REVIEW: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

If Black America needed a response to Iclandic freakpot Bjork, we can safely rest comfortable knowing we now have one: Janelle Monae.

Ms. Monae’s latest album, The ArchAndroid (pronounced Ark Android)ย  is a milestone. It breaks down the walls (both external and self-imposed) that have always existed limiting what an R&B artist can and can’t do. Janelle was given the creative freedom to do whatever she wanted on this album–it’s like Puffy locked Janelle in a studio and hid the key. The result? One of the most creatively engaging albums that I’ve heard in a long time. Orchestras? Check. Reference to space aliens? Double check. Collaborations with off-kilter Hipster Bands? Check.

Janelle spreads her wings, letting all of her inspirations out to shine. There is the notableย  Jimi Hendrix influence on “Mushrooms & Roses,” and and her Violent Femmes-esque rock with “Come Alive.” Tracks like “Sir Greendown” trips out on 60s psychedelia, while the track “Dance or Die (with Couch Sessions favorite Saul Williams), goes straight Afrobeat.

But don’t think that the album lacks have pop sensibilities. “Wondaland, “Cold War,” and “Oh, Maker” sound perfect on the radio next to Alicia and Mary. In fact, the album has more roots in R&B than most people would think and Monae gets to stretch her vocals on several songs, especially the spectacular “Neon Valley Street,” a smooth R&B track that rivals anything out today.

But what really sets this album apart are her alluring orchestral overtures. The Suite II Overture picking up from the Metropolous suite, while the Suite III overture samples from Claude DeBussy’s piece Clair de Lune (think the Oceans 11 Ending). The ending tracks “Say You Go,” and “BabopbyeYa” would sound great performed live in front of an orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Puffy can we make this happen?

Not every song on this album is a masterpiece however. The ill-fated collabo with fellow Georgia band and tour partner Of Montreal, “Make The Bus,” comes out a mess. But honestly, that’s the only blemish on a near perfect album.

In this time of over-manufactured artists, it’s rare that a female is allowed to stretch the bounds of artistry and creativity. The ArchAndroid marks a milestone in Janelle’s career, and as a supporter from the jump, I’m glad to see that the rest of the world will see what I’ve been saying for years.

The ArcAndroid releases on Tuesday, May 18th. Buy JMonae.com.