If A Seat at the Table was a highly thesis-driven work, When I Get Home is almost entirely abstracted. It’s a kind of classic move, at least in recent memory most akin to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange to Blond evolution, where an artist is relatively easy to understand at their breakout and follows that with something not easy to understand at all. It’s already spawned some jokes and relative hate, but When I Get Home absolutely holds its own with expert flow, undeniable vision, and unpredictably excellent use of sounds and features.
There’s a lot of people out there who can give you a much better run down of how this all relates to Texas, but there’s a palpable specificity to the work here, like Solange is speaking directly to the people that made her and bringing new life to their message. The most obvious is likely DJ Screw, who would slow down records to create a gelatinous, sludgy sound. Solange’s voice is as pure as it was in the past, but it’s more free flowing, over sparse instrumentation, that’ll occasionally get slowed down literally Screw style (see: the tale end of “Down with the Clique”) and generally doesn’t feel like pop music, rather constantly repeating and unraveling.
Still, the pillowy keys and plucky bass continue from the past, maintaining Solange’s trademark sound. The way she incorporates literal collaborations, in particular rappers, is akin to the way these influences come through. ASATT’s “Mad,” for example, saw Lil Wayne over a beat that sounded like nothing he’s ever rapped over before (and what hasn’t Wayne rapped over before) and here the likes of Gucci Mane and Playboi Carti creep in, but don’t alter the velvety smoothness of the work. Sampha will show up and pick up on the melodies Solange is working with and help lift a song to its cresting climax, but never take over completely. And just like this, Screw’s ghost hangs over the work, but doesn’t infiltrate in the way that, say, The Police bleed through Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven.”
Similar to the flowing song forms, the lyrics that don’t lay out their messages to you in the way that songs like “F.U.B.U.” did in the past. The opener features Solange toying with the title Mitski style, of course creating some fodder for twitter jokes, but the phrase is evocative, whether she be imagining liberation for a community or a world without the dichotomy of high and low culture, a more perfect world can seem within reach even if its unattainable.
There’s more direct imagining on Alameda, which speaks of resilience: “Black baes, black days/These are black-owned things/Black faith still can’t be washed away/Not even in that Florida water.” However, Dreams moreso describes par for the course, with more vaguely evocative talk of hope: “I grew up a little girl with/Dreams, dreams, dreams.”
I can agree that When I Get Home is not for everybody, but a patient listener will likely get a lot out of it. It’s a document of a different pop world, one where the listener isn’t allowed a road map, rather a collection of shapes and angles to explore and ponder. Always fascinating to hear this from such a pillar of contemporary mainstream culture.