Musically, Solange has progressed from her previous album, 2016’s A Seat at the Table. There, she deconstructed the idea of a song; on Home she abandons the pretence of pop song structure altogether. The familiar elements remain: beats that could fit into a Soundcloud jam, Motown-inspired harmonies, warm gospel organs, funk bass lines, hip hop as interpreted by Texas, and jazz. There aren’t lyrics as much word loops, a jazz trick that makes her voice, and those of her collaborators, into an instrument in the cacophony. The words are typically not the focus of the songs here.
At the heart of When I Get Home is Houston. H-town streets come up in the track listings, from S McGregor to Almeda to Beltway 8 to Scott Street. Songs like “My Skin My Logo” and “Down with the Clique” owe an obvious debt to the city’s sizzurp-drenched scene of the ‘00s and DJ Screw — as well as beloved, long-running rap radio station 97.9 The Box. But the range doesn’t stop there — Rice University’s student-run KTRU, a home for both acid jazz and indie rock, round out the influences Solange reaches back for on opener “Things I Imagined.” Radio is a huge deal in a city like Houston, whose vast urban sprawl is legendary. Blasting music in your car is a rite of passage, from the Geto Boys in the parking lot of Greenpoint (aka Gunspoint) Mall to Grizzly Bear in the parking lot of indie music venue Fitzgerald’s. But there’s also a slowness, a deliberateness that’s inherent to a climate like the one in Houston (as well as New Orleans, Solange’s other home). The heat and intense humidity slow you down, affecting everything from the way you talk to the way you move; you don’t have to be sipping on sizzurp to look and sound laconic.
In “Almeda,” Solange ruminates on Hurricane Harvey, imagining the brown flood water along with the brown liquor homeowners downed by the vat while they watched the rain fall and fall and fall. She captures a sense of disbelief and hopelessness in the surreal music, with just a harsh-enough edge in the piano as it works down the scale. “Stay Flo” may be the closest thing to a bop on the album, but that might just be the familiarity talking — it operates a lot like her previous work with collaborator Dev Hynes musically. That said, like all the tracks on this album, it’s not a fully formed pop song, at least not as we think of them commercially. Rather, “Flo” is more of an idea of a song, taking elements from many musical styles and putting them together without a chorus, verses, or throughline. Much more of an experimental, avant-garde performance artist than her sister, Solange is banking on us going with her to a higher, more spiritual level on When I Get Home, manifesting songs as memories. But she doesn’t shy away from revealing how incomplete and fallible those memories can be.