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Music Review: Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

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Janelle Monae’s The Archandroid is a perfect musical storm. Monae colors her recording with her quirky personality and strange storytelling and has a dreamy voice that floats over futuristic beats while evoking the classic sound of music past. She is a female Andre 3000 with the energy and dance moves of James Brown and young Michael Jackson and her album reveals her potential to achieve similar greatness.

Monae’s storm started brewing when she moved from her birthplace of Kansas City, Kansas to New York to study theater. She ultimately decided to pursue a career in music over Broadway and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she was discovered by Big Boi at one of her shows. During that time, she also founded the Wondaland Arts Society with her fellow musicians and colleagues. Through Wondaland Arts Society, Monae released her first EP entitled Metropolis: the Chase Suite in 2007.

Monae’s unique music and storytelling — about an android named Cindi Mayweather, marked for disassembly by the Star Commission for falling in love with a human — caught the attention of Sean “Diddy” Combs, who signed her to his Bad Boy label. Her EP was then re-released in 2008 along with two new songs. Monae’s work also brought her critical recognition and a Grammy nomination in 2009.

These events led up to the release of Monae’s debut album The Archandroid on May 18, 2010. The album contains Suites II and III of Cindi Mayweather’s harrowing story as she runs from the Star Commission. The Great Divide, an evil organization that is attempting to oppress the universe through time travel, also emerges. The music used to tell this story covers a diverse range of genres and is expertly executed. Monae explores the musical stylings of Outkast, James Brown, the great Michael Jackson, and many others, while utilizing various genres from R&B and rock and roll, to jazz and classical. Monae’s voice proves versatile throughout, navigating different genres with ease.

Monae avoids the heavy synthesizers and electronic sounds that currently dominate many R&B albums and goes for an organic sound, using a full band of guitar, drums, and piano on each song. Strings, woodwinds, and other classical instruments are used to embellish her music and give it personality. Monae even incorporates full orchestra into her album by introducing its two sections with overtures. Each song is so detailed that it sounds as if Monae spent several months on each of them. Her sharp musicality and attention to detail make The Archandroid more than mere R&B; it is a work of art that pierces the realms of high culture.

Highlights from the album include the overtures that introduce each Suite on the album. Janelle uses full orchestra and makes her album feel like a night at the theater with the sounds of clapping, instruments tuning, and the quiet hum of an audience. “Faster” and “Tightrope” are high energy numbers that showcase Monae’s love of '60s Motown pop. The drastically different “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” and “Mushrooms and Roses” are superb executions of grungy garage-punk that evoke visions of Jimi Hendrix. “Make the Bus,” a collaboration with the ever unique Of Montreal, and “Wondaland” are unique explorations of alternative and electronic music. The epic jazz ballads “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopBye Ya” end the album with a dramatic blast of futuristic beauty.

With an album 18 tracks long, one would think that Monae would fall into the trap of a project with more filler than substance. That is not the case here. Every track brings something new to the album as a whole. While some of the tracks may not stand out on their own because of they are made to tell a story, each one is beautifully orchestrated and unique, warranting repeat listens. It is Monae’s attention to detail and avoidance of overproduction that makes The Archandroid stand above other albums on the shelves. This album is one of the first potential classics of this decade and will have you hitting the replay button after it’s over, singing “Take me back to Wondaland, I gotta get back to Wondaland!”

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About Jelani Sims

  • amr

    The ArchAndroid is a masterful work of art. Brilliant. Janelle Monae deserves all the recognition she’s going to get from creating such an epic album. Go Jane!

  • Khay Copeland

    THIS ALBUM is ****ing KRAZY…I cant stop listening to track 1 thru 18. My opinion /its really that good – I was on the verge of saying she’s a mix of Santigold, Estelle, James Brown & that chick from Groove Theory ( sorry chick from Groove Theory – I forgot your name, Amil somthing ) but to compare her to anyone would be a discredit just simply due to the fact that she’s so ****ing refreashing & DOPE! I cant wait to see her live with BADU in Philly come next month because IMA BE (In my BLACK EYES PEAS voice ) dancing in the freaking aisle! ****ING GREAT ALBUM

  • http://kimcrawley.blogspot.com/ Kim Crawley

    Jelani- what a great review! I linked to it via my personal blog, in an article where I mentioned Janelle.