Reviews

REVIEW: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

by Winston "Stone" Ford

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)  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 notable  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.


  • http://picturesonsilence.com jconda

    Good review my brother. This album is going to change lives. Hat’s off to Mr. Combs for having the sense, respect and maturity to let creative people be creative and get out of the way. And to understand that no one’s pockets will suffer because of it…

  • GE

    Just as I was thinking of Björk when listening to Ms. Monae I happened upon your good review (funny thing, too, that I happen to be from Iceland). And I heartily agree, this has got to be the most exciting musical act so far this year (or any year). And I don’t mean to say that she should be compared to Björk in any way, but it just struck me that Janelle manages to do what Björk managed on her first albums (and seems to have forgotten a bit lately): to be wildly experimental and original, yet totally accessible. But Janelle is in a league of her own and no need to compare her to any other artist.

  • http://www.banane.com Anna Billstrom

    Has a Gnarls Barkeley feel to me. great stuff.

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  • http://differentkitchen.blogspot.com/ @StellasKid

    I didn’t end up loving the album the way i was expecting/hoping to. Its got joints on it, no doubt but its too long, meanders in places and has some real half-assed sounding tracks on it. This thing should have been a masterpiece but it ended up being an inconsistent frustration instead.

  • Faded Blue

    @ @Stella:
    I think this is the kind of album that has to grow on you if you don’t love it instantly. I myself am not “in love” with this album just as you aren’t, but I’ve felt this way about many albums that I eventually grew to love, and I am of the belief that if takes time for you to love it, then it’s probably one of the best albums you’ll ever hear. I find that a lot of music that appeals to me instantaneously tends to wear off its charm after a few listens (e.g., the vast majority of today’s popular music), whereas if I have to build a relationship with that music, that bond is most likely forever. Of course, I am not saying this applies to all music listeners in all cases, but it’s something worth thinking about.

  • http://differentkitchen.blogspot.com/ @Stellaskid

    @ Faded Blue

    Valid points and I respect Janelle Monae enough to give the album that opportunity….

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