After teasing us for days, Solange Knowles finally graced us with her fourth album on March 1st. The wait was worth it as the new album, When I Get Home, boasts 19 tracks crediting the likes of Pharrell, Tyler the Creator, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) and more as producers as well as a beautiful short film to go with it. The album, which is a follow up to her previous 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, is a homage to her Houston roots and blends together funk, R&B and soul. All the tracks were written and co-produced by Solange herself, making it a quintessential example of her music yet also something entirely new and unique.
The album opens with “Things I Imagined,” a beautifully simple, surreal track. There’s something really nostalgic about it in the way she repeats “things I imagined,” and the synths in the background which I absolutely love. It’s a slow, dreamy start to the album with the same lyric repeated over and over but it sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s soon followed by an interlude, entitled “S McGregor,” which samples a poem read by Houston natives Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen and written by their mother, Vivian Ayers, over a lo-fi piano. “Down with the Clique,” has strong jazz influences present. This is probably one of the only songs on the album that breaks the three-minute mark, but it’s still not one of those songs you listen to on its own. It begs you to listen to the whole album and make it an experience rather than just a one-off occasion. Solange’s voice is particularly angelic in this track, especially with supporting vocals from Tyler the Creator near the end.
It transitions smoothly into the more-upbeat track, “Way to the Show,” to the extent that during my first listen, I assumed they were the same song. That’s not to say they sound the same. In fact, that’s far from the truth. This is followed by “Way to the Show,” in which Solange sings about candy paint on custom cars (“slabs”), in this track which began in the black community of Houston. It’s dreamy and surreal but there’s something darker under the surface, especially when you reach the end where the sound of a gun clicking can be heard and the drum begins to sound more like bullets being shot.
An interlude precedes the next track”Stay Flo,” a lo-fi track with a heavy bass. It’s more lively than the previous songs on the album and is probably a more conventional R&B/soul track. It combines the jazzy vibe of “Down with the Clique,” and the trap soundscape to come in later tracks. If any of the tracks on this album become insta-hits, it’s probably going to be this one but that doesn’t take away from its magic.
“Dreams,” which comes after “Stay Flo,” begins much slower and was co-produced by Dev Hynes as well as Solange and others. While the whole album is quintessentialy Solange, it is reminiscent of the songs on his 2018 album, Negro Swan. That being said, it’s still probably my favourite track on the album. The enchanting keyboard chords with Solange’s sweet vocals make it ethereal and other-worldly. It’s then followed by an interlude, “Nothing without intention,” which, much like the previous interludes samples snippets from TV. It’s heavier, however, getting us ready for the second half of the album which features ‘heavier’ songs like “My Skin My Logo.”
“Almeda,” the track which follows, features Playboi Carti and The-Dream and is unapologetically black. It draws influence from Solange’s roots in Southern Black culture as a Houston native. It features a remixing technique of chopped and screwed music that came from Houston’s early 90’s hip-hop scene. Its trap-esque beats are followed by the ballad “Time (is)”. This track features vocals from Tyler the Creator Panda Bear and Sampha and much like “Dreams,” is accompanied by opulent keyboard chords as well as a deep bass. In the last minute of the track, it adopts trap beats to the previously stripped down piano and bass, but it works and I’m here for it.
“My Skin My Logo” begins like all the other tracks on this album with hazy, lo-fi beats but the vocals are a mix of rap and spoken-word, rather than lyrics that are sung. Solange reverts back to singing towards the end of the song, though. You can hear the smile and laughter in Solange’s voice in this song, which I love. It features Gucci Mane, which is a collab that I did not expect when I first listened to the album, but it works. An interlude separates “My Skin My Logo,” from “Jerrod,” sampling Alexyss K. Tyler before proceeding to the next track.
“Jerrod,” is also a favourite of mine from this album. Solange’s vocals, as usual, are angelic but they’re made even more angelic against the soundscape of a deep bass and syncopated pulse sans drumbeat. The song is more intimate and soft before it becomes the next track, “Binz.” The drums return, along with the trap influences as well as supporting vocals from The-Dream. It’s an upbeat, happy track which means when the next song, “Beltway,” begins to play, it hits you extra hard. “Beltway,” is a slower, sadder, song, featuring vocals from Panda Bear. Solange repeats “you love me, love me,” which adds to the sadness in the song. The interlude, “Exit Scott,” prevents things from getting too sad with vocals by Scarface and a choir-vibe.
“Sound of Rain,” is another stand-out track from this album. Produced by Pharell, John Key and Solange herself as well as with vocals from Abra and Steve Lacy, it’s another song that could easily become an insta-hit from this album. The beats are more prominent in this song, along with the bass. While for the most part, it’s an upbeat track, around the 2-minute mark, it becomes more trap-y and Solange’s vocals go from sweet to powerful. The outro almost resembles the music of her older sister, Beyonce, but it’s still very unique to Solange.
Another interlude, “Not Screwed,” follows, before the final track, and samples air horns, lo-fi beats, Standing on the Corner and Scarface. It’s a preparation for the surreal final song, “I’m a Witness.” The album finishes with angelic harmonies from Solange and Panda Bear, “takin’ on the light,” which sums up the journey that was When I Get Home really well.
The album is an intriguing and powerful work of art which begs you to listen to it, again and again, each time you’ve finished listening to it. It celebrates black excellence and her hometown in the most beautiful, ethereal way possible and somehow manages to be just as good, if not better than its predecessor, A Seat At the Table (which I didn’t think was possible). When I Get Home, is one of those albums that you have to sit down and listen to, all in one go (preferably not on shuffle play) as it takes you on a journey.
— solange knowles (@solangeknowles) March 1, 2019
Featured image via Columbia Records.