Solange reinvigorates music scene

SolangeWe may be turning a corner (finally) with the quality of contemporary popular music. Although Solange gets dropped into the R&B/Soul category—just like Janelle Monae with last year’s Dirty Computer—her latest album warrants broader attention. Why? Because standard fare pop is on life support, and desperately needs an infusion of new blood. Not new artists, but new perspectives and creativity. I’ve been lamenting the awful condition of pop music for the last fifteen years. After four decades exploding with creativity (the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s), music went into a dismal hibernation shortly after Napster changed music habits. Maybe it was coincidental, but I believe the two were related.

But the last two years have seen a return of the kind of creativity that made those four decades so exciting musically. Diverse artists like Janelle Monae, Todrick Hall, David Crosby, Beck, and now Solange are taking interesting risks that still manage to be accessible. Solange, in particular, has embarked on exciting sonic experiments with When I Get Home. The album is dreamlike, her voice hypnotic, the songs deliberately flouting the usual pop song formulas in favor of something more innovative and unusual. While still grounded in a hiphop vibe, the music draws inspiration from jazz, and from earlier trailblazers like Erykah Badu.

Psychedelic Soul?

The songs tend to be shorter snippets, a collage of passing impressions, ideal for our modern world. One description I’ve heard is psychedelic soul. Okay, I can see that. But the music shares nothing with the 60s type of psychedelic soul you might associate with groups like Rotary Connection. Ultimately, I don’t care what label gets affixed to Solange’s new direction. I hope she inspires other artists—new and established—to take risks and let their creativity flourish. Wouldn’t it be nice to say farewell to the era of extreme AutoTune and songs written by fourteen-person teams?

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