Tag Archives: soul

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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two bars three stars: fatback; or, what if the best night of your life happened every month?

10 Jan

In the world of DC nightlife, I am a firm believer in the institution of the monthly dance party. I don’t know if we’re just a city of over-scheduled Type As who love recurring Outlook invites or what, but many of my favorite nights in the District have taken place at monthly parties that have a cult following and a longstanding tradition.

As for my favorite monthly fiesta, it’s really a toss-up between All Things Gold at U Street Music Hall (for those who love electro and hate their ability to hear); Che Sera at Napoleon (bass-heavy remixes of 1960s-70s surf music? Free flowers to put in my hair? Sign me up!); or the legendary Fatback at Bohemian Caverns, where the disco child in all of us is transported back to an era when Motown, soul, and straight-up funk kept the kids’ feet moving.

Fatback had intrigued me for ages, and I finally, finally got myself there in December 2011. Needless to say, every hope, dream, aspiration, and fantasy for the night came true (and then some).

There were disco balls. And glitter.  And seamlessly mixed Motown songs I used to (err…maybe still) sing with my mom while listening to oldies radio. There were Santa hats and red-and-white-striped onesies (possibly because DC Santarchy took place that day). Everyone in the crowd seemed equally entranced by the crew of DJs slinging old school dance favorites, and we were all myopically focused on the mission at hand: to dance, dance, like it’s the last, last, night of your life, life, Fatback DJs gon’ get you right…sorry, I digress.

Fatback was a utopian disco world where normal party problems don’t exist because everyone was just so happy to be there and be alive. Case in point: looking back, the bathroom line was atrociously long. But, you know what, I made some of my BFFs of the night grooving in that bathroom line—shout out to the girlfriend who belted some falsetto “Dancing in September” with me, you’re a peach (whoever you are)!

ANYWAY, I am obviously giddily excited to return to this land on January 21, and not just for any old Fatback– it’s Fatback’s 4th Anniversary Party. If you need any more convincing that this will be the pièce de résistance of January’s nightlife offerings, take a look (/listen) at this BYT post, where Fatback DJs graciously compiled their top 40 tracks from this year’s parties. I’ve posted my favorite from the list below: a soul cover of Free’s “All Right Now,” you don’t get any more quintessential Fatback than that.  See you on the dance floor, kids.