By Connor Busby, Pearl Staff
A plain foam mattress pad – the concept of a bed reduced to its bare bones. It is just this kind of simple cushion upon which I lay, closing my eyes and listening to Solange’s new album, When I Get Home (WIGH), for the first time. A very fitting location to experience this new musical journey by an artist, who has always created with a clean, minimal, and sculptural sensibility – even going so far as to design a line of furniture for IKEA. WIGH explores these same architectural ideas through songs that often seem to subtly stretch the very notion of what a song can be.
One of the main ways in which Solange achieves this is through her masterful use of repetition. The opening track “Things I Imagined” is a perfect example. Built upon numerous twinkling keyboard layers, Solange sings the refrain of the title over and over, until it becomes a mantra. In the hands of a lesser artist, this concept could have easily led to a sense of stagnancy, but here the recurrence actually helps to build a sense of momentum. With each new reiteration, Solange plays around with elements such as intonation and pauses, stretching words and shifting time signatures with ease. This trend continues later on in songs like “Way to the Show,” “Beltway” and most rapturously in the celebration of “Almeda.”
Zooming outwards, the other most striking thing structurally about WIGH is how seamlessly the tracks flow together. The whole album feels like a warm, breezy daydream of a summer afternoon. Solange manages to stuff 19 songs into less than 40 minutes by crafting tight musical sketches that very rarely pass the three-minute mark. She also carries over her usage of interludes from her last album, A Seat at the Table. While there they focused on telling stories of resilience, here these interludes are used more as cosmic transmissions to weave bits of spiritual wisdom throughout the album.
This cohesiveness is even more impressive considering the vast and eclectic range of collaborators, who lent their talents to Solange’s project. Everyone from Playboi Carti and Panda Bear to Tyler, the Creator and Abra are mixed together to create the album’s rich and diverse sound. While songs like “Binz” and “Sound of Rain” (my personal favorite) buzz and pulsate underneath cresting hi-hat waves, others like “Dreams” and “Time (Is)” are built around the prisms of light thrown off by soft piano chords.
While a film-length visual was also released in conjunction with the album (its dreamy imagery presenting Solange’s vision of a Houston populated by majestic black cowboys and sci-fi CGI renderings of genuflecting dancers), WIGH’s music speaks loud enough for itself. After releasing one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2016, many speculated how on earth Solange was going to be able to follow it up. She did so by releasing one of the best albums of 2019 so far. Just listen to her attempting to hold back her laughter as she makes a joke about soccer cleats on “My Skin My Logo” and try not to smile!