A Seat At The Table
*** out of *****
(Editors Note: We here at RtBE normally don't cover mainstream pop, but with the year in review coming soon, we wanted to dig into some of the more critically acclaimed pop albums of 2016. So welcome to Pop Week on RtBE.)
The third full length from Solange finds the pop singer slowing down to let her inner soul woman shine as she creates a thematic full length that is restrained in sound but not texture. Focusing on Blackness in America, Solange incorporates snippets of interviews to link today's problems to past issues that have never been solved.
While previous efforts (like "Losing You") contained a dance laden indie vibe, complete with 80's flourishes, her newest is squarely rooted in 90's Neo Soul. Minimalist production lets her vocals and lyrics take to the forefront while the trend of 'less is more' in modern R&B continues.
Opening with the soft rolling "Rise" and "Weary" the awakening with a societal hangover sets the tone right away as Solange softly sings as the album blooms. The first of the "Interludes" comes in and unlike many hip-hop/R&B albums the breaks contained on A Seat At The Table are vital to the overall message. Interviewing friends and family Solange brings political commentary directly into her music; where her lyrics can mean different things, these interludes can not.
Musically the theme is kept through the sparse instrumentation. sleepy vibe and for the first few songs an easy piano. Those pianos color "Cranes In The Sky" while the first guest, Lil Wayne shows up for "Mad", but never gets really angry. One aspect of the album that makes it a cohesive success also makes it boring, as the tone, instrumentation and energy never gets above slight head bobbing levels.
The snares slap forward on "Where Do We Go" and horns that have a beginning in New Orleans show up for "F.U.B.U" via a restrained brass run. Solange sings her strongest on "Don't Touch My Hair" which also features Sampha before "Borderline" welcomes Q-Tip who pairs perfectly with Solange's laid back crooning. "Junie" tries to kick up the digital energy but never gets over the easy grooving hump while "Scales" (featuring Kelela) brings back the bleak spareness discussing the painful street heroes dreams.
A Seat At The Table is a complete work of art, but one that suffers from its one note tempo throughout and lack of a must hear track. For Solange however it breaks her away from her more famous big sister and gives her an album worthy of recognition.
Pop week continues. Support the artist, buy the album peep some video below: