The Electric Lady
You know Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. You know nothing about Janelle Monáe. That’s a shame. A darling of many music critics and considered a favorite of Barack Obama, Monáe officially arrived in the industry in 2010 with the studio album The Archandroid that was an intense blast of fresh air. Hers was a music that ranged from R&B, funk, soul to jazz and hip-hop. All this wrapped in a narrative about an android falling in love with a human makes it even more of an entirely different creature. And it surprisingly worked. Now, she continues this inimitable streak with her latest album, The Electric Lady, and has added more genres like cinematic scores, rock n’ roll, and reggae. It is astonishing such vocal prowess and musical dexterity exist in this world. Featuring an array of talented guests like Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, Esperanza Spalding, and Miguel, The Electric Lady is by far the album at the moment that would, upon hearing its entirety, linger for many years to come. There’s the single “Q.U.E.E.N.” that celebrates one’s uniqueness (where she spouts some nasty rap in the end), “Primetime” that brings the age-old story of budding love to new light, and “Dance Apocalyptic” that could make the stiffest leg move and dance to its beat.
From orchestral flourishes to arena-size anthems, this girl can perform without the slightest doubt. There are also radio skits sprinkled here and there, and sometimes one might say she is too much. But to say that Janelle Monáe’s work is a jumble of influences is to pigeonhole her in one category. Monáe does not work that way. There is a calculated order in her chaos, a meaning to her excess. The different styles meld together to form one manifesto: to embrace the differences of love and identity, to overcome what brings us down with hope. It is that simple and basically what we need. She’s monolithic in her music, not in a way that imposes but encourages, as if the melodies are whispering, “Let’s listen to something brave and beautiful.” In this industry that is crowded with empty words and saturated in sex and insincerity, Janelle Monáe can be a deity. She is indeed electric like a music messiah who delivers us from all the nonsense. You knew nothing about Janelle Monáe. But this time you do. You are saved.
Essential tracks: “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Dance Apocalyptic,” “We Were Rock n’ Roll”
Love in the Future
When it comes to contemporary R&B love songs, it is hard not to include John Legend as one credible source. Unlike his previous efforts that are a great auditory experience but generally safe, his fourth studio album, Love in the Future, sounds risqué and shoots to the heights of grandness. Its music is sweeping, its character dramatic and sometimes even surreal with its gospel choruses, ethnic-sounding drum sets and morsels of Kanye West beats (not surprising since he is one of the album’s co-producers). The album’s intro sets this tone straight. This time there will be heat, sweat, and messy bed sheets—a far cry from his previous album Wake Up!, a collaboration with The Roots, which is more political than sensual. He is in his top form in this work, his voice consistently clear and strong and his skill with the piano flawless.
At this point in time everyone must have heard of Legend’s chart-topping ballad “All of Me.” Although the track is reverent, it is tinged with a quality that brings to mind the heart-wrenching song, “Someone Like You” by Adele, which made many eyes moist back in 2011. Like that song, “All of Me” has an emotion that is unfiltered and intentions that are frank. Legend’s crooning is reminiscent of a lover whose adoration for someone is an open book. Despite that song’s brooding nature, Love in the Future remains more of an optimist and upbeat than the other way around. It is full of anticipation and brimming with winking candor. Take a trip with “Made to Love,” and in all its thumping beats and handclaps, you will know why it is titled that way. “Hold on Longer” is hopeful, its tunes like a walk in the park on a Sunday morning. “Aim High” is smooth and comforting. In the book An Imperial Affliction, the author Peter van Houten states that “Pain demands to be felt.” With this album, it is not pain you feel but the rapture and bliss of loving, being loved, and making love. Bring out the handkerchief. This time you might end up with tears of joy.
Essential tracks: “All of Me,” “Made to Love,” “Save the Night” .