Solange recently released her fourth studio album, When I Come Home, following up the highly acclaimed A Seat at the Table. The new album is still rooted deeply in R&B and soul, but features a more electronic and psychedelic vibe, with modern trap influences also playing a part. Synths are at the forefront of her new sound, being used prominently on several songs such as Way to the Show and Almeda. The album features a diverse cast of collaborators, including Tyler, the Creator, Sampha, Panda Bear, Pharrell, and Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange. In this article I’ll look at some of the synth heavy tracks from When I Come Home, and discuss how to create the synth patches using several software synths.
Way to the Show
Way to the Show is one of the albums first examples of a psychedelic influence, and the track features a backdrop of funky synth bass and swirling keys. The funky bass is a thick and punchy, and was likely recorded on a Moog synth, and the patch is easy to set up in Arturia Mini V, a software emulation of the legendary Minimoog synth. Set the tuning of oscillators 1 and 2 to 32’ and oscillator 3 to 16’. Leave the waveforms set to sawtooth, but lower the detune amount of oscillator 2 & 3 by right clicking the tuning knobs until fine tuning is less than 1%. Less detune is good for tight basslines, and helps retain clarity. Lower the filter’s cutoff frequency all the way down, set the filter emphasis to the 4 mark, and raise the amount of contour knob to the 5 mark. For the envelope, set the attack time to 10ms, decay to 306ms and sustain to 0. This will move the filter in time with the envelope settings, and the filter emphasis will create the funky squelch effect.
For the keys patch, you can use any suitable polyphonic synth, and I’ll use Arturia Prophet V. The patch uses two detuned sawtooth oscillators, so use the template preset Pro5 2 Osc as a starting point. Now we want to modulate the filter, just like the bass patch, however with a much longer envelope setting. Set the cutoff to 0, resonance to 11 o’clock, and envelope amount to the 2 o’clock mark. Now set the filter’s envelope with a medium-long attack time of 90ms and a long decay time of 5500ms. The patch is simple, but the envelope movement helps keep it interesting. Another highlight of the track include the lead synth in the outro, which I didn’t include in the video below. To my ears, it sounds like a synth run through an auto-wah guitar pedal, which is effectively an envelope controlled filter.
Binz is an upbeat, fun song built around a funky but minimal beat, with a plucky synth bass playing around a driving drum pattern. The song also credits Animal Collective’s Panda Bear as a co-producer. The key to creating the bass patch is the interplay between the filter envelope and amp envelope, with the filter creating the bright pluck, but the amp allowing the sub bass to ring out after the pluck. We can use Mini V again to create this patch. When you open the plugin, the oscillators are by default set to 32’, 16’ and 8’, which is perfect for this patch. Lower the volume of the 8’ oscillator slightly, and lower the detune amount of the oscillators just as we did in the previous Way to the Show patch. Set the filters cutoff frequency to 110 Hz and set emphasis, aka resonance, to a low 0.71, and then raise the amount of contour to 60%. Set both the filters with no sustain, then set the filter’s decay time to 192ms and the amplifiers decay time to around 840ms. Process the track with compression and saturation to make it growl and you’re finished
Easily my favourite track from the new album, Almeda is mysterious sounding and full of unusual composition and sound elements, all placed on top of a typical modern trap beat. Here I’ll concentrate on the synth lead and FM sounding keys from the intro hook. The lead is heavily chorused giving it a wide stereo effect. I’ll use TAL U-NO-LX, however both Prophet V and Mini V should able to handle the patch, and both have onboard chorus effects. The keys are a complex patch, with a timbre like that of an acoustic guitar, and was likely recorded using an FM synth, or a synth with samples. Arturia DX7 V is a great FM synth, with modern capabilities plus the same architecture as the legendary Yamaha DX7. The DX7 V preset Piano Quattro sounds similar to the Almeda patch. The patch already has a light chorus effect, but you can improve the sound by raising the mix amount, or even just running it through another chorus effect after the plugin. I used Ableton’s Chorus with Dry/Wet set to 35%