Through the Looking Glass With Janelle Monae.

I have a post up at The Atlantic that’s part of a roundtable discussion of Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid with Brentin Mock and Alyssa Rosenberg. While I really enjoyed the album, I had a couple of small critiques of it, and I don’t think it quite merits the universal acclaim it’s getting right now.

My colleague Brentin calls Monae’s album “unique, forward-looking, and apoplectic.” He’s not wrong. But the influences of the past are clearly present in her album. In it, I hear melodies reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and The Last Poets. While Alyssa hears “Sigh No More, Ladies” in “Sir Greendown,” I hear Mancini’s “Moon River.” And the glorious “Oh, Maker” sounds a bit like something Karen Carpenter could have done if break beats existed during her time. And best, that track showcases Monae’s exceedingly lovely voice. In fact, one of my two complaints about the album is that it doesn’t frame Monae’s voice as much as I’d like. While I appreciate the delightful sonic strangeness, sometimes I want to hear more Monae and a little less spastic guitar.

Read more over at The Atlantic. And if you haven’t heard the album yet, it’s live-streaming on Monae’s Myspace page.

Latest posts by Shani (see all)

  • I love the video she did for the cut “Tightrope.” It has this neo-Cakewalk vibe filtered through a playful Harlem Renaissance sensibility grooving along an almost 60s-style ‘Moddy’ bigbeat. It all comes together to create something quite ‘fonky.’ I will definitely have to check this album out. Thanks for the heads-up shani-o.

  • amr

    The ArchAndroid is easily the best album of the year so far! Brilliant! Her fantastic performance on David Letterman a couple of days ago is really going to help her move up to ground-breaking status.

  • Julie

    So you don’t really have a critique of the album as much as just a personal complaint? :) You wish you could hear her vocals more – make sure you go to one of her shows! I saw her live earlier this year and she literally BLEW ME AWAY. She’s no joke.

    I have to in general disagree with you. This album deserve ALL of the acclaim it is getting. There’s not denying they’ve been influenced by other artists etc and as you can see in the liner notes it’s all listed there. That was one of my fav things to check out when I got the album. I recognized a lot of their influences and wanted to see if I was correct. (Disney etc) Just because Janelle references things in the past – doesn’t make this album not forward looking. It’s certainly forward looking in way I don’t think we’ve seen SINCE the artist you spoke about above. This album is a masterpiece that I’ve think our generation is blessed to hear.

    • shani-o

      Aren’t all critiques of music essentially personal complaints? If you read the piece, you’d see that my other issue was that the album is a little too disjointed. You’d also see that I have seen her live and that it was excellent. And I didn’t say The ArchAndroid wasn’t forward-looking, I said Brentin was right in that assessment.

  • Julie

    I think this album is incredible in it’s inception and execution. I originally wasn’t sure about this album or Janelle in general, but after giving this album a good listen from start to finish there’s not much that can be said. It’s really brilliant. Disjointed… Really? Certainly not. Like most of the reviews I’ve seen I think this album was hand stitched by God or something, lol. Those overtures?…incredible. They’ve been created using stems of other songs. But hey, I’m sure you’re entitled to your opinion. I just don’t happen to agree. Thanks for posting.

  • Anu

    Janelle’s talent is unreal. This album has been on repeat since I got it. GREAT album.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Just listened to it kind of quickly on the train.

    Without knowing the specific names of the composers, I, too, peeped the influences from Disney, Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. But her mark is more than original enough that I don’t see how this rises to the level of a problem or even a quibble (iow, so what?)

    I’d say it’s probably a little too long. By my quick count I heard about 5 or 6 excellent songs,and maybe 3 or 4 more really good ones. I could do without the spastic guitar too, but I attribute that to her youth. By that I mean I find younger black “alternative-minded” artists seem to throw in rock/metal touches in order to add an air of legitimacy and musical eruditeness. She’ll grow out of that.

    At first listen I was totally prepared to agree with most of what you said about the influences, but then I realized I only felt that way because melodicism has been lost in most popular non-Hip-Hop black music. She is an intensely melodic artist (and I’d throw Erykah in that kind of, too.) Melodicism in current music can tend to sound strange and my brain notes it when it’s heard.

  • keke

    I love this album! I think its amazing and the first album of this year that I’m really excited about and willing to purchase with my money.

    I could have done without the intros and overtures….but i do love the broadway and disney influence in her music.

    I do have a beef though. Not with Janelle but more so with the distribution of this cd. I went to target and 2 best buys in chicago and they did not have the cd! Target told me they only had one cd and that someone must have bought it. and both Best Buys i visited didn’t even carry the cd….i was extremely annoyed.

  • The influences are all over the map…it’s like she had a map of musical genres and a box full of darts and just started chucking those sumbitches at it with reckless abandon. The album sounds like the precursor to what is going to be a fascinating movement…voraciously curious young artists who use the internet to humor their flights of fancy. While the majority chases celebrity gossip they’re connecting with roots that once required plane tickets and “access” to connect with. Access your average 20-30 year old doesn’t typically have. Now all you need is high-speed internet “access” and you’re in there like a teddy bear.

    Oh, when I heard traces of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” I almost lost it.