“I’m not her and never will be/Two girls gone in different directions/Traveling towards the same galaxy/Let my starlight shine on its own,” Solange Knowles sings on the opening track of her sophomore effort, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. With a song title like “God Given Name,” she could very well be referring to the 8th-century shepherdess and Christian saint who was abducted and beheaded by a suitor after she rejected him, but she’s more likely talking about big sis Beyoncé. A photograph in the album’s booklet shows Solange writing “I will not have a famous family” over and over again, punishment-style, but Sol-Angel is hardly a denouncement of nepotism: The album’s title is a nod to the location in downtown Houston where Knowles family patriarch Matthew built a recording studio, and the musical direction Solange has chosen for her first record in five years harks back to the style of ‘60s groups like the Veltones, of which her mother Tina was a member.
Samples are used sparingly to achieve the album’s desired retro effect as Jack Splash fashions an original girl-group homage for Solange with “Would’ve Been the One,” while “Ode to Marvin” effectively captures the light percussive sound of Gaye’s What’s Going On. The album’s first single, the Neptunes-produced “I Decided - Pt. 1,” is a foot-stomping throwback to the Supremes’s “Where Did Our Love Go,” with greater emphasis on the stomp courtesy of the Freemasons on the bassier, brassier “Pt. 2” and a kaleidoscopic music video that transports the singer through the ages. Samples are employed elsewhere, like on the socially aware (or unaware, according to the lyrics: “You keep me sheltered from the six o’clock blues”) “6 O’Clock Blues,” which bites from Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’s “Summer of Sound,” but the most notable sample is Boards of Canada’s “Slow This Bird Down,” which provides the basis for the track “This Bird,” an interesting but frequently atonal experiment.
Electronica plays an unexpected role throughout Sol-Angel, with production assistance from Thievery Corporation on the opening track, and one song, a futuristic neo-soul duet with Bilal called “Cosmic Journey,” morphing into a happy-rave trance track. Venturing off into the unknown plays well for Solange—the mix of organic, old-school instrumentation and more electronic elements makes for a loose, fun and reverent record. Too bad Mom is still playing stylist to the star.