By Stef Siepel
January 03, 2013
The way they package it fits what they are selling, you’ve got to give the Knowles sisters that. Go on YouTube, check Beyonce’s performance on the Fallon show last year (2011) and compare and contrast that with Solange’s 2012 performance. Even if you put it on mute, you still just have to come away with the same conclusion one would draw if listening to their music via audio: namely that these two women are in entirely different aesthetic fields altogether. Solange’s recent collaborations with Dev Hynes, Of Montreal and Grizzly Bear would also tell you that much.
That Fallon performance of the opening track on True, ‘Losing You’, has nothing to do with girl power, nor with sex, nor with the dances Beyonce always does. Instead, with Wimberly from Chairlift on drums, it embodies a kind of Supremes/Ronettes element combined with a contemporary tinge (especially the rhythm part of it). The old school soul/funk/R&B vibes are mixed with a contemporary, more indie-electronic sound and word choice (as I can’t remember the Ronettes going on about how “some things never seem to fucking work”). Solange cherry picks from both modern music (and language) and that of a bygone era.
With all these components, what she manages to create are songs not adhering to the formula of your average arena pop structure (verse – CHORUS – verse). Don’t expect major belt-outs, huge instrumental smack-downs, or anything else along those lines; she rides the groove and rhythm sections and keeps the vocals relatively understated and ‘sweet’ (even when she sings about how she has played someone). For example, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ contains a lovely, down-tempo funky bassline that simply grounds the song. The additional instruments are what alter the scenery every so often, and on top of that Solange purveys emotion without going into diva mode – asking the one she fancies to please not let her down. This kind of structure keeps the songs rolling along nicely and makes them very easy to listen to.
Now, easy-on-the-earness could be a backhanded compliment for elevator music – but in this case, it is meant in a most positive way. The songs have a nice groove to them, ranging from catchy drum beats to funky hooks, and Solange has a distinctly pleasant voice which she, thankfully, isn’t flaunting by deviating away from the song. The instrumentals aren’t straightforward affairs either: just listen to a song like ‘Locked in Closets’, which has got some modern drums and some ‘experimental’ sounds to it, the latter filling the soundscape whilst weaving in and out of the song.
Indeed, the combination of modern sounds and old school vibes along with the lack of formulaic pop structures prevents the tracks from being simplistic and therefore, on repeated listens, they will not fade into dullness. Solange, meanwhile, proves her vocal aptitude within these songs; adding to them a sweetness that makes them deceptively easy to listen to. The Knowles family are branching out in the music business, and if this is a precursor to what is to come, it seems that we, the audience, will be the ones benefiting from it.