Solange, XOYO, London
Beyonce's little sister is determined to do it for herself
Some artists know who they are from the start; others make art from figuring it out. The process of definition must be made a little more tricky, though, by being the younger sibling of probably the world's biggest pop star.
Solange Knowles, little sister to Beyonce, has had a few bites at the identity cherry. Having tried straight-up pop on "Solo Star" at the age of 17, and slightly-psychedelic soul-pop on 2008's "Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams", on recent EP True, she's an alt-rock-loving R&B heartbreak queen. Co-written and co-produced with former Test Icicle/Lightspeed Champion/Blood Orange man Dev Hynes (himself no stranger to a genre change) it's a delicate, melancholy gem, led by the deliciously bittersweet "Losing You".
Her first UK gig in four years, in Old Street's second-most hipster venue, gets off to a subtly sweary start with "Some Things Never Seem To F***ing Work". Hynes' mumbly rap is greeted with cheers, but it's Solange's taut, attentive delivery, garnished with easy trills that makes it.
The easy-tumbling rhythm of "Don't Let Me Down" with Solange and her backing singers' gorgeous interplay of 'oh-oh-ohs' is mesmerising, while "Locked In Closets" has a taut, nervy funkiness, and the oldies, from the vibrant, Lucy Pearl-meets-Mark Ronson retro jam of "TONY" to the 2002 Pharrell collab "Crush", are made to fit as seamlessly as she and Hynes' cute little co-ordinated dance flourishes.
It doesn't always connect; "Bad Girls (Verdine Version)" and "Looks Good With Trouble" drag in the miasma of stoned slow-jam so beloved of Hynes; it seems Solange is weakest when her stuff sounds most like his Blood Orange project. Their best work melds their omnivorous tastes, animating Hynes' very-now, emotionally delicate production with Knowles' impressive vocal artistry and grounding in the less-hip heritage of R&B (tonight she throws in a cover of "I Could Fall In Love" by Latin artist Selena).
Hopefully on her third album, due this spring, she'll be defining herself less through styles, and more through songcraft. Given the way 'Losing You' is cheered as if she's just given a Churchillian address, whoever she is, people want her around.
And while to mention the B-word twice in one review seems unfair, it's worth pondering that all it would take is one phonecall to sis asking for a guest verse, and Solange could be whisked away from all this to venues that could eat 10 XOYOs whole. She's one sister that's determined to do it for, and be, herself.
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