The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Solange – ‘When I Get Home’ (Columbia / Sony)


In a sentence:

Solange’s surprise new album ‘When I Get Home’ is a meditation on home, dreams, growth and feminine intuition, packaged in futuristic jazz and funk-inspired art-pop.

Everything melts into an iridescent, astral sonic love letter to Houston, Afro-futurism and companionship on Solange’s fourth album When I Get Home. Elegant, hazy and transformative, the follow-up to the 2016’s beast of a statement album A Seat At The Table, Solange’s newest is a meditation on home, dreams, growth and intuition packaged in free-flowing, futuristic jazz and funk-inspired art-pop.

Upon hearing the name, people either immediately know who Solange is and what her deal is, or struggle with the foreign taste of her name and, after a quick google, eventually conclude that she’s ‘just’ the sister of Beyonce. Sharing blood with one of the most defining pop artists of our decade may be a double-edged sword, but to belittle the visionary of art that is Solange Knowles on that basis is a crime. Her 2016 effort A Seat At The Table was a musical and visual feat on the realities of being a black woman, family, identity and pain, more so on how to cope with it all, accompanied by exquisitely fine-tuned music videos where the choreography both flowed and cut through air in its controlled, yet free, cascading movement.

A sheen of modest conceptual art follows Solange’s work into her latest musical creation, elevating all the good the world found in A Seat At The Table to cosmic levels, turning up the dream-like qualities of her vocals and even dreamier production that recalls the airiness of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Two feelings pervade her newest work – an easy-going flow that follows the way tracks melt in and out of each other, and a playful, unabashed spirit of collaboration.

When I Get Home could be said to consist of songs and interludes, but everything’s so interconnected that it’s easier to look at When I Get Home as one continuous stream of slowly transforming musical thought, rather than as an ordered collection of ‘singles’ and album tracks. Changing pace and mood in the middle of a song, intruding with a sliver of a sample suggesting the following track but retreating right after – when you press play, When I Get Home spills out like a goopy cosmic stream and takes you with it.

Opening track ‘Things I Imagined’ is a relaxed, warm exercise in melody of organ-like piano chords following the vocals with a trickle of synth magic just peeking out in the background, building up strength sound by sound as Solange repeatedly sings, in a syncopated rhythm: “Saw things I imagined / I saw things I imagined”, ending with “Taking on, taking on the lie / Taking on the lie” just before, it seems, somebody switches the channel into a pitch-bended reading of a poem by Debbie Allen & Phylicia Rashad on ‘S McGregor (interlude)’ – a reference to Solange’s hometown of Houston, Texas. Launching into a future-jazz track ‘Down With The Clique’ as the echo of the cymbals switch places with the last demonic line “delight” of the interlude before, When I Get Home reinstates the previous phrase repetition of ‘Things I Imagined’ and confirms the jazz influences of the album. The album seems to give away its magic formula right from the start – it’s the fantastic tone that Solange’s careful production has set out and the interwoven repetition of phrases, melodies and vocal lines, inspired by Steve Reich, Stevie Wonder and Sun Ra.

‘Down With The Clique’ confirms the second trait that carries most of the album’s spirit of closeness and intimacy. This is where the countless not-so-surprising collaborations start blooming without leaving an aftertaste of namedropping. Friends from long before, Tyler, The Creator and Standing On The Corner provide a helping hand on this track, gathering the start of a real clique one would like to be down with. Additional collaborations on the album include Playboi Carti and The-Dream on the raggae and trap infused ‘Almeda’, Sampha and Panda Bear providing their vocals on the following ‘Time (Is)’, Gucci Mane joining in on a friendly riff off on the ‘My Skin My Logo’ where Solange undertakes the most sleazily lazy flow in the best way possible, laughing with the line “Gucci on his sheets, Gucci on his feet / I didn’t want a soccer, she had Gucci on her cleats”.

But it’s in the playful interceptions of sly references that give When I Get Home its tongue-in-cheek charm. ‘Can I Hold The Mic (Interlude)’ starts off with a friendly argument between two friends on who’s going to hold the microphone – a sample that comes from a clip featuring rappers Diamond and Princess of the crunk group Crime Mob, while ‘We Deal With The Freak’n (Intermission)’ is largely a spoken excerpt of Alexyss K. Tylor, on the internet known as the ‘Vagina Power’ lady, preaching the importance of spiritual sexuality on top of sampling ‘Turn Me On’ by Rotary Connection. Through all the playfulness, chunks of honesty and self-reflection on creativity fall in-between. On that same ‘Can I Hold The Mic (Interlude)’, Solange talks about how she herself can’t be the only expression of her creative vision and voice, as well as alluding to the autonomous position of ‘holding the mic’ she undertook by being in complete creative control of all parts of the album: “I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations, too many lines, too many curves, too many troubles, too many journeys, too many mountains, too many rivers, so many”.

As you’ve probably gathered, When I Get Home is a plethora of things. It’s a stream of obvious and not-so-obvious musings and references to black identity in Houston, a cosmic stream of masterfully used musical repetition and, most importantly, a solid, well-written, beautiful record by an artist of her time using yet another medium to express her creativity and spirit. For fans of quick hits, the best When I Get Home can offer are tracks like ‘Almeda’ and ‘Binz’ that have easily pinned down attitudes and beats, whilst the rest of the album will take time to grow on many listeners purely because of its fluidity and rejection of verse-hook-chorus structures. If A Seat At The Table was a bold, brightly coloured statement of Solange’s new artistic identity, When I Get Home is the poetic watercolour love letter to her home – Houston, bursting at its seams with collaborative, community spirit and musical elegance. (9/10) (Aiste Samuchovaite)

Listen to When I Get Home by Solange here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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