Janelle Monáe – The Age Of Pleasure

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While dedicated fans may be longing for a continuation of the android Cindi Mayweather story, receiving another album from Janelle Monáe out of place as her fully liberated self is just what a mostly musically stagnant year needed. Five years after the flawless dirty computer, which saw her celebrate the full spectrum of sexual identity against a funk-infused backdrop, Monáe has been garnering social media attention of late for her provocative images and music videos that lean even more towards these themes. This time, however, she explained in an interview with Zane Lowe that she wanted the sound to be “very specific to the pan-African crowd who are my friends” and “a love letter to the diaspora.” Also, considering that the songs only earned a place on the album if these friends reacted positively to them in a party setting, fans might initially be taken aback by the unorthodox length of the tracks (many don’t quite make the mark). the two minutes), but in a similar way to Beyonce. Exploring all aspects of black dance music in a non-stop, ever-changing mix of RENAISSANCE, Monáe’s party playlist finds her effortlessly morphing through Afrobeats, reggae, dancehall, and some of her usual soul and trap. Many of the tracks contain musical motifs from others on the project, and the guest list is as full as it was five years ago when she traded Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder for the band of Sister Nancy, Grace Jones and Fela Kuti, led by her Seun son. . Coupled with some of her raunchiest lyrics yet, it’s another first-rate exercise in experimentation.

To continue the Queen Bey comparisons: like her, Monáe is the type of vocalist who has fascinating natural talents that emerge to surprise every couple of songs, but also possesses so much personality and presence that she doesn’t even need to use them all that often. The cool and confident lead single and opening track “Float” is one that showcases both. Hearing her play some of the tunes, getting into the tight groove that finally drops, is a preview of just how much effortlessly free-flowing talent we’re about to hear from her. At heart, it’s a hip-hop song (the stacked harmonies behind some of its bars stand out), but it still soars on the hook nonetheless. Quite a few of these tracks settle on the formula of a trap rhythm and a massive horn section, but it’s a combination that Monáe draws as much as possible from. “Champagne S**t” finds that combination that hits even harder with stellar mixing work: every little drum hit of the complex pattern finds its way to the front and packs an impact. Full of quotes and a central synth hook that won’t leave your head for weeks, the track also possesses a bit of reggae energy, the instrumental constantly changing as brass and synths are interchanged. The central concept of the album seems to be to reimagine these musical motifs with a different diasporic energy, and the 1-minute “Black Sugar Beach” essentially works as an outro to “Champagne S**t” with a more relaxed, dancehall-oriented style. flavor as the track spills over into a jam session. It is certainly an innovative approach.

With a big transition into the track’s prominent bassline, “Phenomenal” is one of the most instrumentally charged and ambitious tracks on the album. As Monáe talks about celebrating the many different sides of herself, all very successful, her ability to tackle each of the wide variety of genres on this album comes to mind phenomenally. This particular track doesn’t quite fit the bill, transitioning from Afrobeats percussion to jazzy lounge pianos to virtuoso synth keyboards, all with intermittent vocal tuning, but every aspect sounds great. Rising star Doechii also throws in a melodic rap verse to top things off. There’s a lot of French inspiration throughout the album, and I really hope Monáe saw the word “Haute” and built a short flexible track around it without even knowing what it means, because the song is about how “hot” it is. It is pronounced with a refined accent. She claims that she looks better than David Bowie in the song, and she says it all so decisively that you might have to believe her. After a brief interlude from French-speaking Grace Jones, we have “Lipstick Lover,” which was an odd choice for the big, high-budget, single video. For someone who normally sounds so smooth and effortless, some of the melodies Monáe chooses on this one are rather strange, but when you’re familiar enough with them, they take on a SZA-like quality. Still, the reggae instrumental here is by far the most ecstatic on the album.

The aptly titled “The Rush” kicks off the second half, and there aren’t many artists who are able to capture the visceral, animalistic rush of initial desire: She mentions the emotions that lurch at the mere brush of leg against thigh. – just like Monáe can. With a breathy, half-rapped purr from an intro by none other than Nia Long, Monáe glides over a reggaeton beat and Spanish-inflected guitars in the back, while an Amaarae feature steals the show as usual. For a song with a sort of haunting, ethereal quality, she’s the perfect choice with her high-pitched voice that sounds like she’s from another planet. “The French 75” is another brief transition moment, but this one has a musical scream from Sister Nancy herself transitioning into “Water Slide.” Monáe has such natural passion in her vocal inflections, and she really shows it on this song, with an emotional vocal break that slips into the notes before keeping it strong with laser focus none of her contemporaries can match. It’s a mostly laid-back groove, which features the back half of the X-rated album. The song “Know Better” has another great brass section riff in the background, as Monáe, Nigerian artist CKay, and Seun Kuti team up to do it with Afrobeats what someone like Bad Bunny is doing for reggaeton. They take typical rhythms and instruments, make them a little complex and make it hit a little harder, and it’s great to hear them take the framework and turn it on its head.

Tucked away near the end, “Paid in Pleasure” feels a bit like the album’s mission statement, as Monáe makes a simple request with the promise of perpetual reciprocity, Afrobeats energy, and some outrageous puns continue. “Only Have Eyes 42” finds Monáe’s voice at her most advanced in the mix while staying in her lowest register: it’s her best performance on the album, singing like it’s the most romantic ballad of all time, yet the song is really about polyamory. Above some dissonant piano chords and stabs of reggae, everything about the track is captivating. “A Dry Red” finds her relaxing into romantic ecstasy with some wine puns as the album fades.

While it may not match the sprawling, conceptual masterpiece that was their previous album, the age of pleasure it still shows his experimental spirit thriving, and more importantly, he makes it clear that he was having a lot of fun while doing it. For someone with as much overflowing talent as her, that will always yield a pleasing result.

Favorite tracks: Champagne S**t, Only Have Eyes 42, Float, Know Better, Haute

Least Favorite Track: Lipstick Lover

Score: 8/10

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