Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - May 20/10

There's a lot to say about Janelle Monae.

First up, read my piece at Exclaim for the June issue.

I was extremely impressed with her, or at least with her phone manner. She was very professional, but frequently went off script into concise but illuminating asides. That's not a bad metaphor for the album. It's a polished major-label release with fascinating and well-developed tangents.

At its heart is the concept adapted from Metropolis. Though Monae told me she hadn't researched the various remakes of the movie, hers is both a departure from the usual themes associated with it, as well as a strong reaffirmation. Basically, she attaches perspectives of race and gender to a story of workers and elites. With that as the lyrical focus to the album, she explores many different flavours of future soul, psychedelia and pop. And it all comes out well - from neo-folk interludes to gurgling guitar solos which actually feel appropriate to her overall vision rather than a cheap add on.

So many different ideas come up within the space of one song. Take the single "Tightrope" (have you seen the Letterman performance by now?). The lyrics are deep on many levels. First, there's the infectious wordplay with its rapping cadences to draw the listener into the song and dig in to the message. The message itself - whether you're high or low, you're always walking on a tightrope, because that's what 'the machine' wants from you - is something you might find in punk, metal or 'conscious' hip hop lyrics, but certainly not in most egregiously self-aggrandizing, status-seeking, product-placing, party-starting pop music (of which her parent label Bad Boy has released more than its fair share). Is she referring to the entertainment industry/society's expectations of women? Black Americans? Or just her character, the android 'Cindi Mayweather' in the four part Metropolis saga? Either way, the song is brilliant as music that moves the story along and on its own as a terrific JB-infused pop song. And that's before the ukulele break (don't think Fritz Lang ever had that in mind with the movie...) whose chord changes strongly suggest samba, one aspect of a great range of global musical influences on The ArchAndroid, along with a bit of Afrobeat, references to different eras of reggae, Eastern European prog, ye olde English folk and orchestral touches.

I keep thinking about comparing it to Purple Rain when listening to it; except Prince was several years into his career by the time he put it all together into a mass-market friendly style of individuality. The fact that this fully developed sci-fi concept is the debut album by a black woman on a very mainstream label is simply remarkable. If Lady Gaga is supposed to be the standard for boundary pushing dance music today, Monae whups her ass by being more eclectic, more ambitious, more accomplished, writing better lyrics and above all being a better singer by far. And she's got a kickass crown designed by the guy who built the Iron Man suit.


mra - brotherhood of breath (rca neon)
assunta - zane massey (delmark)
and when to come back - harris eisenstadt (clean feed)
fadeen to - bako dagnon (discograph)
dub for cascadia - locsil (kranky)
dub y guaguanco - flowering inferno (tru thoughts)
guiyome - konono no. 1 (crammed)
atou - youssou n'dour & super etoile de dakar (no label)
lotis - menwar (no label)
balkumbia - balkan beat box vs. sub swara (no label)
avante me fante - mahala rai banda (asphalt tango)
trouble - citizen sound (balanced)
dance or die - janelle monae feat. saul williams (wondaland arts/bad boy)
you - funkineven (eglo)
dance with me - twilight (luv n haight)
lucifer went to church - afrobutt (electric minds)
africa - dub all sense meets abassi all stars (universal egg)
peace and love - dubmatix feat linval thompson rmx by nate wize (7 arts)
the promised land - nas & damian marley (republic)
dub fire - aswad (mango)
heads of government - leroy sibbles (attic)
roots radics rockers reggae - bunny wailer (shanachie)
palo bonito - katunga (arcando)
cabo de vela - tatico hernandez (discolando)
el tembleque - panchitron/sonido mundial mix (no label)
boiling over - kush arora (no label)
sinian dub - tassilli players (universal egg)

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