Janelle Monae
The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III of IV)


4.5
superb

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
June 30th, 2010 | 30 replies | 9,632 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist


Above all, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid is the ideal crossover pop album. On one hand, it has the kind of classic songwriting that anyone can enjoy--accessibility through sheer excellence. Songs like lead single “Tightrope” are ones that can be thrown on without any worry as to whether or not your more mainstream-leaning friends will enjoy it: the song’s uncountable hooks and driving rhythms are staples of radio-friendly pop, without the sense of banality that so frequently burdens that genre. On the other hand, The ArchAndroid contains some of the more experimental ethos that the people who are reading this review likely are inclined towards (if you must have a label: indie kids). Specifically, the concept behind the album is unflinchingly ambitious, what with androids and mushrooms and roses, all thrown in a stew of a plotline so confusing that the whole project could be scrapped away as “pretentious”. That is, until you realize that all this conceptual and visionary (Metropolis homage on the cover!) bombast is in service of some really ***ing good music--ignore the narrative if you like, but this is pop music that refuses to be labelled as anything besides some of the best produced this decade thus far.

The music on display here is so pleasing in part because it’s never remotely the same; so diverse is the album, in fact, that most of us analyzing it are forced to refer to apparent “influences” for individual tracks to give potential listeners an idea of what the album sounds like. This isn’t to say these reference points are illegitimate--the angular chord changes of “Locked Inside” are pure Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder and the gorgeous “57821” is reminiscent of the Medieval-esque folk of Fleet Foxes--but to injuriously compare Janelle Monae’s music to artists of the past would be to do a wonderfully unique artist injustice. Each song has a distinct mood, but labeling one as “the Stevie Wonder song” and another as “the folk song” would be discrediting the proficiency with which Monae hybridizes and integrates genres and influences, ultimately making them her own, instead of some sort of musical landscape of name-checking.

As an “album experience”, The ArchAndroid is fittingly cinematic (it has suites, man!), especially when Monae manages to fit in the string-and-horn flourishes that so often soundtrack film epics (both of the “Overtures”, “BaBopByeYa”)--to great effect, as well: listening to these tracks, the lucky listener feels as if they are travelling through the fantasy world Janelle Monae has set up specifically for this work. Whether or not the plot is fully understandable is ultimately inconsequential; the mobile rhythms of songs like epic closer “BaBopByeYa” allow anyone to instantly be transported to somewhere magical, even if we don't completely buy into this whole android business.

And then, oh man, there are these songs. Eighteen tracks make up the entirety of The ArchAndroid, and nearly every one of them is, in one way or another, at the top of my “favorite songs of the year” list. The beginning stretch of the album (approximately from “Dance or Die” to “Tightrope”) is unrelentingly catchy, whether it be the quick funk rhythms of “Faster” or the “B.O.B.”-esque drama of “Cold War”. From around “Come Alive”, though, Janelle Monae delightfully goes off the deep end, ambitiously expanding her palette while still retaining her sense of a great song. It’s this contained weirdness that allows her robotic delivery on centerpiece “Mushrooms & Roses” to be strangely touching (“We’re all virgins to the joys of loving without fear”), or for the out-of-left-field folk of “57821” to fit next to the neo-funk of “Wondaland”, or for the unrelentingly complex “BaBopByeYa” to feel like the perfect closer to an album so multi-faceted that it might be interpreted as petty showboating in the hands of a lesser artist.

Ultimately, The ArchAndroid is like a utopian vision of pop music’s future, catchy and ambitious in equal measure. The album’s concept isn’t so intrusive that the album requires some sort of plotline decoder ring; it simply serves as another level of depth for the listener to enjoy. This is an album that, in its ambition, feels completely new--something never done before. Which is true: Janelle Monae manages to stuff so much variety (and excellence) into this album that nothing feels like a retread. However, it’s also somewhat traditional: another entry into a growing list of albums perfecting the balance between vision and accessibility. Brava!



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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



14885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

in this review i make the same point over and over again

Bitchfork
June 30th 2010



7584 Comments


Yeah no kidding.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



30316 Comments


refuses to be labelled as anything besides some of the best produced this decade thus far.

Reads a bit awkwardly, plus i'd consider removing it all together, its only the beginning of the new decade (but I do agree with you)

Digging: L'Orange - The Orchid Days

Pizza
June 30th 2010



687 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Nice review, i love this album and i rarely listen to pop

Tulannical
June 30th 2010



2051 Comments


great review, perfectly says how i feel about the album, etc etc. you're way ahead of your age at writing.

on a side note, i showed janelle to my friend and he didn't like it. wtf idiot

foreverendeared
June 30th 2010



14678 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Awesome review. This hasn't "clicked" with me yet, but I can tall I'm gonna love it once it does.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this review vs. my attention span

Parallels
June 30th 2010



6640 Comments


her tightrope will never be better than ELO's tightrope

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



14885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

gona fukin kill you

DiceMan
June 30th 2010



7068 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

felonsona

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



14885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

reads like a dick in your mouth

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



14885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

how bout i call it aoty and leave it at that

DiceMan
June 30th 2010



7068 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You're gonna have to fight with The National, Dillinger, The Tallest Man On Earth, and all the albums yet to come for that.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

BUT ITS ONLY JUNE

illmitch
June 30th 2010



5429 Comments


the-dream is aoty afaic

gonna review that

but will prolly listen to this cuz i like pop and apparently people are claiming this is r&b (idk about that but ya)

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



14885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

i liked the two prior the-dream releases more than love king :X

illmitch
June 30th 2010



5429 Comments


same here tbh but i just love the-dream that much

Ire
June 30th 2010



41471 Comments


I've heard the ep and it's pretty damn good. I can't find a dl of this though.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
July 1st 2010



15697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

to echo cokemachineglow, while not my favorite album of the year, it is the best


DiceMan
July 1st 2010



7068 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

while not my favorite album of the year, it is the best


My feelings in a nutshell.



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