THE HYPE SURROUNDING SOLANGE KNOWLES’ NEW ALBUM
After landing a No. 1 with her album three years ago, not to mention a subsequent Grammy award, the music industry had been waiting with bated breath for the follow-up by the 32-year-old singer, who according to zeit.de is “musically way more interesting than her sister Beyoncé”. More interesting perhaps because Solange is a more experimental, independent musician of our time, like nothing we’ve ever seen before, who is proving that socio-political experiences, critiques or harsh truths need to be communicated clearly, but not aggressively. She has long since been regarded as the figurehead of many African Americans and of an avant-garde R’n’B wave that might sound delicate, but actually packs a real punch.
SOUND OF THE NEW ALBUM
Speaking of which: Solange’s falsetto sounds as delicate as ever, even quavering now and again, which makes the sound unusually authentic and the dreamy poetry that accompanies her music equally so, but seen from a superficial perspective, also easy to digest – even though she works a lot of personal stuff into her songs. But in this fourth album she seems less vulnerable, more self-determined and more mature. Her lyrics touch on issues including identity politics and the stark contrasts of (American) society.
The album features a total of 19 tracks, which are in fact 13 songs, five interludes and one intermission. And yet you need just under forty minutes to listen to the entire work from beginning to end as the tracks last just two to three minutes max. Instead of focusing on individual super hits, Solange Knowles has obviously channelled her energies into coming up with a holistic concept, which only reveals itself as such when the listener takes the time to listen to ‘When I Get Home’ all the way through. The names of each track are references to Houston, Texas – Solange’s hometown. ‘S McGregor’ is a neighbourhood in Houston, ‘Beltway’ is most likely a nod to Highway 8 that runs through the city, while ‘Almeda’ (produced by Pharrell Williams) has to be about the city’s Almeda area.
ACOUSTIC MEETS VISUAL ART
Musical success and popularity are the main things she has in common with her sister. But the two power sisters also share a penchant for unusual short films that accompany and underline their musical performances. To accompany ‘When I Get Home’, Solange has released a 30-minute film on Apple Music that oozes so much creativity that it really reminds us just how rarely we get to see such visually pleasing videos – whether long or short – these days. The backdrops change as fast as the tracks on her album and alternate between imposing scenery and enclosed, small spaces. After watching just a few songs you’ll soon notice one thing in particular: a central, repetitive element is the circle; or circular movements, to be precise. Whether it’s the dancers walking or dancing in a circle, the cowboys swinging their lassos or the twelve DeLoreans arranged in a circle. There are many ways of interpreting this, but it could also be an arbitrarily conceived, recurring element to support the visual rhythm. On the other hand, you don’t have to have been following Solange Knowles’ work for very long to know that nothing this lady does is random or just for the sake of it.
Whatever the case, the hype surrounding her new album is real. While her look, her elegance and her unwavering determination nostalgically remind us of the music icons of the 1970s, she is also very much ahead of her time with a surprising, fascinating and, at the same time, relaxed laissez-faire. Maybe that’s why she chose the distinctively futuristic DeLorean from the ‘Back to the Future’ movies to sum up her special retro-yet-timeless qualities…who knows?
Text: Cheryll Mühlen