That’s the promise made by Solange Knowles, fashion icon and I-didn’t-make-it-for-you musician who is the visionary behind the music and culture site Saint Heron, and a compilation EP by the same name. Put out by Saint Records, the Saint Heron EP features 11 artists who each deliver a similar element of sensuality on the CD’s 12 tracks. The men and women of Saint Records have not all been as highly successful in the music industry as Solange (and, “highly” successful is relatively speaking), but it may in fact be their fresh take that keeps you interested.
I was put on to Saint Heron, the website, by a good friend of mine who somehow manages to be late to the most popular trends (the second latest of my crew to get hooked to Scandal), but remain fashion forward and up-to-date on the latest in what many aren’t talking about yet. In an email she sent me, there was simply a link to the Saint Heron website and the phrase “Solange’s hipster lifestyle site/blog…up our alley.” This came on October 24th and I browsed it for about 30 seconds. I figured I could consult the site to check out some ideas for outfits, and catch up on new songs, but the site was little more than a shell, with only a few posts under each subject, so I quickly clicked X and got back to work. Content exploded in the following weeks, and some took to instagram the morning of November 12th when the album dropped, just to be like you ain’t up on this. And they were right, I wasn’t; so I took my time and listened all the way through to figure out what I liked, what I didn’t and whether or not I’d come back for more.
Saint Heron is not an album I’d say is for everyone, but it certainly is a great entree into a different kind of R&B than what we’re used to these days. The first track, Lockup by BC Kingdom starts off the album with a haunting, robotic sound. It sounds like the score to a movie I’d imagine would start at a dimly-lit whiskey bar and end with the protagonist at home with her special friend…who tries to kill her [in Versace]. Then, snaps and 808s enter back in on Jade De La Fleur’s Jaded, reminding us this is still R&B. If you’re looking for music with the standard 8-bar verses and hooks, and of-the-moment catchphrase lyrics, buy something else. That isn’t an underhanded way to tell you that you have to listen to this to be cool or different for difference’s sake. Some artists and albums I like because I can envision myself at a concert singing along at the top of my lungs and being fully immersed in how great the lyrics and music make me feel…how much they represent or relate to what I’m going through. Only Jhene Aiko’s Drinking and Driving gives me that feeling that someone is writing my life, but the other tracks have a lot else to offer, too. Most importantly, the vocal talent on this album is diverse, and has great depth. That alone should convince you to check it out- we’re lacking talented vocalists who have a personality and aren’t afraid to step away from the mic stand. The Saint Heron site calls the EP pure and unadulterated, but I consider much of the production and even vocal stylings reminiscent and heavily influenced by 90’s and early aughts’ R&B. Take, for example, Bank Head, the album’s third track- it sounds like the lost files from 1993’s janet.
Though the labelmates are doing something very different from what’s offered to us fans on the radio- think everything you’ve heard in mainstream R&B this year from Omarion to Fantasia- they have very similar styles amongst each other. Noisey by Vice calls it spacey, and electronic-infused; I call it amorphous, eclectic and futuristic. Listen for steel drums, and heavily filtered guitars and pianos on Petit Noir’s Noirse, and for Starchild’s disembodied voice on Relax coming from the depths of your speakers, blending so well it’s almost masked entirely by the production.
Cassie’s and Solange’s tracks are certainly the most mainstream-sounding, and are not the most interesting or innovative, either. However, don’t forget you’ve heard many of these other artists before, mostly in snippets on rap track hooks (Jhene Aiko from Drake’s July, and Sampha featured on his latest album’s Too Much). Saint Heron is your chance to delve deeper into their music, and figure out which of these unconventional approaches to R&B works best for you. It’s not going to be the most upbeat music you’ve listened to, but it also isn’t throwing sex and alcohol in your face as blatantly as other R&B, either. Considering it’s curated by Solange, there’s no surprise the album blends everything that’s great about R&B, electronic and pop music to produce perhaps the greatest pattern mixing she’s ever attempted. Give it a try, at least while you’re cooking tonight or on the train to work tomorrow morning. Saint Heron isn’t charging the stage trying to take over R&B with more of the same industry machinations, but I think you’ll find their subtle sound will mirror the subtle takeover of this new R&B, which sounds a lot like what you love and offers more than what you bargained for.