maura @ 9:13 am
Janelle Monae’s new record The Electric Lady dropped during a particularly busy week — the first week back to school for the K-12 set, the mayoral (and other) primaries — so I was a couple of days late to the party. But I finally picked it up a few days after its release and have found it mighty challenging to listen to anything else since. And also somewhat challenged for words. I’ve been thinking on this blog post for a couple of weeks now and am still not quite sure what to say.
The record is phenomenal, of course, another chapter in Monae’s futurist-feminist-funky-dance universe. I think chapter is an apt descriptor, too — like her other records this one is highly narrative. She builds worlds out of music. It’s a trip.
Like her last record, this one includes two sections — Suite IV and Suite V — and the orchestral tracks that begin each section are lush and dreamy. Suite IV is both more danceable and rocking, both of the singles are from this section (and most of the guest stars, including Prince!), which I suppose makes sense (and mimics her last record, too). Suite V is full of mostly softer grooves, lots of great stuff, but predominantly quiet (excepting the awesome funkfest Ghetto Woman). Sprinkled throughout are hilarious radio bumpers in which DJ Crash Crash takes callers and discusses the exploits of Cindi Mayweather, Monae’s android alter-ego — they give me total flashbacks to De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising, a record that knocked my socks off in college. Truly I love it all, but the title track and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” are my current favorites.
Someone on twitter said that this is one of the only records that she listens to straight through rather than on shuffle, and something in the way she said it made me think that kids today only listen to music on shuffle, never straight through. I love a good mixtape, but I like an album that fits together well enough to listen to start to finish. Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to remember the days when I’d have to go to our family’s living room to play records, and listen to one side at a time. And perhaps I’m lazy — I’ve found that I actually listen to 7″ singles more often in our digital age because when you rip them to MP3 you don’t have to get up to change the record so often. And that’s part of making a narrative record, too, the opportunity to listen from beginning to end reveals the story within.
There are other thoughts I’ve had too, but really you should just go read Janelle Monae’s Black Feminist Futures over at The Feminist Wire, because it’s right on.