Ashamed I am not when it comes to loving the ’80s and the transitions of musical styles that took place during the decade. It was an era that truly reformed particular genres, especially our beloved soul. Sure, sure the purists had their noses held up hating every stroke of the brisk synthesizers that were “infecting” the organic flow at the time, but that was just too bad so sad, as the sounds of the decade showcased risk-taking ideas that mutated the genre into new frontiers and drafted future blueprints for those later to follow.
Emerging from that decade are Solange and producer Devonté Hynes (aka Blood Orange). Like me, they are ’80’s babies, thus they have an affinity for the decade and its strive for individualism and gloss. With that in mind, together they scribe a love letter to the decade, following its blueprints and recreate the electric youth vigor of the era, and it’s all compressed on Solange’s exciting True EP.
2008’s little-surprise-that-could, Sol-Angel & The Hadley St. Dreams, was the set-up towards Solange’s exploration in eclecticism as it brought together the various talents of CeeLo Green, Mark Ronson and Lamont Dozier. Yet, Solange wasn’t upstaged or diluted out on her sophomore set because of this. In fact, she took the challenges head-on and introduced us to her take on Motor City magic for the 21st century mind, and the results fared better than what was expected.
Raft with that same potential, True explores Solange’s escalating effort to mold and shape her sound how she hears fit, as well as paying homage to the styles and vibes that inspire her. Notoriously known to never be boxed in personality wise, over the years since Sol-Angel, Solange has poked her head in and out of many genres and worked with artists and producers of varying degrees. Now after all the study time and hands-on experience, she has found her place in the lofty middle of where indie pop and R&B do a Gaussian blur.
Unlike her previous records, this time Solange solely rests the production on Hynes and he lays on thick a fluid drugged-out ’80’s new wave guise throughout. Harvested here is lots of Jheri curl-juiced R&B a la Ready for the World that is mixed with flavors of old school Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis productions, British new wave soulsters like the Human League and ABC, and a slight peppering of mall rat pop that sounds like a more refined Stacey Q. Oh, yeah, it’s a real grab bag of stuff, and Solange wears it all quite well. Yet, in all of this synth bubbly good sound, less jovial she is lyrically as True houses Solange in a heartbreak hotel where she feels vulnerable, disparaging and quite regretful.
Still these sweet ‘n’ sour love endeavors aren’t full-on bleak fests, as it is oh so easy to flow into the candy-coated soul-pop of “Lovers in the Parking Lot” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” two tracks that extend on the Hadley St. dream. On all of these tracks, Solange keeps her vocals streamlined, sweetly swaying along, not jarring or attempting to do vocal trickery. She knows what she’s capable of and she doesn’t press her luck.
Things get more avant garde when the catchy “Locked In Closets” rolls in on a peek-a-boo beat, and it should make for an interesting single, if so chosen. The bold cry of “Some Things Just Don’t F**king Work” is a gleaming gem that is slightly marred by Hynes’ spoken word cameo that feels like an attempt to get all Prince-ly. My personal highlight jammy, “Bad Girls,” pulsates on a crisp synth-funk beat with none other than Earth Wind & Fire‘s Verdine White laying on a thick and honeyed bass-lick — and it’s some true throwback perfection.
Of course, the immaculate jump-off of “Losing You” is a scene stealer as Solange’s coo glazes over a crackling clap-trap percussion beat and startling yelps. It is, arguably one of the best things this year had to offer, and while the other six songs do fare well in its presence, don’t be surprised when you see “Losing You” atop many year-end lists, as it’s the song that ushers in Solange as a serious pop game-changer and because it’s so gosh darn brilliant.
True is just simply all-around likable and accessible. Possibly because Solange doesn’t try to beat us over the head with the “I’m different! Love me!” dribble of her peers, she stakes her claims and doesn’t beat around the rose bushes by trying too hard and doing too much. And that is what leads me to bring up the elephant tromping in the china shop bit — the one thing I was hoping I could avoid with this review.
True, naturally, has an undercurrent of strive and style that is meant to fully distance herself from the genetic make-up of she-who-shall-not-be-named. As we’ve often seen younger siblings side-step from the shadows of their more famous elder sibling, with True Solange’s smarts on her approach to separating herself show, and she doesn’t tag-along for the free ride.
Dropping the last name was one independent move forward, but her trek down the indie route and her penchant for finding a divergent sound are bigger leaps towards singularity. Solange is not necessarily trying to win over her older sister’s fanbase (thank goodness), but she has created her own, as the vibe she presents here can (and will) appeal to a multifaceted crowd, completely deviant of her sister’s. So yes, Solange while following one blueprint, has successfully created her very own and the makings of it are all present on True, a vibrant palette of tuneage that brings her, rightfully and tastefully, into her own form.