Janelle Monáe Is ‘The ArchAndroid’

As difficult as it may be to listen to an entire album from start to finish in this Age of the Internet, The ArchAndroid should probably be experienced at least once from start to finish. Imagined by Janelle Monáe as an "emotion picture for the mind," and a follow up to Metropolis: The Chase Suite, this album is as sweeping as the welling strings on many of its tracks. Starting and stopping at "Tightrope," though understandable, just does not do The ArchAndroid justice. But as a hype builder and dance starter, the song is an overachiever.

Monáe traverses at least sixty years (or more) worth of musical styles and bounces between genres without warning. In doing so, she guides us through her musical dreamscape, which is, by default, loosely cohesive and full of wonder. It's a place that swings ("BaBopByeYa"), that rocks ("Come Alive"), that enchants ("Oh, Maker"). It all comes together in the way that sometimes the last thing you listened to before sleeping leaves its traces on your subconscious and soundtracks your REM.

Janelle Monáe: "Mushrooms & Roses"

But with interludes that sound like they belong behind the opening credits of a 1950's underwater movie musical set in a medieval monastery/old Las Vegas lounge.

Cindy Mayweather, her android alter-ego, and the futuristic locale of metropolis have always functioned as tools that Monáe uses to convey messages of love, hope, rebellion and social critique. The ArchAndroid seems more about these themes than about overtly propelling the more theatrical narrative forward. It's a good time either way.

Janelle Monáe (feat. Saul Williams): "Dance or Die"

For those who are less interested in whimsy and trans-genre dynamism, "Dance or Die," "Faster" and "Locked Inside" is an incredibly danceable grouping that opens the entire album with gusto while giving a sense of where she's headed without taking it to the extremes that come later. After that run, there are less hand-holding transitions but they still work together. For example, when she segues from 1960's pop chanting with Deep Cotton on "57281" to some pure Stevie Wonder Latin-synth romanticizing in "Say You'll Go."

Janelle Monáe: "Say You'll Go"

The album doesn't attempt to hide its references. It revels in them. Manipulates us into submission, even. It's just as hard to be unmoved by "Say You'll Go" as it is not to get riled up by "Tightrope." Devices she employs on The ArchAndroid are similar to those used on Metropolis (think "Smile" and "Many Moons"), but here she does so much more liberally, more gorgeously.

Circling back to the idea of "emotion pictures" she applies to these songs, one of the reasons that this album works, even if you don't buy the concept, is that Monáe is a sentimentalist. (Another is that she has the vocal chops to pull of this range of styles not just with ease but with flair.) Aside from smashing as many music references into eighteen tracks as possible and with frequent jolts from one style to the next, which is admittedly exhausting sometimes, she isn't taking us into abstract places. She takes us to Rogers & Hammerstein, to Jimi Hendrix, to David Bowie, to Lauryn Hill. This makes it hard to not find something enjoyable on The ArchAndroid.

Janelle Monáe [Official][Twitter]
The ArchAndroid [Amazon][iTunes]

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16 Responses

  1. I'm picking this up on my way home from work tonight. I just couldn't get it on itunes cuz I know its gonna be epic!

  2. I messes with Janelle fine, talented ass. The album is fire.

  3. This cd is truly everything, got it for free days ago, but supporting the artist and PURCHASING it....DARE someone to put something out better than this by the end of the year...a game changer!

  4. @neenee you should totally get the itunes lp. its amazing. its also on sale at bestbuy for only 7.99 so its def affordable. this IS an amazing album. janelle is a TRUE ARTIST with great chops!
    i urge everyone reading this to support this artist. she is great. i love her!!!

  5. best album this decade. hands down!!!

  6. Avatar

    The first Suite and tracks from The Auditon blew me away and reconstructed me two years ago LOL, Suites II and III have Elated my Gemini full capacity, and taken me on a inward far out odyssey, LOVE is too weak to define my appreciation for such artistry..This is my element all day!

  7. I'm new to the Janelle Monae fan club though she has been in my peripheral since the beginning. I thought she was gimmicky and didn’t take the time to actually listen to her music. When I did I liked it, didnt love it but liked it enough to check for the Archandroid. I had high hopes after tightrope and cold war but I was worried that those would be the only highlights of the album. I haven't even fully listened to it yet but already I'm amazed. I'm going to co-sign to album of the year so far. I'm a HUGE Badu fan and I have to say that Return of the Ankh's abstract has to take a backseat to Archandroid's realism. If both Erykah and Janelle continue on their current paths, in a couple albums we might have an interesting discussion on our hands.

  8. I can appreciate her effort, but the tracks sound more derivative than inspired to me.

  9. Epic, gargatuan, gorgeous, heartwarming, overwhelming, are just some of the adjectives that I could use to describe this album. God has truly annointed this beautiful black woman. Lawd hammercy.... Everyone NEEDS this album... Just to be reminded of what true music and artistry is.

  10. I absolutely love this album!

  11. I think anybody can find something to enjoy. You really have to listen, its beautiful.

  12. Hands Down E.Badu and J. Monae have THEE BEST albums of 2010.... You'd be a fool to say otherwise! Janelle has just changed the game. The ArchAndroid isn't just music, its ART.

  13. This album is incredible. love it.

  14. @ Mia: LOL. You're not wrong, though.

  15. Best album since THRILLER! Nuf said...

  16. @EisM--I dunno, I've been a Badu fan since the beginning, but I def would not say album of the year. I think Miss Monáe blows her album out the water!!! New Amerykah II seemed kina redundant--I had to listen to it so many times just to form an opinion, which is never a good sign for me. ArchAndroid, however, literally since 5 seconds into track 2, i was hooked. I also love how every track just jumps into the next without warning. But I'm not sure I would go as far as saying best of the decade. It's only 2010! 🙂