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Solange, ‘True EP’ (Terrible)

Based on a True Story: Solange
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Label: Terrible

On this seven-song collaboration with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Solange Knowles is once again working in throwback mode — although this time her touchstones come from 1986, the year she was born. True wraps the mid-MTV Era’s biggest hits in gauze, rendering them dimly recognizable underneath Beyoncé’s sister’s steady voice: “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” has a jaunty beat that brings to mind Madonna’s already retro-soaked “True Blue,” while “Locked in Closets” is muted but jittery, as though Knowles and Hynes stripped down Janet Jackson’s “Control” to its beat, then added pocket-calculator synths.

There’s a simultaneously appealing and slightly off-putting looseness to all this, conjuring the sort of drowsiness where you’d rather sleep for a week straight than let in more heartbreak. Lead single “Losing You,” a distant cousin to Lisa Lisa’s “Lost in Emotion,” sets the muted tone; Solange subtly makes an increasingly emotionally unavailable other aware of the depths of her sadness while roller-rink lights spin around her. The rest of the songs have a similarly uneasy feeling; this EP, on a Grizzly Bear-affiliated indie label after disappointing Polydor with 2008’s fantastic but slow-selling Motown nod Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, is dance-pop for the woman who doesn’t have the energy to fix herself up for a night on the town, but doesn’t want to completely wallow in “Crazy for You” balladry, either. “Bad Girls” (featuring bass from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White) is gently harsh like morning-after light that reveals smeared mascara and knotted hair (here, the glare reveals more existential disarray); “Lovers in the Parking Lot,” on which Solange acknowledges causing a breakup, is even more self-lacerating.

True is a not-quite-album that’s discomfiting in a pleasant way; its vague allusions to both pre- and post-heartbreak times in the lyrics give it the feeling of a photograph of happier times that’s actually aged, and not just run through Instagram filters. And it raises another question: Is Hynes becoming the Shep Pettibone of the rhythm-and-bummer era? His assists both here and on Sky Ferreira’s downer daydream “Everything Is Embarrassing” suggest a fluency with swaddling dance-pop singers in frosty beats that they can then melt through sheer charisma, even when the words suggest sour times; it’s not exactly reminiscent of Pettibone’s work with the likes of Madonna and freestyle singer Alisha, but the emotional charge transplanted to the dance floor is similar, and welcome.