“S McGregor (Interlude),” the second track off Solange’s fourth studio album, “When I Get Home,” makes the record’s intent murky but apparent. Over a tumbling piano played by Vivian Ayers, a sample of Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad’s poem “On Status” repeats “I boarded a train, kissed all goodbye.”
With these farewells, “When I Get Home” welcomes something new. Solange’s most recent album is rooted in her hometown Houston’s late 20th-century traditions, and she successfully manipulates them to form a glistening jewel. The album dresses up its deep bass landscapes and chopped ‘n’ screwed ideologies with eloquent piano chords, soft harmonies and jazzy spirituality. In the process, a dreamy piece of art becomes less of a personal manifesto and more of a decorated, forward spectacle.
Solange’s previous album, “A Seat At The Table,” evoked personal grievances, allowing them to spill out over its funky canvas. Now, Solange has removed herself from the painting, leaving only her artsy interpretation and the presence (and remnants) of the city that made her.
Perhaps putting herself on the wax was too daunting a feat to repeat — not that it detracts from “When I Get Home’s” own accomplishments. On “Can I Hold The Mic (Interlude),” Solange buckles herself to a spiraling jazz keyboard: “I can’t be a singular expression of myself / there’s too many parts, too many spaces / too many manifestations / too many lines…” and so on.
This “letting go” shows progression in her artistic pursuits. Though fully her vision, Solange excellently curates components that help chisel her work: Tyler, The Creator; The Dream; Pharrell and Panda Bear frequent the album’s contributor list. Others such as Earl Sweatshirt, Playboi Carti, Metro Boomin and Houston icon Scarface deliver notable appearances. Standing on the Corner, Blood Orange, Raphael Saadiq and Steve Lacy also offer subtle input.
Under the album’s wistful and jazzy surface is the skeletal structure of the chopped ‘n’ screwed aesthetic, an electric, choppy hip-hop style made famous by DJs and producers in Houston in the early 1990s. Off-kilter timings and bass kicks organically navigate Solange’s soothing compliments, but half the time it’s Solange’s vocal command dictating the production around her.
“Stay Flo” is a Houston-dazed lullaby; a trap ruse complete with low-frequency bass nods molded into a shiny, new gem by Solange’s soft caress. “Binz” also boasts that Houston bounce — another trappy, fidgety outline that’s transformed into an angelic, cushy “banger” due to Solange and The Dream’s seemingly reserved delivery and choir-like melodies.
The album’s rhetoric alludes to Houston as well, with references to landmarks like the Southwest Houston hub (”Almeda”), the TX-8 Beltway (“Beltway”) and Scott Street (“Exit Scott (Interlude)”). Yet, Solange increases the sum of these parts by juxtaposing this language with a tasteful spirituality, mentioning candy paint jobs (prevalent in Houston) in “Way to the Show,” then mystical Florida Water a few tracks later in “Almeda.”
“Down with the Clique’s” glitchy beat is again accented by Solange’s falsetto. With all the moving parts in its composition, the song creates an enchanting illusion of space. The album reaches a somber high point on “Time (Is),” and the Pharrell-produced “Sound of Rain” pairs an empowering chant with trickling piano and crystally synths.
A presence of pride and blackness permeates through the album’s core, a testament to this being the constant dashing of jazz elements across the album. “My Skin My Logo,” a funky, electric bass-driven track undoubtedly informed by Tyler, The Creator and Steve Lacy’s groovy sensibilities proudly positions melanin as a towering pillar of identity.
The fluid and flowing “Almeda” is a proper highlight on “When I Get Home.” On the track, which features The Dream and a standout verse by Playboi Carti, Solange uses clever wordplay and tasteful callbacks to again put her identity at the forefront: her culture is something that can’t be erased by even the most powerful forces.
“When I Get Home” is an early contender for one of 2019’s top albums. Its striking originality and scope of purpose separates it from other releases like only a few artists know how to do. And in conjunction with “A Seat at the Table,” Solange is proving herself as a powerful contributor to this decade of music.