The Weeknd's House of Balloons is one of the more influential records of this decade, but thanks to Solange Knowles, “alt-R&B” would have happened without it. The sonic aesthetic she’s pieced together—a crackling experimental streak with potent pop hooks—is deeply pleasurable, and though she hasn't recorded anything as monumental as House of Balloons, people have increasingly taken notice. It's unknown whether or not Solange was attempting to claim the credit she’s owed while curating her Saint Heron compilation, but listening to it, it certainly has that result.
The arrangement of its material can make or break a compilation album, and on Saint Heron, the first release under eclectic singer/songwriter Solange Knowles's boutique label, Saint Records, the younger Knowles weaves a collection of alt-R&B songs together seamlessly. (One welcome thread: her dedication to making each artist's voice the focal point for his or her respective track. ) Seizing the opportunity to showcase artists who haven't received their share of mainstream shine, Solange has made a record worthy of the hype that seems to follow her every move these days.
Solange Knowles has done a commendable job in dodging sister Beyonce's bombastic shadow and creating her own path to artistic fulfillment. While it was partly due to necessity (no way was she ever going to steal big sister's shine), Solange's own musical efforts on 2012's True EP, along with her strong social media presence, have allowed her to nurture a cult following that appreciates her emergent brand of R&B/soul music. Anyone following Solange on Twitter knows that she has taken issue with artists and music critics alike who, in her mind, don't get that a lot of today's rhythmic experimental vibes are simply a new take on '90s-era R&B.
It's satisfying to know Solange Knowles is behind this new-school R&B-compilation-cum-label-manifesto, since the singer (and Queen B's kid sis) has been threatening big things for years now. Exploring the trippy, introspective aesthetic branded by the Weeknd, the music is long on spacey synths and dubby grooves. It can verge on its own kind of formula, but high points are high – including Solange's delicious "Cash In," built on a lowing church organ, a stark ride cymbal and a winking title.