Bay area artist Khan Solo is a mystery. With a profile picture showing nothing but a shadowy outline, and a bandcamp bio that only says “I’m low-key like seashells,” Solo has a quiet presence, letting his music speak entirely for itself. His new album, Stargirl (2017) is a new sound for Solo, constructing his poetry this time around familiar-sounding samples to narrate a seven-year romantic narrative. A Cal alumni and veteran of the Casa Zimbabwe student cooperative, Solo draws from a side of the Cal student experience that is all at once familiar and somewhat outlandish, infusing the hazy, retrospective tone into his painstakingly constructed beats. Though upon interviewing for the Daily Cal about his second album, Berkeley Blues (2014), Solo claimed he had “no idea” what his third album would sound like, the influences are clear, as his intricate take combining formally unmet tones and acoustic lyricism is applied to a beautiful, sonic love story.
Combining television and film samples with smooth bass lines and syncopated upper-register, clicking beats, Solo continues to lay down the vaguely secretive vibe that lends him his charm. In an attempt to capture a lengthy love story, Solo drops 23 one-to-three minute tracks chock full of isolated television quotes, record scratching, and Homeshake-esq echoey guitar and bass. The album follows an all but simple arch, grooving with upbeat horns on “Track 4”, sinking into a melancholy synth riff on “Track 8”, coming back up with southwest asian inspired bells and rhythms by “Track 12”, and resolving with female vocals and nostalgic, almost surfy sliding guitar chords by “Track 22”. Especially striking is the diversity of voices sampled, including Spanish ballads, references to the Doors’ song “The Celebration of the Lizard,” male blues vocals, and always returning to classic female-fronted 40’s to 60’s era hooks.
The album opens with a man asserting that “the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art–many do’s and dont’s”–a bold statement from Solo as he introduces us to his third full-length, and most prominently sample-based album. Another bold statement comes from Solo as he compares his work to the sorely missed J Dilla, as Solo says he tried to do “romance” with Stargirl “what J Dilla’s Donuts did to existentialism.” What results is a narratively complex and intensely personal piece, managing to smoothly coast between raw emotion and deep thought. When a male soul vocalist surfaces on “Track 6 wailing “I miss you baby,” it strikes us as Solo reaching out himself pouring out the intimate delicacies of his own presumably heartbreaking and passionate romantic narrative. The shortness of each individual song gives the album as a whole the feeling of strung together slices of life, something that plays in especially well with sample-based piece. Overall, the album leaves me feeling the same way I do after a romance film: introspective, satisfied, and psychologically both thoughtful and at peace. As a whole, it’s an album made for these new spring days in the Bay Area, as love is in the air and we all try to turn over a new leaf.
Written by Veronica Irwin