By: Thomas Rodriguez
An R&B superpower and up and coming rookie both release their own jazzy, unique, and slightly experimental takes on their genre.
Sometimes, it’s only natural to come across two albums that are very similar yet entirely different as you surf the ever-growing tsunami of new music. In the case of recently-famed Solange Knowles and indie R&B artist Dominque Fils-Aimé, their respective albums When I Get Home and Stay Tuned! are seemingly the antitheses of modern album releases. Both albums are relatively short, staying shy of 40 minutes over numerous tracks that forgo hooks and single power to focus more on a continuous feel. Solange’s When I Get Home is a sonically modern, but still oddly composed, R&B album: its instrumentals are lush and dreamlike, synthesized by multiple producers and containing many features that assist Solange’s self examinations. Stay Tuned!, while similar in its spacey aesthetic, is a much more atmospheric and jazzy take on R&B, employing seemingly off-the-cuff jazz riffs and a seamless flow from one track to another to provide a beautiful auditory experience behind some abstract but pleasant words. The reason for this dual review, however, is rather simple: I like these albums for nearly the exact same reasons! Sure there are discrepancies between the two, but both make up for what may be considered a lack of individual great tracks for an overall great front to back listening experience.
Solange: When I Get Home
Solange’s When I Get Home is, at its absolute best, an extremely colorful display of nice vocal flourishes and pleasant production along some good lyrics. “Way to the Show” features a wonderfully quirky synth line underlining Solange’s lovesick and blissful lyrics; its a perfect soundtrack to a summer’s sunset drive to the beach. “Beltway”, while perhaps being a bit underwritten and undercooked in its length, is a gorgeous vocal interlude among the several memorable transitions on the record. “Dreams” is a simple but cute dive into Solange’s childhood dreams that can be an absolutely perfect background to lying in a field of flowers (especially with its stuttering percussion and guitar licks). Although the album does suffer because its many tracks are so short, leading to a bit of emptiness on the lyrical front, the most offensive it becomes is with its more generic and background noise songs: “Binz” and “Stay Flo” are a bit too generic and average in their performances and beats to be nothing more than elevator music. Solange’s singing is great throughout most of the record, but on these lower quality moments some much needed features could have been used, ala Sampha’s haunting vocals on the bass plucky “Time (Is)”.
The two true standouts of When I Get Home, however, are dead center on the record. “Almeda” is a contemporary mix of trap and psychedelic keys produced by Pharrell that features an excellent hook and lyrics from Solange, finished nicely by a cocky and wild feature from Playboy Carti. “My Skin My Logo” is an dazzlingly confident display of Solange’s self love for her race as she floats over crisp drums and sexual bass chords; Gucci Mane’s ad-libs and verse are both as cold and swaggering as the trap star is in real life, and Tyler the Creator has a solid vocal passage on the outro. The best tracks here do indeed contain the greatest features, but Solange’s lyrical and vocal efforts cannot be understated; her persona is magnetically warm and attractive; as for her vocals, she simply has the chops to make this overall project work.
Dominique Fils-Aimé- Stay Tuned!
On the other end of the R&B popularity spectrum is Dominique Fils-Aimé. A Canadian artist that’s beginning to see an increase in popularity due to her past and present work on the Bandcamp platform, Fils-Aimé aims for a sparse and jazzy aesthetic on Stay Tuned!; she completely succeeds in making a loungey, finger snapping atmosphere for her music. Whether it be the beautiful piano keys on “Joy River” or her employment of vocal layering and harmonizing as instrumentation throughout the album, Fils-Aimé’s production choices are great for an ambient and intimate sound. Her vocal performances are bit more restrained than most in her field of expertise, which can lead to a few duller moments in the tracklist (as in the lyrically impressive but muted “Free Dom” and plodding “Where There Is Smoke”), but for every one of those moments she makes up for them with some great slow jams and jazz performances, like in the gut-punching “Gun Burial” and chanted refrains on “9LRR”.
The atmospheric slow burn of many of the beats on these tracks helps to lend a sense of chaos to the unorthodox songwriting; many songs lack a hook, opting for refrains that waft in and out of your ears just like the gorgeous saxophones laced on many tracks like on “There Is Probably Fire”. Similar to Solange’s efforts, many of these tracks aren’t outright stellar on their own, but they all lead to a sense of cohesion that makes the album better as a body of work. Listening to Stay Tuned! is like attending a late night jazz show held in the woods, as you roast s’mores and watch Fils-Aimé vocally riff over an improvised brass section with some great results. The lyrics here are abstract and personal all at once, with themes of love and personal empowerment bleeding from one track to the next. It’s definitely a grower, and may require many listens to fully appreciate, but like the best albums in this vein, it’s rewarding as hell.
Overall, I enjoyed Solange’s and Dominique Fils-Aimé’s respective albums quite a bit, as well as found their lack of strong individual tracks, somewhat slow paces, and missing climaxes a bit disappointing. While this is true, I do find them both equal in scratching a need for some left field-yet-modern R&B shakeups. They’re both instrumentally pleasant, their lyrics are worth reading into, and the performances are usually pretty great. If you’re seeking a more personal, ambient, and jazzy odyssey, I’d recommend Stay Tuned! to try out first; if you’re looking for some great features, vocals, and twists on modern production with some interesting interludes, give When I Get Home a shot! Hell, double dip! These are both some solid albums, and are even better in a front to back experience!
When I Get Home:
Tracks to Save: “Way to the Show”, “Dreams”, “Almeda”, “Time (Is)”, “My Skin My Logo.
Tracks to Skip: “Stay Flo”, “Binz”
Tracks to Save: “There Is Probably Fire”, “Gun Burial”, “Big Man Do Cry”, “Some Body”, “9LRR”, “Joy River”
Tracks to Skip: “Where There Is Smoke”
What did you think about these albums? Was Solange’s Album a bit overrated or overhated? What was your favorite and least favorite moment on Stay Tuned! How are YOU doing? Say all this and more in the comments below!