in Review

Solange – A Seat At The Table (2016)

Despite being “the year where everything went bad”, 2016 was a pretty good year for music. So much so that I wasn’t able to put aside the proper amount of time needed to absorb and fully enjoy what has become one of my favorite albums of that year. Thankfully, in the time since the Fall of 2016, while absorbing the depressing repercussions of that time period, I’ve also found myself constantly returning to one of the rare bright spots from that period. In that respect, one could call Solange’s A Seat At The Table the musical equivalent of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, as it similarly saw a longtime underdog finally getting her shot at the big time.

Solange, of course, was an underdog being the sister of Beyoncé, one of the biggest pop stars of her time. This couldn’t help but initially inform my skepticism towards A Seat At The Table‘s rapturous reviews, which was a bit odd considering I’d never been a huge Bey fan or anything. But I suppose living in the shadow of a gigantic pop star sibling is a hard thing to overcome, no matter who you’re trying to win over, and much like Janet Jackson before her, Solange was able to accomplish this by taking complete control of her sound and her career. Though judging from the fact that it took Solange 3 years of recording to complete the album, this was no easy task.

It was a bit surprising to learn that Solange spent so much time laboring over this album, because it sounds so effortless. The compositions here are decidedly minimalist, but also have such a soothing, jazzy vibe that it’s the kind of album that may not always make you want to dance, but it’ll certainly get your shoulders bouncing up and down. For being such an impressive achievement, it’s not a particularly showy or immediate album, instead luring you in with its lilting melodies and atmospheric textures. Yet, it’s those intoxicating subtleties that have kept me coming back without ever getting sick of A Seat At The Table‘s many musical detours.

On this point, you would think that an album that has so many spoken-word interludes (courtesy of Solange’s mother, father, and Master P, of all people) would have you at least tapping the “skip” button on those tracks. And yet this interviews, filled with recountings of black history and the struggles that African-Americans are constantly being reminded of are integrated in a way that feels seemless. It helps that the album as a whole feels like such a celebration of black culture, considering it weaves in all types of black music, including soul, funk, hip-hop, and jazz. While similarly Solange seems to be wrestling with issues of identity in her lyrics, but doing it in a way that feels both full of joy but also full of harsh realities.

Speaking of harsh realities, I’m sure everyone had specific songs or albums that helped them deal with the fallout and aftermath of the 2016 Election. I know A Tribe Called Quest’s Thank You 4 Your Service was a particularly potent album that came out just a few days after that election that felt just like a much-need antidote. I’m a little hesitant to label A Seat At The Table as one of those albums, since it doesn’t feel like a particularly militant record, but instead one that chooses to revel in a kind of muted, sultry protest. If anything, it shows that the regrettable aspects of America’s past can eventually be overcome with some strong will and a desire to let the beauty of your identity shine through.

Favorite Tracks: “Cranes In The Sky”, “Borderline (An Ode To Self Care)”, “Junie”