On March 1, American singer and songwriter Solange released her fourth studio album, “When I Get Home” (2019). It was a relatively low-key release: no singles, no promotion — aside from an interview last October and a page on Black Planet — and barely any time for fans to prepare for the musical genius’ latest work of art. And a work of art it is. While it may run a little on the shorter side, “When I Get Home” is an expertly crafted vibe of psychedelic jazz and spacey hip-hop that might just hold up as one of the best releases of 2019.
As the title suggests, “When I Get Home” is about going home. But it isn’t necessarily going home for all listeners. It’s Solange’s experience of her hometown, Houston, Texas, and the nostalgia that comes from the singer exploring the sensations of going home — the past, the changes, the new and the old. “When I Get Home” blends all of this into something that is palpable for listeners. We get to ride in the passenger seat of Solange’s car while she shows us her hometown and plays us some jams, and while we might not relate to all of the memories — the album, in fact, feels like it isn’t about memories — the feeling of remembering is still equally enjoyable.
The album itself flows through 19 tracks, many of them shorter tracks or interludes that allow the structure of “When I Get Home” to feel freer and spacious. Every song feels expansive, like it’s growing beyond the boundaries of anything Solange has released before. The repetitive opening, “Things I Imagined,” seems to invoke Solange’s sense of a return to home, allowing to listeners to begin to imagine the journey Solange is about to take us on. It isn’t necessarily about how we take the journey, but rather the feeling the journey gives us. And in that way, the album excels.
Solange’s music has texture and taste. “Way to the Show” is an almost saucy, bubbling slow hip-hop track. “Dreams” is a cosmic experience, and “Almeda” is a jazzier moment on the album, a wide-awake moment for listeners as Solange lists many black and brown items before telling us that “Black faith still can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida water.” On other songs, Solange isn’t as ready to make announcements. On “My Skin My Logo,” her almost raspy voice sings over sparse beats. On “Jerrod,” Solange is deep in bright jazz and gives us some of the most beautiful vocals on the album before flowing directly into “Binz.”
One of the album’s clear highlights, “Sound of Rain,” comes near the end. The beats sound like futuristic rain: sharp but also cleansing. To any listener enjoying the album for the first time, it can almost seem like Solange is using this song to wash you before the end. On “I’m a Witness,” Solange returns to the same sound from the album’s opening, signifying that the car ride is over. And sure, it might be difficult to walk away from “When I Get Home” with any sort of newfound knowledge or understanding, but that’s not what the album is here for. Rather, “When I Get Home” exists as a feeling in its 39-minute length.
The lyrics aren’t necessarily the focus of “When I Get Home.” Solange herself suggested this album is less about what she has to say — her previous album, “A Seat at the Table” (2016) already accomplished that. Regardless of her intentions, the album feels more like a nice joyride rather than a challenge to decode its lyrical meaning. With all of the absolutely mind-numbingly amazing cosmic-pounding jazz, hip-hop and R&B on “When I Get Home,” it is quite an experience.
In these ways, “When I Get Home” might just be the best recent master class on how to create an album with layers of texture and feel. It’s a nourishing experience with so many different flavors, but it is just a little too short. Solange makes up for it by packing plenty into the album’s run, but it’s difficult not to want more at the end. Perhaps that’s what Solange was going for: “When I Get Home” is a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, but when we go to scoop for more, the jar’s empty. We should’ve savored that last one more.