Everyone likes to think that he or she is musically well-informed, but we can’t all be well-informed. There are some of us who dig through dusty record stores with a pack of Claritin D handy, sorting through the dreck that the music industry produces to find something of value and really listen. And then there are those of us who don’t. As a former musician and someone who runs a label/collective, I like to stay up-to-date on what's happening in music, across genres, both from the past and the present. And it is for this reason that I regret to admit that I only learned about Beyoncé’s younger sister Solange Knowles… a few weeks ago.
I know, I know — I’m the worst. Nevertheless, I’ve developed what quite possibly rivals every pretentious Jewish Obie music fan’s biggest female musician crush — St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark — in Solange, and, well, I’m diggin’ it. Over the past two weeks, in the middle of developing the dirtiest little YouTube-centered relationship with the alt-dance-pop-R&B artist (side note: is a YouTube relationship as bad or worse than a Myspace based relationship? Follow-up: can the word “relationship” really be used in reference to Myspace?), I’ve played through all of her hottest tracks, from “Stillness Is the Move,” a beyond-worthwhile cover of a Dirty Projectors track, to her Diana Ross- and Supremes-influenced “I Decided.”
On Nov. 27, Solange released her seven-track EP True, her first release since 2009. True is unique and successful for many of the same reasons that Solange is a unique and respectable artist. No one, Solange included, is making herself out to be anything that she is not. She’s not Beyoncé, and she’s no Diana Ross, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say she is comparable to the Dirty Projectors’ singers. She’s Solange, and nobody else is. She draws on many genres of influence with jazz, Motown, pop, hip-hop, dance, R&B, indie-alternative and more, all audible in her work.
The single and music video from True, “Losing You,” starts off with a percussive, dance-oriented beat before ripping into some classic ’80s synthesizer layering, a great call-back for a modern dance-oriented track. A fluttering melodic line enters, and once the lyrics start, it’s abundantly clear that no one has ever danced better to the line “we used to kiss all night but now there’s just no use” than Solange in her music video for “Losing You.” The video drives home a sense of community in a way that most music videos from the pop industry made in the United States just don’t achieve. Solange doesn’t really rely on the luxurious — in fact, she brings out images of what appear to be poor neighborhoods with seemingly well-off people populating them, commenting on a mood and aesthetic that surpass superficiality.
Solange is careful, though: she doesn’t dance as though this song had a happy message, or like her sister, for that matter. The song’s sentimentality is brought to light by her careful consideration of space, both musically and visually. In addition, she solidifies her role as an exquisite singer through True.
While True maintains popular appeal, it doesn’t lack in integrity — in fact, it defines integrity for the listener by saying, “Hey you, check out how hip this is, and deal with it.” The images that she creates on the rest of the record, both lyrically and musically, while complex, don’t favor lavishness. Rather, they evoke a real authenticity. The True EP, like Solange, contains its delights and its issues. Her commitment to experimentation in the pop genre, where experimenting really isn’t respected anymore, is why Solange should be on everyone’s record player after the physical release of True at the beginning of next year.