December 2, 2012 - 9:39pm
BY RAY MALO
I wouldn’t be accomplishing much if I made this piece a comparison between Solange and her big sis. I’ll say just this to get it out of the way: Solange’s music career has undoubtedly benefited from being the younger Knowles. But with the release of True, her fantastic new EP, she’s making a case for her independence.
I mean this in two ways. Sure, by writing and recording a collection of songs this strong, she has made a big step towards forging her own identity. But True, released on Brooklyn-based Terrible Records and produced by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, also represents Solange’s first foray into the sector of the indiesphere where she seems to belong.
Which is to suggest that after almost a decade of shuffling genres, Solange has finally found a sound that works for her. First under the supervision of Columbia Records, then indie label Polydor, her past catalog consistently showcased her charming, sweet vocal stylings but badly missed sonically, relying on the well-intentioned but misguided whims of the super-producer du jour.
In 2003, on her debut album Solo Star (so unpopular it’s no longer in print), it was Neptunes beats and lame rap guest verses. And her sound on her 2008 followup, which like most everything else at the time was guided by Mark Ronson, channeled ’60s-girl-group wall of sound and, ahem, disco (This is so not disco.).
Some key life events provide necessary context: Solange wrote and recorded Solo Star when she was 15. She then married at 17, had a child, got divorced and gradually became the coolest mama/most desirable bachelorette in Brooklyn.
And in 2009, hipsters flipped their shit when Solange brought her sister and brother-in-law Jay-Z to see Grizzly Bear on the Williamsburg Waterfront. Like many, I took particular note of the fact that it was kid sis who was introducing the king and queen to indie rock’s finest, and not the other way around (It’s worth mentioning that Terrible Records is run by Chris Taylor, Grizzly Bear bassist/producer.). Collaborations with Of Montreal and Dirty Projectors, along with Solange’s reputation as a tastemaking DJ, suggested she was capable of better quality than what her discography was telling us.
This October, she delivered huge, releasing the stellar video for single “Losing You,” a song so pristinely joyful that I lost sleep genuinely worrying that the rest of the EP would fall flat in comparison.
It does not. “Losing You” remains the EP’s most shimmering, danceable moment, but True’s midsection is its meat and potatoes (You’ll want to skip second track “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work. An aberration, even before the painfully awkward, British-accented spoken word outro). “Locked In Closets” pairs glorious ’90s Janet Jackson vocal riffs with synth pop (think Bat for Lashes or Twin Shadow), while “Don’t Let Me Down” features direct, engaged lyrics, bookended by harmonized nonsense “ohs” over pure funk bass and Brian Eno synth freakouts. And the two closing tracks are a voyage through new wave heaven, sure to please fans of the “Drive” soundtrack.
But it’s “Lovers In The Parking Lot,” the record’s absolute center, that best showcases Solange’s newly effortless cool. Clearly the lesser vocalist in the Knowles clan, she no longer seems to care. Relying on falsetto when she needs to, Solange moves around this song like she’s known its melody for years. It’s a refreshing moment: After years of feeling forced to try to be different, she finally sounds like herself.
This must seem like too many words to dedicate to a seven-track EP. I assure you, True is an event, the lovely sound of great potential finally being tapped. It’s my favorite record of 2012.
—A version of this article ran in the print version of The Daily on Dec. 3, 2012.