Tag Archive: Solange
“The Electric Lady” is Janelle Monae’s much anticipated follow-up to her delightfully insane and eclectic debut album “The Archandroid” (2010), which featured in my Top 20 Albums of the Year 2010 on this blog. The new doesn’t disappoint mixing up a whole range of musical genres across its nineteen tracks and continuing to explore Monae’s dystopian future where she plays the character of cyborg Cindi Merryweather. The main differences between the two albums is that on “The Electric Lady” there’s a romantic subplot and Monae has a few attempts at her own take on modern R&B a genre she’s expressed much frustration with in the past.
The album opens as “The Archandroid” did with a classical suite called ‘Suite IV Electric Overture’ which features twanging tremolo guitar, slow yet purposeful strings and a low slung head nodding, thin fuzz guitar and a heavenly choir. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in there a flourish of strings that leads into… ‘Give ‘Em What They Love’ featuring Prince. In fact, Prince is the most appropriate musical reference for this track with its slick funk rock guitar and thumping minimal beat. In the chorus a shuffling acoustic guitar enters adding to the slinky groove. In verse two Prince sing falsetto over his own perfectly poised guitar melody. There’s also a great guitar solo by Prince halfway through the song but Monae is the Purple One’s equal and is never in his shadow. Next up is the album’s first single ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ featuring Erykah Badu, the track kicks off with a funky guitar riff and subby bass drum and subtle tambourine groove. Then some P-Funk synth swiggles drop in before everything gets extra funky in the chorus. The track reminds of Thee Satisfaction albeit with major label production. Monae’s first attempt at a straight R&B is ‘Electric Lady’ featuring Solange. It opens with staccato vocals and fuzz guitar solo before the main head nodding funky beat and bass line drop and Monae and Solange’s vocals interweave creating harmonic heaven, later they create some fantastic melodies together too. The beat and bass line reminds me a lot of Solange’s tracks on her own ‘True’ EP and Monae has praised her as one of only artists pushing R&B forward. ‘Primetime’ featuring Miguel is another attempt at R&B this time Monae trys her hand at a ballad. In the intro Miguel adlibs over his own vocal distant vocal harmonies and a beat thumps and echoes out. Monae pushes the boat out vocally for the chorus before a cool fuzz guitar solo kicks. Things drop down again for Miguel’s first verse proper. Despite the cheesy lyrics, sounds and guitar solos, I really like this R&B and I don’t like R&B ballads.
‘Dance Apocalyptic’ is a fantastic pop song that combines acoustic rhythm guitar, upbeat drums and great claps. It strongly recalls ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, which is no bad thing. ‘Look Into My Eyes’, ‘Victory’ and ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ show that Monae can deliver emotive vocals, something that she’s been accused of lacking in the past. Meanwhile, ‘It’s Code’ and ‘Ghetto Woman’ add to the album funk quota the former combing flanged wah-wah guitars and thick bass with subtle yet bouncy drums and some nice twinkling vibraphone melody. I love the synth swiggles in the chorus. The later continues with the synth swiggles and pumping synth bass, recalls Stevie Wonder in his 70s prime.
The only real misstep on the album (apart the interludes which add nothing to the album musically or thematically) is the closing track ‘What An Experience’ with its 80’s style synth stabs and hip-hop drums come across as cheesy where the aim was for something emotive. However, this a minor complaint on an exceptional album that equals Monae’s debut in terms of both ambition and great tunes. You need “The Electric Lady” in your life.
Release of the Month
Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements Of Light (Rough Trade)
The productions of German artist Pantha du Prince (Hendrik Weber) have always lived on emotional rather than physical tension. They are an evocative and organic flux that while not dance floor-friendly are impressive to behold; majestic and intimate at the same time. So “Elements Of Light” is a natural and logical extension of the ideas Weber has been incorporating for a while on the exemplary “Black Noise” and “This Bliss” albums. The richly harmonic tones produced by Norwegian group The Bell Laboratory’s real-world percussion bring flesh to the elements of classic minimalism that were folded in to Weber’s emotive techno of previous releases. His use of electronic instruments as a counterpoint to The Bell Laboratory’s clanging, chiming bells and their bell carillon, made up of 50 bronze bells with a combined weight of three tonnes, are seamlessly woven together with long stretches of the album naturally gliding and swelling in dynamics. It is so expansive and sweeping that the album needs to be experienced as a single, mutating composition. “Elements of Light” is full of adventure, buzzing with possibilities and surprises and absolute in its focus on music’s power to evoke emotions. This is not an unfocused, clinical instrumental album, rather it is driven by narrative, particularly when Pantha Du Prince and The Bell Laboratory venture into the mazy, complex 10 minute-plus pieces ‘Particle’ and ‘Spectral Split’. They direct listeners to follow paths and see how they all flow together to form the tracks’ body.
It’s in ‘Spectral Split’ that “Elements of Light” shows its many tones. From bleary ambience to a Steve Reich-ian use of minimalist momentum, to the weaving of classical and electronic dynamics and textures that Weber is so clearly enamoured with, the track demonstrates his astute understanding of the importance of anticipation and tension in dance music. Almost half of its 17-minute life is devoted to a slow build that finally explodes into joyful colour once all the layers click into place. This sense of release surfaces sporadically throughout and is fundamental to making it work, but it’s always delivered with a great degree of control and patience. The addition of Pantha Du Prince’s techno beats underneath that three tonne carillion can’t help but make the track sound triumphant and celebratory. ‘Particle’ juxtaposes ominous, church bell-like clangs with lighter tones that skip and twist across its surface. It’s almost giddy at times and doesn’t quite finish where the listener expects. Again Weber brings in those recognisable Pantha Du Prince beats and warm embracing swells of bass to act as an anchor, gifting the album with both a sense of wonder and comforting familiarity. ‘Particle’, like the album as whole, is full of surprise twist and turns. The flashes of inspiration are the points where the album really excels. These unexpected surprises are what make the album work. The final track ‘Quantum’ is built on understated ambience, a few glassy notes spinning in kaleidoscopic patterns as it blossoms in to a confident, bouncing techno track glistening with sparkling, fragile textures. Listening to “Elements of Light” is about absorbing the gradual, evolving transitions by which Weber and The Bell Laboratory travel from one point to the next then return. Their ensemble setup emphasises Hendrik Weber’s talent for arrangements, his way of interlacing electronic and acoustic sounds into a luxurious whole. By underlining his productions’ strengths: emotive, graceful, warm and rich, “Elements Of Light” illuminates Pantha Du Prince’s music from within.
Watch Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory perform ‘Spectral Split’ live: