If you listened to the first two efforts from Solange Piaget Knowles, Solo Star (2003) and Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (2008)— not that many people did—you heard little more than the hollow echoes of pop nepotism. But the star-making machinery at Interscope Records was stifling untapped creative reservoirs and a broad musical curiosity in Beyoncé’s kid sister, and both come to the forefront with impressive results on her powerful new True EP.
The now 26-year-old Solange has not only moved to the indie-label ranks with her new seven-song release, but she’s embraced many elements of the indie aesthetic circa 2013, championing sensitive Brooklyn rockers Grizzly Bear (whose Chris Taylor co-owns her new label Terrible Records) and covering the Dirty Projectors. More importantly, however, she’s joining many a Brooklyn muso in taking inspiration from the early days of the post-punk/New Wave dance music emanating from Soho lofts in the early ’80s (think Liquid Liquid) with a touch of the slightly slicker sounds coming from the U.K. at the same time (think Yazoo, though by no means is Solange as strong a singer as Alison Moyet).
Working with her long-time collaborator, producer and co-songwriter Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange), Solange luxuriates in slowly unfolding grooves that are alternately lush and minimalist, twisting and turning in unexpected ways but always keeping her vocals front and center, while displaying just enough pop polish to rival the omnipresent gloss of her sister or any other rival atop the charts.
“This is a dance record, but the lyrics can get pretty dark at times,” Solange has said, and by that she means that above and beyond the occasional unexpected cussing, she’s exploring the mindset of a woman adrift in an underground she finds simultaneously seductive and frightening as she vacillates between powerful self-assurance and crippling self-doubt, as well as longing and regret. “Played around with your heart, now I’m playing around in the dark,” she sings in “Lovers in the Parking Lot”; “Remember when you missed me?” she asks in “Some Things Never Seem to F---ing Work.” “Convinced myself you love me.” And so on.
The end result is a dance music that makes you think, and which makes you slightly unsettled even as you bask in its pleasures—the musical equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s underrated After Hours, set in those same mean streets at the same time, more or less the year this artist was born.
Solange, True EP (Terrible Records)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.