With a list of producers as star-studded as it is eclectic, When I Get Home pulls together influences from jazz, hip-hop and R&B to create an engrossing and dreamy soundscape. Adhering to the current trend of surprise releases, 2017 Grammy Award-winner Solange quietly dropped her fourth studio album on 1st March 2019, sandwiched between Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Despite a remarkable group of producers and collaborators (including Pharrell Williams and Dev Hynes), as a co-writer and co-producer on every track, Solange’s authorial voice is clear throughout.
When I Get Home is the follow-up to 2016’s critically-acclaimed A Seat at the Table, which marked a distinct departure from Solange’s earlier, poppier outputs. She expands and develops the themes of from her last album, but also takes them in a different direction. A Seat at the Table articulates her experiences as an African-American woman and is a raw and heartfelt expression of pride and pain. These themes are still very present in When I Get Home, but it is the music rather than the lyrics that takes centre-stage. Speaking with Antwaun Sargent at an event in Houston, Solange remarked, ‘obviously with A Seat at the Table I had so much to say. With this album I had so much to feel. Words would have been reductive to what I needed to feel and express. It’s in the sonics for me.’
Indeed, When I Get Home is sonically fascinating. After opening with the repetitive and hypnotic ‘Things I Imagined’, the album segues into the deep and heavy ‘Down with the Clique’, where the oppressive nature of the accompaniment is cleverly balanced by Solange’s higher register dancing over the top. Hip-hop influences become clear in the infectious ‘Stay Flo’, co-produced with Metro Boomin and John Carroll Kirby, it is the closest the album comes to a standout single. Sitting Solange’s layered vocals within old-school keyboard riffs, the whole effect is sealed by Peter Lee Johnson’s subtle but crucial bass playing. It is then a return to hazy form with the suitably spacey ‘Dreams’, with its muffled, electronic backing.
As already mentioned, the lyrics are not the focal point for much of the album. ‘Almeda’, however, is the exception. Featuring Playboi Carti, it makes use of the remixing style ‘chopped and screwed’, which emerged in Solange’s home city of Houston in the 90s. It is a striking celebration of both Houston and African-American culture. ‘Time (is)’ may be the most beautiful track, with its sweet piano accompaniment, hypnotic bass line and guest vocals from Sampha. Solange seems to be in her element in ‘My Skin My Logo’, featuring Gucci Mane, where at one point she actually bursts out laughing. The track draws the listener into its slow build-up, eventually peaking with a last-minute climax, resulting in an incredibly satisfying ride.
‘Jerrod’ is a romantic, R&B-flavoured treat with pleasing melodies and multi-layered vocals. The irresistibly catchy ‘Binz’ weaves together electronic drumbeats with extensive, ethereal melisma. A similar style is employed in ‘Sound of Rain’, before the album finally gives way to the mysterious, cloudy final track ‘I’m a Witness’. These longer tracks are interspersed and brought together with a series of interludes and one intermission, many of which make references to Houston. Particularly interesting is ‘Exit Scott (interlude)’, which samples the Houston-born African-American lesbian poet and activist Pat Parker’s gorgeous ‘Poem to Ann #2’. If Solange’s reference here brings Parker to a wider audience, this can only be a good thing.
With this coherent, genre-blurring project, Solange proves yet again she is more than just Beyoncé’s edgier little sister. In fact, I debated mentioning Beyoncé in this review at all. Yet it is important to state that although there are hints of her sister’s style in tracks like ‘Stay Flo’, Solange deserves of credit as an innovative artist in her own right, impressive familial ties or not. It is easy to become lost in the album’s seamless, uninterrupted 39 minutes, and it takes a few listens to feel its full impact. But it is easily worth it. There are far worse places to lose yourself than in When I Get Home.