By Sam Bleazard
I must admit I didn’t know a massive amount about Solange, except for the snippets of media coverage associated with Beyoncé’s extended universe and entourage. The only other sense I had was that she was the quirky, kooky, and maybe slightly left-field Knowles. This was borne out by the little bits I had heard and the odd video in circulation. I approached her new set ‘A seat at the table’ with open ears. Intro ‘Rise’ is a cyclical musical phrase easing you into a lengthy collection of songs, beginning with “I’m weary to the ways of the world”, and with a society consumed with the bottomless churn of mobile phone ‘communication’ – this is a message which connects. The tracks bubble along, and they would be described as mellow but there’s an edge to many of the lyrics which suggest you should listen closely second time around. One key message the album carries is that whatever you do, you should be able to sleep at night – as called out in spoken interlude ‘The glory is in you’. The dominant themes are overwhelmingly family, the African American experience, self-love and no limits.
‘Cranes in the sky’, while it has a beautifully simple bass and sounds like a love song, leaves you wondering if it has a secondary meaning, and overall the album has a dreamy quality that washes over your ears but plants itself into your psyche – no mean feat.
Maybe because of its length, not everything worked for me, so a meaner edit might have further sharpened the message. If it loses focus in the middle section, you’re snapped back to attention on ‘Don’t touch my hair’, possibly the most gently delivered threat you’ll ever have the pleasure to hear. While guest rapper Lil Wayne ups the expletive count, the various spoken interludes display a similar consciousness with the best of late 90s/early 00s RnB from the likes of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation’ and Meshell NdegeOcello’s ‘Cookie: the anthropological mixtape’. Q-Tip appears on Borderline apparently (as co-writer or backing vocalist? I wasn’t clear), a sweet soul track that wouldn’t have been out of place on his Renaissance CD. There’s an almost P-Funk bounce to ‘Junie’ – which is surely no coincidence, it’s an understated piece of funk whose backing vox reminded me of Tweet. Another highlight is F.U.B.U. (for us by us), a laid back protest anthem with some underlying bite.
Its wispy ethereal quality can make it seem thin in places – as if the demo tape beats and vocals were never fully fleshed out completely. It may also lack a strong closer, but there are clearly more than enough gems to be discovered in Solange’s night sky. This is the sound of a younger sibling who’s come of age. Stream or buy at Tidal.com.