Before immersing myself in “When I Get Home” this past weekend, I hadn’t heard much of Solange Knowles’ music before. “Cranes in the Sky” had popped up on Apple Music playlists curated especially “for me,” and I knew “Don’t Touch My Hair” was an immensely important cultural statement on behalf of black women. After seeing one of my favorite artists, Dev Hynes (who releases music as Blood Orange) sing Knowles’ praises with regard to her artistic ability, their personal friendship, and most recent album, I listened to “When I Get Home” straight through. I was so intrigued that I then watched Knowles’ new film of the same name, which was released as a companion to the album.
“When I Get Home” is an outlandish musical journey; Knowles guides listeners through nineteen distinct soundscapes with the help of various skilled collaborators. Notable credits include Tyler the Creator, Metro Boomin, Earl Sweatshirt, Raphael Saadiq, Devin The Dude, Playboi Carti, Sampha, Panda Bear, Steve Lacy, Gucci Mane, Pharrell Williams, and my beloved Hynes—and those are only the names creditted that I’m familiar with. Knowles’ album is the work of a curated bunch of musicians and artists that together augment its uniquity.
The album evolves and builds upon itself throughout a full listen. For the most part, songs blend seamlessly into the next; “When I Get Home” features five interludes and one “intermission.” While there is unity amongst the songs, a sort of dynamism exists between opening tracks like “Things I Imagined” and “Down with the Clique,” and the closer “I’m A Witness.” The listener can sense a sort of shift in Solange. Admittedly, I didn’t even pick up on the transformation until I heard “Sound of Rain,” the album’s penultimate full song.
My favorite tracks off the album are “Dreams,” “Sound of Rain,” and “I’m A Witness.” I was not surprised to learn that “Dreams” was produced in part by Hynes. The song begins with Knowles’ vocals accompanied only by soft, minor notes, a dead giveaway of Hynes’ influence. It eventually launches into a slow, emotional progression supported by stable and unassuming beats. Lastly, the song’s outro stars a narrator whose affected voice lulls listeners into a tranquil state that mimics a dreamscape.
“Sound of Rain” is a complex, seemingly soul-infused song; Williams’ co-producing left a recognizable mark on the track. Knowles’ compelling line “nobody dress can effeminate me” is coupled with heavier beats, aligning “Sound of Rain” with other songs off the album that have a similar hip-hop-esque vibe like “Almeda.” “Almeda,” also co-produced by Williams, has received the most buzz of all the songs on the album. In addition to the album’s standout lyrics, “black faith still can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida water,” many fans were thrilled to see a collaboration between Knowles, Williams, and Playboi Carti.
“I’m a Witness” is a satisfactory finale to the slightly unpredictable tracklist. While some songs quickly shift gears and keep listeners on their toes, the closer finds peace in quiescence; its chorus is reminiscent of early 70’s soul. As Knowles sings of “taking on the light,” she, John Key, and Panda Bear create a visceral, religious experience.
Much like a quintessential Blood Orange or
Frank Ocean album, Knowles’ fourth studio album consists of musical
vignettes: gorgeous, short melodies showcase her alluring artistic
talent. “When I Get Home” is one of those albums that leaves the
listener with a final resonance. Knowles doesn’t detail a singular
narrative, she explores many and allows the listener to parse out the
different realities she’s created—or, simply enjoy the ride.