Album Review: Janelle Monae: “The ArchAndroid”

May the sound of my voice be your guide…

I’m in the business of discovering music. I consume and digest it, and recreate the energy in words for those who read them. Most often, once music falls off the “Recently Played” playlist, it ends up in the abyss of my iPhone, and eventually deleted to make space for new music. But every now and then, an album really catches my ear and I pay attention, because I know have come across something special.

I had Janelle Monae’s debut albumThe ArchAndroid on a slow burn for awhile. I knew that it would be highly conceptual, and it didn’t quite have a place among the remixes and bonus tracks circulating the blogosphere. The ArchAndroid is a non-stop experience of exceptional music. Linked with classical overtures, it is a galactic ride of imagination, love, and fearlessness. It’s a genreless collection that’s both seamless and authentic.

The ArchAndroid kicks into high gear from the start, and does not slow until the last notes. While listening to “Locked Inside,” images of the light up floor in the “Rock With You” video makes your feet involuntarily move with that classic MJ sway. “Sir Greendown” sounds like a 22nd century take on the 50s hit “Earth Angel.”

Although so non-traditional hip hop, you can’t help but nod along to “Neon Valley Street.” The spacey dreaminess of “Wondaland” makes it an album highlight with its endearing cheekiness: Take me back to Wondaland/ I think she left her underpants.

Monae explores all the textures of her voice, from the upper register on “Tightrope,” and it floats on the classical overtures. She closes the ethereal and romantic “Say You’ll Go” with DeBussy, just another indication that she truly knows her music. The album ends with “BaBopByeYa'” the futuristic blues track that would make Sarah Vaughn and Harlem’s Cotton Club regulars proud.

The ArchAndroid is that nearly perfect album that surfaces when an artist defies limits, lets go of labels and target audiences, and simply lets loose in unabashed freedom.

At first glance, Janelle Monae is a lot to absorb. She’s known for her signature bouffant updo and energetic James Brown moves. She wears a suit in honor of those in service fields who must wear uniforms to work. She poses like a Barbie doll circa 2035, her limbs in mannequin like brokenness. In the spirit of the genre defying Andre 3000 and The Love Below, Marvin Gaye’s conceptual masterpiece, What’s Going On?, and the stroke of genius that fueled Mozart’s compositions, Janelle Monae has arrived.

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