It's difficult to keep in mind the effort, the control required to make music that feels as graceful and cool as Solange's A Seat at the Table—especially when it's playing anywhere within earshot. All and everyone it touches just seems to groove in its glow. But does that deceptive ease, that seamlessness, on a jam like "Weary," for example, ring somewhat differently when we know it is a Knowles joint? For so long, and perhaps right up until the release of A Seat last September, and because the media can only think in archetypes or binaries, apparently, Solange was often cast in contrast to her big sister, Beyoncé-Solange as the groovy Dionysian hipster to Bey's Apollonian majesty. And, to be fair, while Beyoncé was making perfectly manicured pop marvels, Solange was more apt to drop a funky progressive EP, as she did with the freaky-good True, from 2012. She was, by definition, making popular music—and was then, as she remains, among the more thoughtful and direct songwriters out there—but she certainly sought out the woollier hinterlands of the genre, working with Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, Mark Ronson, and even Andy Samberg's comedy trio the Lonely Island.
There are some great cameos on A Seat, too (Lil Wayne for the win), but it's the restraint that creates drama throughout the record. Excepting the interludes of mini-monologues from Solange's parents and from Master P (!), the tracks on A Seat, each written and co-produced by Solange, are as tight and polished as cue balls. It seems notable that, in a year full of unparalleled turmoil and tragedy, when sexuality, race, gender, and identity politics were the slowly moving, if molten hot, tectonic plates of American culture, the tenor of A Seat at the Table is one of extraordinary, almost chilly poise. There is a severity in Solange's seeming serenity, as she sings on "F.U.B.U.," for instance, about commercial and cultural appropriation of black culture; there is a rigor to her composure. But that anaerobic tension makes for all the more seductive a re-listen and re-listen and re-listen.