’re also unlike anything she’s released before.

If the album has a guiding ethos, it’s summed up by The-Dream on 'Almeda' when he says, “Just sittin’ here foolin’ around/ We just sittin’ here coolin’ around/ We just sittin’ here high, comin’ down.” It’s a piece of work that encourages just being, and yet one that’s tied to her hometown of Houston in the names of its songs ('Almeda' and 'S McGregor'), its musical legacy (she’s said the album draws on jazz and the chopped and screwed sound that originated in the city) and the joyous, disjointed sounds that percolate in a place where everyone knows each other. This is an album that shows how deeply embedded home and its memory is for her — one that needs no explanation, but instead just to be celebrated. From the snippets of other voices on the interludes to Solange’s deft handling of memory, this album is one that seems to be made for her friends, with the wider world lucky to get a listen.

Updated Date: Mar 07, 2019 10:22:03 IST