Solange - True

When Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up at a Grizzly Bear show in Brooklyn three years ago, I was working for Pitchfork and had to write a news story about it, because that’s what my life is like. In my original draft, I had a joke about how you kinda have to do what your sister-in-law wants to do when she’s in town. My editor took that joke out, telling me that we didn’t know that Solange Knowles dragged Jay and Bey to the show when they would’ve rather been spending quality time with their solid-gold pinball machine or whatever instead. Soon enough, though, we learned that I was right — that the show had been Solange’s idea and that Jay had not, in fact, been banging Yellow House in his Maybach on the way to Def Jam meetings. This was not a surprise. Plenty of big-money pop artists have experimented with indie-rock sonics, whatever that even means, in the past few years, and more will soon. (The smart ones will just hire Jamie xx and/or Frank Ocean, as Alicia Keys does on her own new album.) But Solange, alone in that universe, has always come across as the type of person who has serious opinions about what Deakin adds or takes away when he joins back up with Animal Collective. She’s someone who moves through the indiesphere without making it look like a pandering grab at a new audience — like she’s Big Boi throwing Wavves on an album track. And now that Solange has finally made her indie record, she’s made one that sounds like pop music, which is the smartest thing she could’ve possibly done.

True — which, at seven songs and 28 minutes, is trapped somewhere between an EP and an album — is kinda-famously out on Terrible Records, the label co-founded by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. But it’s not her attempt at making Veckatimest, or even at a Twin Shadow record. She’s co-written and co-produced the entire thing herself. As her one big collaborator, she’s enlisted Blood Orange guy Dev Hynes, an artist who’s cycled through a half-dozen musical styles over the past decade before settling on a drug-dazed, ’80s-informed synthpop thing. And that’s a sound that suits Solange beautifully. Her voice isn’t an emotional-cannon WMD thing, like the thing her sister possesses. It’s nearly as dextrous, but it’s smaller and softer. And in her previous life as a major-label prospect, she’s always brought a tricky intimacy to her songs; the 2008 single “Sandcastle Disco” remains an unheralded favorite. And here, she focuses on her strengths by going even smaller, by reducing her sound to whispers and coos.

And so True is just an enormously likable little record, a lovelorn sigh that never bashes you over the head with anything. There are no obvious indie signifiers beyond; instead, we get smart and buried production tricks like the squiggly synth-bass on “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work” or the mumbly kinda-rap verse that Hynes turns in on that same song. If anything, Solange, like Frank Ocean or Miguel, is playing around with the R&B touches that have been showing up in indie-pop recently, showing you kids how someone with a real no-shit star-quality voice approaches this stuff. The songs are about breaking up, or being about to break up, or wondering why you broke up when you were really happier than you realized. And the lyrics are more specific than you’d expect from a Knowles: “Remember when you kissed me at Jimmy John’s when I was 17 / Convinced you were the shit.” They’re indecisive songs, songs about being trapped in uncertainty.

But it’s still a remarkably happy-sounding record; even its saddest songs breezy and weightless. First single and opening track “Losing You” is an absolute joy, a ripple of love. And if you were writing a cynical trend-piece about pop artists going indie, you might snark something about the way it reappropriates first-album Vampire Weekend’s Afropop appropriations. But those flourishes are more subtle and nuanced than that; they’re built right into the flow of the song, and nothing’s been built around them. And that’s true of the entire record; Solange and Hynes understand how its production tricks can serve its songs. And even when Solange vocally cuts loose, wordlessly vamping as tracks end, she does it quietly and assuredly, letting her ah-ah-ahhs circle around the tracks rather than trying to drown them. In making a record this graceful and assured, Solange and Hynes have struck a decisive blow against genre-based gimmickry, and we should thank them for that.

True is out now on Terrible.

Other albums of note out this week:

• The Wu-Tang/D-Block head-knocker collab Wu-Block.
• Alicia Keys’s unrelated-to-Hunger Games LP Girl On Fire.
• Pac Div’s sneaker-rap full-length GMB.

Comments (24)
  1. This is a great write-up. I hope we get a full album from Solange in a similar vein. I really like her sound and candor.

  2. This album is refreshingly enjoyable. tom hit it right on the head, just very likable

  3. Nice review. Solange is sorta like the head cheerleader’s much younger little sister who decided it’s pointless to try and follow in her sister’s footsteps and instead decides to hang with the goth kids and figure it out on her own. You can look at it two ways: (1) cynical. She knows that it’s pointless to even try (and to some extent, she somewhat did with her first album), and thus, recognizes she has a different angle to exploit, or (2) original. Despite her first album, she could have used familiar influences to push a solo career (Solange is infinitely more talented than Ashley Simpson, and yet……), but she decided that that would be boring and uninspiring and decided that besides being more commercially viable, a different path from big sis would also be more interesting for her personally.

    I like Solange and I like to think she’s all the later. I remember that girl that hung with the goth kids. By senior year she figured out her place in the world existed somewhere between prom queen and goth outcast, and you could forgive any false pretenses or contrivances along the way because despite it all, she was just more interesting to watch than her more accomplished and admired sister.

    And then in college, shit just got real……….

  4. So it looks like I can kick back and start re-listening to things this week.

  5. I love that we have a pop artist who’s so interesting and will always have the wherewithal to release her music no matter where her inspiration takes her. And this collaboration definitely sounds inspired, great stuff.

  6. Does she usually go by Solange? For some reason, I always wanna call her Solange Knowles.

  7. pretty damn great

  8. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  9. flawless

  10. Yo Bey, Imma let you finish but Solange is now the best Knowles. Period.

  11. I can’t believe it, but I actually kind of dig this. I agree with Tom and the commenters, this shit is just plain likable. Beats the pants off of Channel Orange. If you’re going to make pop/r’n'b, just go ahead and make it, and give it a beat and strong melodies like Solange does. No need to fuss around.

  12. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • To each his own. A cross between Aaliyah and Toni Braxton isn’t so bad when it’s cushioned by Hynes’ beats and saddled by Solange’s likability. Her voice is nothing really extraordinary but this album is amazing. As much as I like Frank Ocean, I like this better.

      P.S I knew she’d be my kind of artist when I saw her music video for ‘Sandcastle Disco’

    • Calling us silly and Solange average then justifying these things by comparing her to Aaliyah and Toni Braxton is maybe the most incongruity I’ve ever seen in such a small space.

  13. How dick would it be if Beyonce collaborated entirely with Dev Hynes on her next album?

  14. She looks like Joan from Girlfriends

  15. Sure seemed from the interviews post show that Jay Z liked the show. You also seem like a bitter person Tom

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