Repetition in prose and poetry is typically used to emphasize a feeling or an idea. A distinct rhythm is created by repeating various phrases or words that are meant to have an impact on the audience. If such is true for music, which it definitely is, then everything in Solange’s fourth studio album When I Get Home can be considered impactful.
Taking inspiration from some of the great soul artists of recent past like Stevie Wonder and Coltrane; Solange’s new record consists of long repeated verses, anecdotal references towards her life in Houston TX, and incredibly precise production. Solange being the de facto core producer of her own album meant she had a lot of creative control over all sonic elements. In an interview with Pitchfork, she called producing her “heart and soul” and revealed that:
it is rather difficult as a producer to be reduced to just the songwriter or just the artist when you spend 18 hours editing one drum sound….We’ve come a long way from that for women, but it’s still got a little ways to go—the way we’re able to have that conversation about Rick Rubin but we’re not extending that conversation to others
With that being said, it’s clear that her use of repetition was instrumental in communicating her feelings towards her hometown and by extent her life in general. She corroborates this once again in her interview with Pitchfork:
With this album I had so much to feel. Words would have been reductive to what I needed to feel and express. It’s in the sonics for me.
It certainly shows in the production of this record that Solange certainly had a lot to say about how she felt. Every track plays like a vignette focusing on one specific aspect of her life in Houston or black culture as a whole. This is achieved by her masterful use of repetition, which is by far the most captivating facet about this LP. Something repetition can emulate, especially in terms of musicality, is prayer or meditation. The repeating of a particular phrase or sound is typically used to facilitate a zen-like state in the individual participating, and the same can be said for When I Get Home.
The repetition of words can cause the listener to feel like they’re slipping into an out of body experience. The words become ambiance, their latent meaning cemented deep in the minds of the audience whether they’re fully conscious of it or not. Several tracks can pass without the listener even noticing. For some artists this may be the adverse reaction they’re hoping to achieve but for Solange this is a calculated choice.
Perhaps this effect is also thanks to Solange’s sonorous vocal performance throughout the whole record. She commands a soprano style of singing whilst blending a plethora of other tones and musical genres together. It’s more than just a soul record; it takes a variety of styles and mishmashes them into a genre-bending experience. This is yet another deliberate choice made by Solange. She takes the time to pay homage to the chopped and screwed style of remixing which was pioneered in Houston in the late 1980s and early ’90s. This tribute is best heard in tracks like “Almeda” and “The Sound of Rain.” However, the aforementioned dream-like effect created by Solange is best demonstrated by the opener of her album.
The very first track of When I Get Home begins with Solange repeating the phrase “things I imagined” and after the time signature changes, in one big crescendo, she repeats “taking on the light” before the track finally simmers down and seamlessly transitions into the following interlude. At a glance one might notice a possible disadvantage that comes with this style of music. The lack of complexity in her lyricism makes her music incredibly simple. However, what she lacks in lyricality she makes up for in pure substance. Her voice essentially becomes the music, rather than just layering over top of it. So much is apparent in “Things I Imagined” which features a piano that plays in time with her singing and in the same key as her voice. Her overwhelming focus on the sound of her record is self-evident and continues throughout the entire release. This is ground rarely tread by artists so hearing it done now is very refreshing.
Solange isn’t trying to hide anything with When I Get Home, each track is within itself, a piece of her life manifested in the form she loves and knows best. This is why her roots played such an important role in the creation of this record. Perhaps the free-flowing style of production she chooses is supposed to mimic her thoughts in some way. The audience, while drifting themselves, navigates through the fragmented memories as they go deeper and deeper into the track list. Just as Solange moves freely throughout her mind the audience is reminded of their own past and roams about their consciousness. With that being said the album is noticeably immersive.
Solange can evoke even the most ridiculous of imagery and emotion with her constant repetition. For instance, in the previously mentioned track, “Almeda” Solange repeats the words “Brown” and “Black” then follows it with seemingly random words that reference alcohol, luxury cars, and sugar. Creating symphonic assonance within the track. While it may seem like random gibberish to some, it’s actually a solid defense of southern black culture and exhibits the pride she feels in being a part of it. If this wasn’t explicit enough “Almeda” gets its namesake from the area located in Southwest Houston. However, what’s really interesting about this song is how it keeps in line with what the rest of the album is accomplishing. Nothing about the production of the album or overall quality is being compromised in order to communicate these complex themes clearly and this is a difficult feat to pull of gracefully. However, Solange does this effortlessly.
There are a lot of layers present in When I Get Home and Solange systematically peels through each and every one of them in order to get to the core. The core being her most visceral convictions and emotions. Solange allows herself to be vulnerable on this album and attacks the most personal parts of her soul. The audience floats past her most intimate sentiments and memories amongst a sea of hundreds other that play just like it. The final track “I’m a Witness” acts as a perfect sendoff for the listeners. It’s a slow ballad that ends the same as the first track did, with Solange repeating the phrase “taking on the light” with iambic stress on the word light. It’s almost like a prayer, a gesture of hope and cheer. Whatever story it’s telling the most important thing is that it’s coming directly from Solange. No matter what track you’re on Solange makes you feel at home.