Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
There's clearly a huge heart beating under every passion-filled kilobyte of music put forth
The fact that The ArchAndroid is the first full-length album by the Atlanta-based signer Janelle Monáe makes its genre-defying sprawl and overarching vision all the more impressive. Funk and soul are front-and-center; Monáe possesses a wicked flow (which she shows off on "Dance Or Die") and a soprano that suits classic R&B tracks like "Neon Valley Street." (Her 2007 EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite contains her heart-rending cover of the optimism ode "Smile.") "Tightrope" is a 21st-century James Brown homage that has an assist from Monáe's mentor Big Boi (one of her first appearances on record was on the Lucious Left Foot-helmed comp Got Purp? Vol. 2), while "Make the Bus," a collaboration with Monáe's musical soulmates in of Montreal, could pass for a long-lost Bowie-Prince duet from 1984.
But those are hardly the only inspirations fueling Monáe's creation. The high point comes in the middle of the album, when she places a freakout and its seemingly inevitable comedown back-to-back; the jittery "Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)" sounds like the end product of being locked in a garage with her fellow Georgians the B-52s and an endless supply of caffeine, while the song that follows it, the fuzzed-out, hungover "Mushrooms And Roses," welds together AutoTune, druggy guitar freak-outs, and ghostly chorales — all of which dissipate into a grandiose, almost heartbreaking orchestral suite. The irony of the album's omnipresent imagery of technological determinism, and its triumphing over the human spirit? There's clearly a huge heart beating under every passion-filled kilobyte of music put forth.