After a brief teaser earlier in the week, R&B rising star Solange Knowles has abruptly dropped her fourth studio record, When I Get Home, a soulful, funky, bluesy tribute to the Third Ward of Houston, Texas, also home to her big sister—yeah, Beyoncé. Considering this album is a followup to Solange’s powerful and racially-charged A Seat at the Table from 2016, it’s strange how comfortably it sits in its own echo chamber, that is, in a sound steeped in both 70s soul and funk and modern R&B production. Don’t let the 19-song tracklist fool you—When I Get Home has already mentally gotten there, and sits pretty in what is essentially a continuous track.
Solange works her voice tirelessly throughout, exerting herself in freeform melodies that feel very much improvised in a flash of improvisation. Whiles there are lyrical snippets of cliques rolling down streets and wide-eyed dreamers, much of the thematic image of the Knowles’ home is painted sonically. Opener “Things I Imagined” feels like Solange tuning herself, repeating the titular line in differing times and tones as if trying to nail down that image of home she wants—the image that rests in her memory. However brief each track’s production is explored, it’s all gorgeously produced, with fast moving ideas echoing in and out of focus. “Down With the Clique” travels on funky, piano-driven astro-jazz played by Tyler the Creator and clearly inspired by Headhunters- era Herbie Hancock. “Dreams”, featuring guest production by Earl Sweatshirt slides on juicy, soulful guitar and a punchy hip hop beat. (There’s evidence here of a new class of black auteurship emerging from the remains of Odd Future, of all places). The down and dirty bass groove on Gucci Mane-powered “My Skin My Logo” is another major standout. Each track has a strong loop of production that comes and goes a little too quickly to be properly explored.
And that’s the problem with When I Get Home—however fast moving its ideas are it still feels like meandering chamber music. Solange herself reassures listeners she’ll be back on her feet if you give her a minute (“Binz”), as if this is a temporary shaking off of nebulous sonics before she reasserts her once-striking lyrical vision. On early interlude “S McGregor”, she claims through spoken word, “I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations.” However creative the warm melding of her nostalgic influences, there’s a directionless dreaminess throughout that disappoints somewhat.
Solange’s When I Get Home is as cool and polished as we’ve come to expect, though it rests in its own visions of home instead of bringing the usual edge in her message. The warm memories of a musical time long past is anything but forlorn, but it does feel stationary. It will, at least, set and maintain a clear musical mood, one that no doubt plays inside and powers one of the brightest R&B artists of our day. Standout tracks are “Stay Flo”, “Dreams”, and “My Skin My Logo”.
review by Matthew Wardell