Nothing Without Intention

by Adam Simpson

When I Get Home by Solange

As a middle-aged pakeha male from the bottom of the world I can really safely state that i’m not the audience for this, but also I’ve had such a time with it that I want to tell you all about it.

I’m short on references; there are heaps of them and they’re well documented elsewhere, so apart from understanding that it’s an homage to hometown Houston, my context is just taking it in and seeing what I can decipher. It’s a great way to listen to music.

A Seat at the Table, Solange’s 2016 No.1 album was choc-full of sweet sounds & teachable interludes. It’s the sort of record we could’ve eaten every year and felt pretty satisfied. Sure it hinted at the surprises waiting on the next table especially with Where do We Go’s Bennie and the Jets piano stomp and Closing: the Chosen Ones. But where Table was an album of songs, Home is an abstract and complete experience, best listened to with great headphones. Alone, and in full.

In saying that, there are a few stand-out pieces for me.

Things I Imagined is a great way to get into an album. Off the bat any expectations I had were bent, and the neat way the music adheres so tightly to her stunning, versatile voice feels fresh, and is set in place on the album by repetition. Solange uses this technique again in Dreams and it serves to give some space to think and consider…everything. But the best thing is how new it sounds. In my day job I hear news reporters try a line of voice-over 2-3 times to test intonations, but I only ever put 1 into the track. Here the experimentation is the point, and it sets the stage for an album of music that defies expectation.

After 3 listens I was still trying to find a way in, and this was going to be a super short piece of writing until my “in” appeared toward the end of Can I Hold the Mic where the sonic acapella synth essence of Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek opened my ears to the possibility of something fresh and cool. Then I got stuck by the teased busy beat at the end, desperate to hear more of a building banger which just….cuts, and cuts me everytime.

Way to the Show is the album’s masterpiece. One side of a regular couple’s phone convo sent into the void by Solange’s ethereal vocal treatment but shot back to earth at the end by the force of a gun. A reminder of how life and the tone of life can change in an instant.

Beltway is a calm & collected warning about needing space and fending off possession. Or perhaps ‘Don’t…you love me’ is a question. The song can be heard as the cold and raw morning after sense of being newly alone with all the confusion, misery and solitude it holds.

Either way there’s emotional potency here and to my ear it’s the heart of the album.

I tried hard but both Almeda and My Skin My Logo left me feeling like the odd kid out after sides had been picked. The former is the first single and there’s a lot going on inside it so I can appreciate that I’m the problem here but the latter just feels like two cool kids telling each other how cool they are. So like every odd one out I went off and played on my own for these two.

Solange Knowles is Princess Margaret to Queen Bey’s Elizabeth and a Number 1 record gave her the freedom to do what she wants. Here she makes the most of that without the mantle of the mainstream to produce (along with a tonne of producers) this epic PhD thesis in musicology shot through with jazz and heart.

Songs are gone and instead there’s love and longing here. And fun and friendship. And confidence and violence all wrapped in a pointed haze of recent nostalgia. If you get past the references and the inside baseball it’s a focussed, articulate and honest trip through someone else’s experience of life at a certain time.

And I’m the audience for that.

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