Indie or “alt-R&B” has been floating around for a few years now, defined by early-decade classics like the industrial judder of the Weeknd’s House of Balloons or Frank Ocean’s sonically restless Channel Orange. And like any nascent “scene”, trying to shoehorn disparate styles into such a narrow label is unquestionably difficult. Even between the aforementioned albums, there lies a vast chasm of difference. Trying to define a movement in its infancy is akin to being a gatekeeper while the gate is still under construction.
Solange’s Saint Heron compilation (out through her own imprint) ambitiously attempts to catalog the movement, while simultaneously pushing it forward. Similar to Brian Eno’s No New York comp, her curative-effort weaves disparate threads together in the hope of crafting a seamless tapestry. The aquatic boom of newcomer Kelela’s “Go All Night” nestles comfortably alongside Sampha’s twitchy piano-laden “Beneath the Tree”. If one commonality can be found, it’s a will to “get weird” without forgoing unadulterated pop pleasure. Solange’s sole contribution to the album, closer “Cash In” demonstrates the principle as well as any. A lingering organ figure edges the song into gothic romance territory, before cavernous drums spring the track from a dark prison. Clanging bells add color to the monochromatic proceedings. Fraught by the need to “get away” and put the past in the rear-view, Solange’s wispy vocals capture the slow-trek of a relationship into an uncertain future. “We don’t need to pave our way” she partially hollers early on during the enticing hook. With the release of Saint Heron and a song like “Cash In”, she’s failed to take her own advice.