Last Thursday night, industry insiders sipped cocktails in the lobby of New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art for the unveiling of Janelle Monáe’s latest masterpiece. A vacation from the expected gallery unveiling, the crowd skeptically eyed tall shadowy figures in mirrored masks that floated around, greeting guests. Portions of the Grammy-nominated singer’s eagerly-awaited debut The ArchAndroid, due May 18, played in the background of a short “Emotion Picture” that the eclectic chanteuse co-directed starring OutKast’s Big Boi, poet Saul Williams, psychedelic dance-punk troupe Of Montreal, and the Wondaland Arch Orchestra.
As guests situated themselves, the radiantly quirky Ms. Monáe appeared on stage in kimono-like garb, hair coiffed to perfection. In a state of doe-eyed effervescence, she urged her guests to enjoy, dance, and “act a fool.” Diddy’s short on-screen introduction and endorsement of Monáe’s work was superfluous—she had ‘em singlehandedly sold. Genre-bending tracks such as “Dance or Die” and “Wondaland” exemplified her cyber-soul persona with celestial beats and vocals.
A true testament to her fans’ loyalty, as well as the quality of the music, everyone definitely loosened up and transformed into concertgoers. Shoulder shimmies turned into all-out “shake it like a Polaroid picture” mode within 10 minutes. And if this album moved a crowd of critics out of their seats, we think it just might move the rest of us to click the “Buy” button next to her pretty little pout on iTunes.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. “Cold War”
It’s easy to detect OutKast’s influence on Monáe’s composition on this up-tempo track. The snare-induced beat sets a solid background for her strong vocals, which she actually allows to upstage everything else. The lyrics run with the intensity of the beat as she sings, “This is a cold war/ You better know what you’re fighting for,” guitar solos playing into her warning.
2. “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi
“I’ll take your pain away,” Monáe promises as she opens the Big Boi-assisted first single. And she does. The crowd lost it during this one, fresh yet familiar, and boasting a retro beat that brings back all the pleasurable convulsing from OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” music video. Big Boi’s verse complements her delightfully scattered disposition as well.
3. “Locked Inside”
Soulful and somewhat revealing, this song slows it down a little bit in the name of love. “Oh how I need you love, you are so crazy/ I need you baby,” she croons to the beat of a laid-back summer jam. With somewhat of a throwback feel, Monáe seems to be channeling Michael Jackson’s versatility and Estelle’s sensual vocals.
4. “Mushrooms & Roses”
This hippie-fied, jazz guitar-ridden track excavates Monáe’s electro-sensibility; the snare-heavy number pushes the blurred vocals to the back burner. It’s reflective, swaying music, a little psychedelic but not enough to drive it away from the soul of the rest of the album. Monáe shies away from flaunting her vocal chops on this one, letting herself echo in the background.
There will be 18 tracks on The ArchAndroid. The tracklisting below is not final and is in no particular order.
“Suite II Overture”
“Dance or Die”
“Mushrooms & Roses”
“Suite III Overture”
“Neon Valley Street”