Nearly three years ago, Solange released one of the best albums of 2016. An elegant and hallowed tale of “identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing” — particularly in the context of modern blackness and femininity — “A Seat at the Table” set a strong precedent for its follow-up. Her new album, “When I Get Home,” not only does “A Seat at the Table” justice, but establishes a new development in the era of graciousness and strength that defines Solange. Like an Impressionist painting, the value of “When I Get Home” lies in its movement and cohesiveness rather than precision or detail. As a result of this distinct style, Solange’s fourth studio album is a mellow, intoxicating experience — slightly drifting, yet purposefully so.
In the span of the album's 19 tracks and 39 minutes, “When I Get Home” comforts, intrigues, and excites with its steady rotation of synthetic instrumentals, faithful features, and compelling interludes. Given the album’s star-studded production team (including Dev Hynes, Steve Lacy, and Pharrell) and contributions from Playboi Carti, Gucci Mane, and Tyler the Creator, one would expect nothing less.
Solange begins by leading the listener into a string of laconic, repetitive verses (“I saw things I imagined / I saw things I imagined”) that gradually warp from ambient and dreamlike to syncopated and synth-heavy in “Things I Imagined.” This careful and measured transition foreshadows the seamless progression of sound that characterizes the rest of the album. As one track bleeds into the next, “When I Get Home” departs from the chronological sense of structure many albums claim. In “Stay Flo,” Solange declares her nonlinear, almost cyclical route as she sings, “Down, down, down on the floor / Down, down, down on the floor,” an informal reprise of the album’s third track “Down with the Clique.”
The stand-out of the album, “Almeda,” features Playboi Carti and The-Dream. Named after a Southwest Houston locale near Knowles’ place of birth, “Almeda” is the epitome of a masterful collaboration, respecting the distinguished sounds of each high-profile musician while also marrying them in an incredibly charming manner. In a thread of perhaps the most memorable lines of the entire album, Solange’s sings, “Black skin, / black braids / Black waves, black days / Black baes, black things / These are black-owned things / Black faith still can't be washed away.” Playboi Carti joins Solange — triumphantly and anthemically — in the final line of her second verse, “Black molasses, blackberry the masses.” Though it may seem a bit busy or disjointed at first listen, “Almeda” is a clear nod to the sonically-pleasing chopped and screwed style of '90s Houston area hip-hop. The three unlikely collaborators produce a well-integrated, cohesive sound: Playboi Carti’s definingly infectious flow and The-Dream’s luscious refrain complement Solange’s rousing, self-assured tone.
The album’s second major collaboration, “My Skin My Logo,” presents Solange’s monotone, low-register vocals against a jazzy, toe-tapping instrumental. Singing alongside Gucci Mane’s steady verses, Solange creates tension as her voice crescendos into a sensual high-pitched falsetto at the end of the song. “My Skin My Logo” is emblematic of imprecise yet wholly connected path the listener follows throughout the album. Although the sound of Solange and her collaborators may wander at times, she ultimately returns to form with the airy, psychedelic, and chopped sound of “When I Get Home.”