Okay, so, we’ve had some great weeks for new album releases in the past, but nothing has come close to the amount of astounding music unleashed onto the world today, Friday, September 30. Bon Iver, Danny Brown, Nicolas Jaar, Jenny Hval, Pixies, and DJ Mustard all released albums today, but the one that stands out as the week’s best is the newest from Solange, her first release since the True EP in 2012. A Seat at the Table is an album about black pride and resiliency, an album as personal as it is political.
In an enlightening interview with Tom Breihan over at Stereogum, Solange addressed the numerous influences – musical and otherwise – that informed her new album. Tweet, Minnie Riperton, the city of New Iberia, Louisiana, and the art of Robert Pruitt are all reference points, creating a sonic gumbo that is lush, intricate and inviting. The album’s many interludes don’t weigh things down; they’re the rare interludes that lift up the songs they accompany. “Dad was Mad” leads into “Mad,” and focuses on her father’s childhood in a segregated United States, and how the effects of racism pushed him towards anger. “Tina Taught Me,” offers words-of-wisdom from Solange’s mother, mostly on how antagonistic, defensive white America can be when confronted with black Americans seeking equality and justice. That moment leads directly into “Don’t Touch My Hair,” a song explicitly about the black experience in this country. She doesn’t cede any ground, isn’t interested in meeting us halfway. It’s time we catch up to her. “This Moment” is another interlude, and features horns that tap into the same joy of the horns on “We Major,” another influence Solange addresses in her Stereogum feature. That moment leads to “Where Do We Go,” and while she might be looking for her place, the music behind her is far from aimless.
Listening to A Seat at the Table, I’m reminded of the albums that came out at the end of the last century by black musicians explicitly about the black experience. The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, Erykah Badu’s Baduism, Common’s Like Water for Chocolate and D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar and Voodoo all tapped into the same fruitful vein, which critics described as “neo-Soul.” Coupled with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound, Jamila Woods’ Heavn, to name a few, there’s a strong case to be made that we’re in a new era of black musicians speaking directly about their experiences, made all the more timely with a race-baiting xenophobe a little over a month away from possibly being the U.S.’s next president. We might be in need of more albums like this one sooner rather than later. “We live in an imperfect world,” says Master P during the “Pedestals” interlude, and throughout A Seat at the Table, Solange attempts to reconcile that claim with her pride, her self-confidence. The world isn’t perfect, but we do have an album that perfectly fits inside this world.
A Seat at the Table is out now.