Bad Boy Entertainment. Then again, there is very little that is mainstream about Janelle Monáe, whose remarkable new record ArchAndroid is out today via Sean Combs' typically Benjamin-bent label. For commercial purposes the party line on this record will likely be "radio-ready R&B with a dash of hip-hop," but be advised that Ms. Monáe provides much, much more.
The album's premise in the most manifestly offbeat element of Monae's project. Taking the torch from a long line of sci-fi obsessed pop artists (from David Bowie to Kool Keith), Monae has penned an epic tale of forced genetic alteration, time travel, robots, and some other stuff. Suffice it to say, such subject matter may not appeal to all listeners. If you care to learn more, immerse yourself in the record's copious liner notes; if not, let the music take you over.
Rest assured, that is what this music will do. Finding a modern major-label R&B release with this level of energy and diversity is virtually impossible. While there is no shortage of soulful singing or danceable beats, the sheer variety of Monae's music will have you coming back again and again. There are elements of '60s-era acid rock and psychedelia ("Mushrooms and Roses"); '70s-era glam ("Make the Bus" featuring indie vets Of Montreal); disco ("Locked Inside"); big-band swing ("Come Alive"); and folk ("57821"). And we've described only 5 of the record's 18 tracks.
Of course, listing cannot do ArchAndroid justice; only listening can do that. Monae's debut full-length is an extraordinary achievement; in a little over an hour, she has managed to claim a place on the short list of eclectic R&B classics, from There's a Riot Goin' On to Maggot Brain to Sign 'O' The Times to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. High praise indeed, but justified. ArchAndroid is the best record of the year to date, and while selecting individual tracks is something of an injustice, we have provided a sample below:
Janelle Monáe - Come Alive (War of the Roses)
Janelle Monáe featuring Saul Williams - Dance Or Die
Janelle Monáe - Cold War
Janelle Monáe - Say You'll Go
Janelle Monáe featuring Big Boi - Tightrope