Solange has never been one to follow another’s career trajectory, so this first album since 2008’s Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams has had plenty of time to ferment, allowing life’s rich tapestry to color every aspect of the songs and themes contained within. Forming record labels/creative collectives (Saint Heron), releasing EPs, DJ-ing and being a parent have shaped the intervening period. But perhaps the greatest influence that comes to bear is being a witness to and an involuntary participant in the ongoing racial inequality that pervades American society.
2012’s True EP found Solange collaborating with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) to produce a glacially cool take-down of failed relationships, but here the major partnership is with soul luminary Raphael Saadiq. His sensitive co-production and unctuous, nimble bass playing bring glowing warmth to the proceedings, while also ensuring a coherence and continuity to the album, enabling it to succeed as a whole body of work.
While Saadiq and others, including Sampha, Q-Tip and BJ the Chicago Kid, undoubtedly bring their experience and expertise to this particular party, it would be foolish to see this as anything other than Solange’s show. Cooing effortlessly, she harmonizes beautifully (just as guest vocalist Tweet did earlier this year), while Saadiq envelopes everything in a blanket of bubbling bass lines. “Mad” featuring Lil Wayne is a case in point: the combination of Saadiq’s languid bass, Lil Wayne’s laconic delivery and Solange’s zephyr-light vocals waltzing around each other are perfect bedfellows. Rarely has talk of failed suicide bids and world-weariness sounded so beautiful.
Interspersed between these delights are interludes courtesy of Solange’s parents and Master P that add fuel to the fire of righteous indignation that burns throughout the album. But it is not just anger that permeates the lyrics and subject matter. “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” is a shuffling, stuttering love song created with Q Tip and “Junie” is a delightful, squelchy bit of fun (albeit with the least remarkable guest slot from André 3000) fashioned for Junie Morrison of the P-Funk family and Ohio Players.
One thing is undoubtedly clear about this album: whether it is the resistance to passive micro-aggressions of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” the loss and regret of “Where Do We Go,” or the gently bristling defiance of “F.U.B.U.,” Solange’s humanity and intelligence shine through, a lighthouse in a sea of 21st Century despair. This is bold, beautiful and vital soul music from an artist hitting her stride perfectly.
Notable Tracks: “Cranes in the Sky” | “Junie” | “Mad”