DAILY REVIEW: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

by | Jun 28, 2010 | MUSIC

Usually when someone hears the word “diva” in reference to music they think of strong female personalities like Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, or Liza Minelli who’s larger than life talents often outshine even the brightest of their male counterparts. Unfortunately, there is usually a bit of pretentious negativity linked with that characterization as well that often borders on sexism and a palpably manifested fear of a strong “leader with heels.” For any male (or female for that matter) that has that particular set of issues to deal with, stay away from Janelle Monae because she will rule you! Her talent, concepts, performances and music in general are so well developed that she will instantly outshine any “star” in the room, including her label head Sean “P.Diddy” Combs. Yeah, Diddy is the man behind bringing Monae to the spotlight 3 years ago with her Grammy-nominated Metropolis – Suite One: The Chase, but don’t hold that against her. This is probably the most talented artist Diddy has had on his roster (Biggie fans simmer down!) and with her newest release The ArchAndroid, she’s carrying Bad Boy Records into the future like an eternal flame leading creative cavemen out of darkness.

You see, Janelle Monae is all about the future. On Metropolis:Suite One she emerged as a soulful, love-struck android named Cyndi Mayweather who was on the run for falling in love with a human in a not-so-distant futuristic time period where emotional agency on the part of androids is not permitted. I always envisioned her as a brown-skinned version of Milla Jovovich ala The Fifth Element mixed with the faux-human characteristics of Daryl Hannah’s character Pris in Blade Runner. She also proved herself a vocal talent with a range of delivery that isn’t seen much in commercial music in these (hopefully) last days of the Autotune Era. However, on The ArchAndroid she expands her range exponentially and comes across with an elevated musical masterpiece of stylistic diversity that I haven’t heard on an album from a solo artist in a minute. In all honesty, the first vocal artist I thought to compare Monae with who has a similar broad range of musical expression is Mike Patton. And while Patton’s catalogue is more extensive and includes diverse projects such as Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Lovage, and Bjork’s Medulla, they share a natural sense of focused artistic schizophrenia that makes listening to their recorded works an adventure in sound.

Since The ArchAndroid consists of suites 2 and 3 of a 4 part story (Metropolis was part 1), it begins with the same highly orchestrated type of intro that started off the first EP. From there, you are catapulted into the first track “Dance or Die” by the chants of spoken wordsmith Saul Williams and subsequently sent spiraling down a rabbit hole of musical styles. From the 60s lounge influenced track “Sir Greendown” (where Monae is more Astrud Gilberto than Erykah Badu) to the Stereolab-esque electronica of “Wondaland”, this album has a span of styles and influences that you would normally expect to hear on a Thievery Corporation album not a mainstream album from one of the most commercially recognizable labels in urban music. In addition, the album is Executive Produced by Monae’s fellow ATL-ien, Big Boi from Outkast. His influence is most evident in the uptempo aesthetic of “Cold War” that mirrors Outkast’s classic track “Bombs Over Baghdad”, and the lead single for the album “Tightrope” which features his classic ATL flow woven in with Monae’s heated, Tina Turner-type vocal performance. “Oh Maker” starts off sounding more like a folk track from The Ditty Bops and eventually grows into a more nuevo soul groove in the fashion of Estelle or Adele by the time the chorus drops. “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” could have a place in a 2010 re-creation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with it’s swinging rhythm section and frenetic vocals. “57821” is a throwback to the classically elegant music and vocal harmonizing of “Scarborough Fair” era Simon and Garfunkle and “Say You’ll Go” is more of a contemporary Jill Scott-type electronic neo soul groove that fits in well as another “personality” to the obviously very complex Monae. One of the premiere collaborators on this album is the group Of Montreal. While I am a casual fan of some of their music, “Make the Bus” is probably my least favorite song on this album. It seems a little sophomoric relative to the other well developed, expressive songs on the album. But all of us have a “less mature” side and when I listen with that in mind, that song fits in perfectly as another manifestation of the ArchAndroid’s pseudo-human personality.

Now, I’m well aware that I have managed to parallel Janelle Monae to Mike Patton, Tina Turner, Astrud Gilberto and Jill Scott among others within the span of a few run-on sentences, and I don’t apologize for that in the least (the references or the run-ons). This songstress is that good. For once I applaud Diddy for his vision in signing such a commercially left-of-center artist and having the restraint (I’m sure Ms. Monae demanded it!) to not tinker with her work and let her present her artistic vision. The ArchAndroid is a not-so-subtle classic on so many levels, particularly when it’s observed as a cinematic, stream of consciousness musical with a diverse collection of movements and atmospheres within it. Janelle Monae is a diva re-defined and she’s got the skills to prove it.

www.jmonae.com

by Mikemetic Williams – www.audiomasstransit.com
Bass Player – PHOTOSYNTHESIZERS
Host – “Middle East Coast Mecca” Sunday Nights 1-3am EST wrir.org/ 97.3 FM RVA

Usually when someone hears the word “diva” in reference to music they think of strong female personalities like Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, or Liza Minelli who’s larger than life talents often outshine even the brightest of their male counterparts. Unfortunately, there is usually a bit of pretentious negativity linked with that characterization as well that often borders on sexism and a palpably manifested fear of a strong “leader with heels.” For any male (or female for that matter) that has that particular set of issues to deal with, stay away from Janelle Monae because she will rule you! Her talent, concepts, performances and music in general are so well developed that she will instantly outshine any “star” in the room, including her label head Sean “P.Diddy” Combs. Yeah, Diddy is the man behind bringing Monae to the spotlight 3 years ago with her Grammy-nominated Metropolis – Suite One: The Chase, but don’t hold that against her. This is probably the most talented artist Diddy has had on his roster (Biggie fans simmer down!) and with her newest release The ArchAndroid, she’s carrying Bad Boy Records into the future like an eternal flame leading creative cavemen out of darkness.

You see, Janelle Monae is all about the future. On Metropolis:Suite One she emerged as a soulful, love-struck android named Cyndi Mayweather who was on the run for falling in love with a human in a not-so-distant futuristic time period where emotional agency on the part of androids is not permitted. I always envisioned her as a brown-skinned version of Milla Jovovich ala The Fifth Element mixed with the faux-human characteristics of Daryl Hannah’s character Pris in Blade Runner. She also proved herself a vocal talent with a range of delivery that isn’t seen much in commercial music in these (hopefully) last days of the Autotune Era. However, on The ArchAndroid she expands her range exponentially and comes across with an elevated musical masterpiece of stylistic diversity that I haven’t heard on an album from a solo artist in a minute. In all honesty, the first vocal artist I thought to compare Monae with who has a similar broad range of musical expression is Mike Patton. And while Patton’s catalogue is more extensive and includes diverse projects such as Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Lovage, and Bjork’s Medulla, they share a natural sense of focused artistic schizophrenia that makes listening to their recorded works an adventure in sound.

Since The ArchAndroid consists of suites 2 and 3 of a 4 part story (Metropolis was part 1), it begins with the same highly orchestrated type of intro that started off the first EP. From there, you are catapulted into the first track “Dance or Die” by the chants of spoken wordsmith Saul Williams and subsequently sent spiraling down a rabbit hole of musical styles. From the 60s lounge influenced track “Sir Greendown” (where Monae is more Astrud Gilberto than Erykah Badu) to the Stereolab-esque electronica of “Wondaland”, this album has a span of styles and influences that you would normally expect to hear on a Thievery Corporation album not a mainstream album from one of the most commercially recognizable labels in urban music. In addition, the album is Executive Produced by Monae’s fellow ATL-ien, Big Boi from Outkast. His influence is most evident in the uptempo aesthetic of “Cold War” that mirrors Outkast’s classic track “Bombs Over Baghdad”, and the lead single for the album “Tightrope” which features his classic ATL flow woven in with Monae’s heated, Tina Turner-type vocal performance. “Oh Maker” starts off sounding more like a folk track from The Ditty Bops and eventually grows into a more nuevo soul groove in the fashion of Estelle or Adele by the time the chorus drops. “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” could have a place in a 2010 re-creation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with it’s swinging rhythm section and frenetic vocals. “57821” is a throwback to the classically elegant music and vocal harmonizing of “Scarborough Fair” era Simon and Garfunkle and “Say You’ll Go” is more of a contemporary Jill Scott-type electronic neo soul groove that fits in well as another “personality” to the obviously very complex Monae. One of the premiere collaborators on this album is the group Of Montreal. While I am a casual fan of some of their music, “Make the Bus” is probably my least favorite song on this album. It seems a little sophomoric relative to the other well developed, expressive songs on the album. But all of us have a “less mature” side and when I listen with that in mind, that song fits in perfectly as another manifestation of the ArchAndroid’s pseudo-human personality.

Now, I’m well aware that I have managed to parallel Janelle Monae to Mike Patton, Tina Turner, Astrud Gilberto and Jill Scott among others within the span of a few run-on sentences, and I don’t apologize for that in the least (the references or the run-ons). This songstress is that good. For once I applaud Diddy for his vision in signing such a commercially left-of-center artist and having the restraint (I’m sure Ms. Monae demanded it!) to not tinker with her work and let her present her artistic vision. The ArchAndroid is a not-so-subtle classic on so many levels, particularly when it’s observed as a cinematic, stream of consciousness musical with a diverse collection of movements and atmospheres within it. Janelle Monae is a diva re-defined and she’s got the skills to prove it.

www.jmonae.com

by Mikemetic Williams – www.audiomasstransit.com
Bass Player – PHOTOSYNTHESIZERS
Host – “Middle East Coast Mecca” Sunday Nights 1-3am EST wrir.org/ 97.3 FM RVA

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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