In praise of Solange
What makes “A Seat At the Table” one of the most compelling albums of 2016?
One of the most enthralling buzzes you can get as a listener is when you hear an artist who has found his or her or their groove. You can’t mistake it for anything else, this groove: everything locks into place with lazer-guided precision, the impossible becomes possible and the music sounds as if it has always meant to be thus. The whole shebang just zings with a buzz and a static which could power small cities.
Such giddy and euphoric moments are plentiful on the third album from Solange Knowles. They’re in the lazy, hazy drumsteps which lead you into “Cranes In the Sky”. They’re in the manner in which “Junie” goes all dappled sunnysideup doo-wop on you. They’re in the wonderful psychedelic soul spirit which paints mesmerising hues on “F.U.B.U” and “Don’t Touch My Hair”.
Knowles always had the means and moxie to do this kind of thing if you looked closely enough at the evidence. Those who’ve thrilled to evergreen dancefloor twister “Losing You” realised this the first time it swept them off their feet. She may have been defined in some quarters by her older sister, but this Knowles was always grafting and turning and moving towards a defining work like “A Seat At the Table”.
What makes this album really stand out is the substance and context as much as the music and wonky way in which Knowles merges soul&pop&funk&rock&r’n'b. As you dive in and dig deep, you’ll find an artist working out what it means to be a black woman in 2016. There has been plenty of similar fermentation from her peers in recent times, but Knowles looks at issues like race, identity and the current fucked up state of America from her experience of those cultures. It makes for a stirring, engaged, fiercely determined record.
Other voices come in and out of the narrative – Knowles makes room for guests like Lil Wayne, Sampha, Kelela, Master P and Dave Longstreth from Dirty Projectors, while co-producer Raphael Saadiq has had a major hand in the album’s funky drift – but the throughline is hers and hers alone. “A Seat At the Table” is a timeless piece of art, a record in tune with the matter of black lives in 2016, but one which is also remarkably timeless in sound and scope.