There’s no denying that the pull towards Solange’s music isn’t just because of her last name. This album has a very intelligent and reflective spirit, doing well to settle the mind and give off a pleasant, even keel atmosphere while saying some important things along the way. The clarity in intention and presentation was pretty remarkable, as I was simply able to let go and dive right into the groovy nature of acoustic and electronic combination, along with the forefront lyrical messages. What came out by the end wasn’t anything too remarkable, and there are certainly better recent examples of this modern RnB attempt, but it does what it sets out to accomplish, and further shows that there is absolutely no “hiding in the shadows” going on here.
As for its accomplished goals, the biggest one was the way in which a high level of captivation was found though nothing but bass and soft percussion. The bass playing was the album’s greatest highlight and most significant success, being incredibly melodic while also outlining chordal roots and progressions. The bass played two simultaneous roles, both to a strong degree: constant provider of harmonic movement, and secondary linear engagement. It accomplished this through great attention to syncopated rhythm and switch between doubling the vocals and repeating its own yet related motive. While only a fraction of the musical substance, this small rhythm section was the main positive that carried this work. Sure, the timbre could have provided a bit more drama with more textural variance and bigger roles for other instruments, but overall, I enjoyed the subtlety and thought the chill atmosphere was quite well done.
The harmonies themselves nice positive effect as well, even if lost in the fray sometimes and not terribly crucial to the specific personality of each song. The two harmonic standouts were the songs “Down With the Clique”, which used a slow, oozy 4+2 meter that expertly highlighted colorful 7ths and 9ths, and the song “Time (is)”, which slowly builds to a super catchy and rather ambiguous two chord loop in 5/4 time, that again does well to highlight the non-chord tones and get rid of any potential sense of teeter-totter monotony. The rest of the songs didn’t really use any other grasping meter or involved chordal tones, as they simply had a rather prescribed two or three chord foundation that made heavy use of major 7ths and didn’t quite connect with the rest of the music in any big way. However, the harmonies always maintained the chill affect that the sound was responsible for creating, and there really never was any sense of monotony, thanks to root movement being presented in an interesting way through the bass, and having little to no obvious conventionality in its movement from a pop perspective.
While the music had a nice shine in its background layers, the foreground melodic layers could never quite match. The unfortunate aspect about the melody overall was that lots of Solange’s sung lines were not well thought through and had little relation to anything around it. Her voice may sound pretty and blend well with the underlying instrumentation, but pitch-wise, many of these lines were out in no-man’s land and unable to enhance the mood or atmosphere due to the lack of harmonic combination. They were feathers that were thrown in the air to hover above the substance, rather than being a true part of the substance itself. Now, aside from the rhythmically dull spoken repetitions in the song “Almeda”, no melody ever came across as unwanted or disruptive. Solange still had an ear for congenial line and how to smoothly connect a sung phrase going from one pitch to the next. There was simply a lack of togetherness with chordal foundation, which is the main reason this misses out on being a truly solid work.
I do think the attempt at brevity as a whole let Solange down here a bit. Although the overall flow of the album from start to finish had a very personable touch with the multiple interludes and fade ins to the next idea, I felt as though these songs were all quite short with no understandable reason for transitioning so quickly. I thought this particular sonic foundation could have been much more impactful had there been more time to simply let it breathe, develop, and move slower. There were some very neat ideas here in a vacuum, but they always came and went rather quickly.