Solange is artistically repetitive and subtly reborn in her latest album, 'When I Get Home'
Success for an artist is tricky business. Particularly, how to follow it. Many artists continue doing exactly what brought them renown only to find themselves trapped in the role they carved for themselves. Others eschew the tricks and talents that saw them to the spotlight, only to have fans turn on them and their “new” sound. Rhythm Lab artist Solange Knowles was no doubt faced with these questions of where to go after the success of her 2016 album “A Seat at the Table.”
How does an artist follow up a project that debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and received end of the year nods from near every music publication in western media? Solange found the answer on her newest LP “When I Get Home." Through her use of repetition in everything but song structure, Solange—along with an all-star supporting cast—has created an album that is both familiar to fans of her previous work, yet different enough to stand on its own.
The opening track, “Things I Imagined,” clocks in at just under two minutes and has a total of nine unique words that make up the entirety of the lyrics. This may be the most extreme example of Solange’s use of repetition, but it sets the album’s tone from the beginning.
Focusing more on the feel and flow of her songs than the lyrical impact, each track bleeds into the next with an ambient quality that was absent in projects past. And much like ambient music, the listener gets out what they put into the experience. “Stay Flo” tranquilizes the listener with a short, two-bar loop of lullaby synths that drift between the minimal beats of a classic hip-hop drum kit. The song can sound almost simplistic on first listen, but the slight tweaks and sonic changes that hide behind the echoed lyrics reveal themselves over time.
But when you least expect it, this repetition gets a Houston-chopped and screwed treatment on several tracks, turning the sound back around on itself with disjointed kicks and crashes.
A host of co-producers including Metro Boomin, Panda Bear and Tyler the Creator leave their imprint from track to track, but Solange always remains the star of the show. She possess a unique talent to only take what is necessary from collaborating artists in order to get the sound she desires.
Even divisive artists such as Playboi Carti fit within Solange’s vision, as evident from the addictive Pharrell co-produced track “Almeda.” This diversity of talent helps the album transform with seamless genre shifts from R&B to reggae to jazz and funk. The cohesive mixing and mastering are first-class on this project and help bind the fragmented works together into a high fidelity soundscape of ordered disorder.
Best listened to uninterrupted, “When I Get Home” is a bound to scratch a few heads. With only five tracks eclipsing the three minute mark, the album moves with a deceptive pace. Its disorganized sound and repetitive nature can cause a listener trepidation, but through repeated listens the album’s nuances begin to shine.
While her formula for success has shifted in a more experimental direction, the end result is still the same. A masterful piece of audio art, Solange continues to make important music that is both genre-crossing and genre-defining, and both old and new.