Album Review of A Seat at the Table by Solange.
Release Date: Sep 30, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary R&B, Alternative R&B
With 2012’s EP True – the wonderful lead single Losing You in particular – Solange Knowles minted a melancholy kind of lilting soul; as in thrall to infectious 80s pop as the artful indie of Dirty Projectors or the warmth of vintage house. It appeared to signal an artistic coming of age, yet she fell curiously quiet. A Seat At The Table would suggest that she’s spent her time away from the spotlight very wisely indeed.
Solange Knowles started writing her third album in New Iberia, Louisiana, a town where her maternal grandparents lived until a Molotov cocktail was thrown into their home. That setting helps explain how A Seat at the Table turned out drastically different from Knowles' previous output. There's no revisitation of beachy retro soul-pop and new wave akin to "Sandcastle Disco" or "Losing You." Nothing has the humor of "Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work" or the bluntness of "Fuck the Industry." There certainly aren't any love songs in the traditional sense.
2016 seems to be the year that pop, especially from black artists, became political. Frank Ocean broke his long-awaited silence with the extraordinary Blonde album, a record that touched on an awful lot of subjects but especially the recent spate of police shootings of black people. Dev Hynes, under his Blood Orange alter-ego, produced a dense and rich study of racial identity on Freetown Sound.
Forget everything you think know about Solange Knowles. Forget that her DNA is attached to one of the most iconic entertainers to ever bless the music scene. Forget about her heated skirmish with Jay Z on that fateful night in that elevator. Forget about her reputation of a surly “clapback” social media coercer, and try to focus on the superb artistry presented to us through her fourth album, A Seat at the Table.
Earlier this year, Philando Castile is killed in the heart of summer by a police officer in Minnesota. Murdered by blue for being black. Castile is driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter as passengers when they're pulled over. And it is Diamond who composedly live-streams the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Facebook as she helplessly watches her innocent partner die in the seat beside her.
Solange's third studio album, A Seat at the Table, is defiantly honest, strong and unapologetically black, but a softness underlies it. As implied by the title, it is, after all, an invitation. The album opens with "Rise," a melodic anthem that feels simple and meditative in its lyrical repetition, but "Weary" gets right to the point, exploring the weight she feels for inhabiting a black body and the prejudice she faces every day in her attempt to live and belong.
Solange Knowles turned 30 in June, and it seems clear that her Saturn Returns manifested in an artistic surge. A Seat at the Table, her third full-length album, is the work of a woman who’s truly grown into herself, and discovered within a clear, exhilarating statement of self and community that’s as robust in its quieter moments as it is in its funkier ones. Even though it’s been out less than a week, it already seems like a document of historical significance, not just for its formidable musical achievements but for the way it encapsulates black cultural and social history with such richness, generosity, and truth.
“Radio say ‘speed it up’. I just go slow”. This is of course not a Solange lyric, but rather, it comes from her big sister Beyoncé‘s 2013 instant classic “Partition”. Still, more than anything Beyoncé has done since she initiated her own personal revolution that year, such a lyric encapsulates what Solange Knowles aims for with her latest, career-defining release A Seat at the Table.
The third album by Solange Knowles, A Seat at the Table, is a record about black survival in 2016; a combination of straight talk and refracted R&B for what she calls her "project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing. " Beyond titles that telegraph the album's powerful, political backbone – "F. U.
There’s a life’s worth of lessons in Solange’s third album, three years in the making. She’s long been engagingly outspoken on issues of race, and from the title down, A Seat at the Table is an intensely personal testament to black experience and culture; the likes of F.U.B.U., Mad, Don’t Touch My Hair and interludes in which her parents talk about their encounters with racism go deep. Sonically, the album’s take on modern psychedelic soul is languid, rich, lifted by airy, Minnie Riperton-esque trills on the gorgeous likes of Cranes in the Sky or the darkly glimmering Don’t Wish Me Well; it’s a world away from 2008’s peppier, poppier Sol-Angel and the Hadley St Dreams or 2012’s indie-crossover-hit True EP.
“Ain’t nothing really R&B about me,” Solange Knowles proclaimed on “Fuck the Industry”, her 2008 screed against the music industry. Appended to a fuming blog post, the track was a preemptive strike against what Solange felt was a misguided approach to marketing her album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams, which was only weeks away. The statement was more polemic than descriptive, but its sentiment was clear: Solange refused to be defined on someone else’s terms, even if it meant dismissing years of her own songs and writing credits.
In an early track, Weary, on Solange’s third full-length, she sings, “I’m gonna look for my body / I’ll be back real soon.” Her search becomes a journey with no quick or easy return. Filled with anger, pain and grief, she’s seeking to reclaim herself in a world where the Black body has been denigrated and objectified. A world where Tulsa police could describe Terence Crutcher, a Black man, as looking like a “bad dude” before fatally shooting him in September.
There is something to Solange Knowles’ artistry that recalls the craft of origami cranes. Though the “cranes” present in the fourth track on Knowles’ latest, A Seat at the Table, are of the construction variety, paper cranes come to mind through the level of intricacy and care saturated into this project. In the same way origami’s complexity portrays a visual and cultural piece of Japanese history, A Seat at the Table displays a thoughtful, composed, and layered look at black culture and the black experience.
Solange 'A Seat At The Table' (Saint Records/Columbia)“Be weary of the ways of the world,” is Solange’s delicately crooned warning on the second track of ‘A Seat At The Table’. It’s understandable why she makes such a statement, given her father’s description of segregation as a child and her mother’s dismay at being unable to celebrate black culture without being called “anti-white” in the LP’s interludes. The struggles of black Americans is the main theme as she tenderly says she’s “got a lot to be mad about” on ‘Mad’ and defiantly claims “this shit is for us” on ‘F.U.B.U’.
Despite the woeful spirit that surrounds most of our staff at the moment, which goes without saying, the past month was actually one of the most enjoyable in terms of music releases for Carl and I. But both of us were not going to back out of our duty to report on some albums that are really worth ….
Solange Knowles has released about as misunderstood (and excellent) records as she’s released records at all. Her debut, Solo Star, has been criticized for being more a producer’s than an artist’s showcase, despite Solange being under 18 when it was recorded—how many albums by underage artists (and in the early ‘00s there were a lot) earned their performers a career asterisk? Follow-up Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams was somewhat frequently called an R&B novelty; similarly, True, released in 2012, remains critically acclaimed but pigeonholed by critics with minimal R&B backgrounds.
To have a seat at the table is to have power, influence, access, status and privilege — it’s an idea that has long separated and divided us. In black culture, getting a “seat” has often come with caveats. The very idea of being seen as equal without the fear of prejudice is still a traumatic one. And at home, the seat is very much about familial gathering.
"A Seat at the Table," the latest from singer-songwriter-producer Solange Knowles, is meant to be inclusive in terms of message and music. Solange Knowles happens to be the younger sister of one of the most famous women in the world, Beyonce. She's also quietly built her own estimable career, and her third studio album, "A Seat at the Table" (Columbia), delivers a major statement about what it means to be a woman of color in America.
The day before it dropped, Solange told a fan on Twitter: “‘A Seat At the Table’ is meant to provoke healing & [a] journey of self-empowerment.” That’s a weighty aim, but her music is smart, rich and thoughtful enough to pull it off..
In a conversation with her mother, Mrs. Tina Lawson, and journalist Judnick Mayard, Solange Knowles explains the meaning behind her new album’s title, her first full length collection in eight years. “I think that ‘A Seat at the Table,’ for me, is an invitation to allow folks to pull up a chair, get very close and have these hard uncomfortable truths be shared,” she explains.