on my boombox: janelle monae, “the archandroid”

1 Feb

This week, I’ve been unable to shake one very significant question from my mind: “WTF was I doing with my life 2010.”  Sure, that was the year I graduated college and traveled the world and started my career, but forreal: was I living under a music-bereft rock? Did I never open a single issue of Spin or listen to a “best tracks of the year” playlist? Did I stop using the internet?!

What drove me to these self-reflective conundrums, you ask? Well,  if I had done any of those things in 2010, I wouldn’t just now fall in love with an artist named Janelle Monae. My relationship with this artist would be long-held and well-established and involve at least two live experiences, instead of an infantile infatuation. But alas, don’t lament what could have been, live in the present, etc.

Despite my supreme lack of timeliness in writing about this artist, I’m going to write about her. Because on the off chance that any of you, like me, missed out on the best album of 2010, then it’s high time we fix that. Allow me to introduce a woman who needs no introduction, Ms. Janelle Monae:

 

Rocking her signature tuxedo look (and rocking it oh so well), Janelle’s visual aesthetic very much demonstrates her musical style: take the best of something classic, make it ultra-modern, add a dose of futurism, and turn out something supremely fresh. One can liken her to a whole bevy of artists—David Bowie for her space-age style, Lauryn Hill or Nina Simone for her pipes, Beyonce for her pop sensibility, and James Brown for her soul—but  Janelle resists categorization better than almost any artist (even for the most flattering comparisons). Her closest parallel might be Andre 3000, if only because he, too, dodges any conventional label you might throw at him.

All of this came to a head in 2010, when Janelle released The ArchAndroid. Here’s the rundown: 70 minutes. Eighteen tracks. A concept album about a messianic android living in the year 2719, a story arc which she first began with her 2008 album Metropolis: The Chase Suite (get the David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust comparison now?). The sheer ambition of it makes me want to take a nap.

But complex storylines aside, Janelle’s ambition packs an even great punch in her musicianship. When I say Janelle resists genre categorization, I don’t mean “Oh, she’s kind of hip-hop, kind of R&B, but she does pop really well too.” No. I mean she does every single genre well, and she fuses them seamlessly. The ArchAndroid opens with a classical overture (“Suite II Overture”), shifts to a Motown/hip-hop dance number (“Tightrope,” featuring Big Boi), dives into robot rock (“Make the Bus,” featuring of Montreal), and goes everywhere in between with complete mastery.

Normally I post tracks, but this album demands holistic listening. To make it easy for you, I even created a Spotify playlist with both of the albums I mentioned. Enjoy this video of her most popular single ONLY if you promise to listen to The ArchAndroid in its entirety. You won’t regret it.

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7 Responses to “on my boombox: janelle monae, “the archandroid””

  1. Ted February 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I totally agree — this was the best album of 2010.

    • stephmit February 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      almost overwhelming how good it is.

  2. djdeprey February 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    When this album dropped last year, I remember liking it, but knowing that musical purists and hip-hop historians would be more goggly-eyed than I was. Nice to know you find it appealing to a wider audience. When you have 18 tracks and 70 minutes, you have much more freedom to explore every musical contemporary genre under the sun, miss a few times (Wondaland? yuck), but still make a masterpiece, and thats what this album is, a masterpiece.

    My only problem (and this is minor) with janelle monae is that “tightrope” is probably the most overused song name in history. I think that single dropped well ahead of album release (i wanna say when I was still in college), and while its a decent single-worthy song, the name immediately turned me off to Janelle Monae mostly because I didn’t have the rest of the album to fall in love with. That song name has been used mostly as a hit single by the following bands:
    ELO, Stevie Ray V, Yeasayer (DWTN), a Papa Roach B-side (I was so sweet in 2002), I wanna say Kylie Minogue? and I bet several other well-known act. Someone with as much of a eclectic musical historian vibe as Janelle Monae should know that. Whatever, minor criticism of an otherwise supremely talented human.

    • stephmit February 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      it’s my policy not to respond to any comments that include the phrase “papa roach b-side.”

  3. djdeprey February 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Unbelievable:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tightrope_(disambiguation)

  4. mem3qt February 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I LOVE HER.

    • stephmit February 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

      awww. ^^ my hip little sister everybody!

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