Category Archives: Janelle Monáe

Albums of 2010: 5 – 1

1. Body Talk – Robyn

“I’ve got some news for you/Fembots have feelings too.” So opens Robyn’s third album of 2010, a compilation of 10 of the best tracks from the two Body Talk mini-albums, alongside five new songs. The lyric sums up Robyn perfectly: a mainstream pop star with attitude, unafraid to promote her sexuality on her own terms.

While guitar bands are praised for daring to use synths in their music, Robyn trades rhymes with Snoop Dogg on the frantic U Should Know Better, makes bass-heavy doom-pop with Röyksopp in None of Dem and, with Dancing On My Own, creates one of the best pop singles of the last 20 years.

But Body Talk isn’t just sleek, forward-thinking electro-pop. It’s also imbued with emotion and soul. Musically, the pace rarely slackens, whereas lyrically Body Talk conerns relationship breakups and/or defiance in the face of heartache. These are songs to dance to with tears streaming down your cheeks. It’s not, however, an album mired by a sense of victimhood, with Robyn both perpetrator and casualty; the Max Martin-produced Time Machine is a lengthy apology to a jilted ex, Love Kills a lengthy warning.

There’s an economy on Body Talk that makes the emotional punch all the more powerful. Dancing On My Own doesn’t waste a second, its metronomic beat the epitome of minimalism, while Hang With Me aims to capture the essence of a relationship in a single line: “I know what’s on your mind, there will be time for that too, if you hang with me.”

Rather than spending ages in the studio, Robyn recorded Body Talk in short bursts, sending tracks to her label as and when they were finished. Commercially, it’s an experimental approach that has yet to fully pay off – only Body Talk Part 2 charted in the UK top 40 – but creatively it’s a testament to the fact that pop music still has the ability to surprise. As Robyn says: “The whole industry knows not to fuck with me.”

Originally appeared in The Guardian’s round-up of 2010’s best albums

Best Track: ‘Dancing On My Own’

2. Teen Dream – Beach House

Whilst the whole dream-pop/chillwave/slo-mo-sepia-tinged genre found itself a whole heap of new stars, the mum and dad of the genre quietly released their third album. From its very first notes – the laconic guitar figure that heralds Zebra – Teen Dream is an album that immediately creates its own mood, pulling you in and keeping you close for its forty-eight minute duration. Whilst their first two albums used a similar template – mid-paced, dreamy, built around Victoria Legrand’s swoonsome vocals – Teen Dream sees them utilise melody much more successfully. Songs no longer meander pleasantly, but strive for a destination. For all its refinement, it’s not quite the dinner party soundtrack some would have you believe. ‘Norway’ features an oddly wonky synth line that would have Rory checking his Bose soundsytem wasn’t broken, the mix is strangely top-heavy and the whole thing is suffused with a weary, almost unbearable heaviness. From the fog it’s Legrand’s voice that pierces through, usually sounding fit to burst whilst Alex Scally creates musical backdrops built around guitar, drums and a pandora’s box of keyboard sounds. An album to enjoy all year round.

Best track: ‘Zebra’

3. The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) – Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is not like other pop stars. The ArchAndroid, her debut album, is an 18-track, 70-minute conceptual opus, split into two suites, each one separated by ludicrously extravagant Overtures. To say it’s ambitious feels like damning with faint praise; its sheer musical scope – from the James Brown funk of Tightrope to the English pastoral folk of Oh, Maker – is spellbinding. So, the excellent Cold War is new wave with lashings of sci-fi, Locked Inside takes in Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, while Come Alive (War of the Roses) finds the 24-year-old screaming herself hoarse over squealing guitars. Influences are treated as stepping stones rather than laboured over, with only Make the Bus (a collaboration with Of Montreal) shifting the focus away from the star. The album ends with the eight-minute, string-drenched BaBopBye Ya, a song that teeters on the brink of ridiculousness yet, as with the album as a whole, somehow reins itself in with great aplomb. Behold, pop music has found its latest superstar.

Review originally appeared in The Guardian’s Film & Music section

Best track: ‘Tightrope’

4. I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling

Much had been made about how Laura Marling’s second album showed her vast maturity and whilst it’s true that it’s short on LOLZ or any songs featuring an unnecessary verse from Pitbull, all this inference about songs centred around knitting and incontinence put us off somewhat. I Speak Because I Can is, however, an album of great vitality, each song harnessing a strange sense of restrained urgency (if such a thing can even exist and it probably can’t). Songs like ‘Rambling Man’ and ‘Alpha Shallows’ sound like they’re aching to breach the restraints Marling places upon them but sound better for the fact that they can’t. Lyrically, it’s an album that reveals itself more and more with each listen, Marling telling stories from the perspective of various character and yet somehow inhabiting them all. At the core of it all is her voice, poised but with a hint of weariness on ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ or swollen with spite as on ‘Hope In The Air’. It closes with the title track, a one-tack recording that hinges on the lyric “never rode my bike down to the sea / never quite figured out what I had believed”. It’s sung in such a way that you believe that the non-riding of a bike actually encapsulates a myriad of repressed feelings, of missed opportunities of not taking risks and it’s this ability to turn the mundane into something more that makes Marling so special.

Best track: ‘Rambling Man’

5. Congratulations – MGMT

Congratulations, the follow-up to the hugely successful Oracular Spectacular, was, in many ways hampered by the band themselves. Not in terms of the music – which wasn’t anywhere close to the commercial suicide that many had hyped it be – but in terms of all the guff that went along with it. The band decided against releasing any singles, immediately recalling Radiohead’s similar stance with 2000’s Kid A album. Whilst the Oxford comedians suggested it was because there simply weren’t any singles on the album, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser just seemed to not want to play the game. There was a lot of po-faced boo-hooing about never wanting to be successful in the first place and that they’d all rather work in a sewer or in Toys R Us, and yet all this can’t take away from the record itself. Produced by Sonic Boom, Congratulations is a brilliantly odd collection of songs that meander joyfully, taking in odd homages to Brian Eno and the Television Personalities’ Dan Treacy along the way. There’s much to enjoy not least because no matter how hard they try they can’t help but make hummable melodies. ‘It’s Working’, ‘Flash Delirium’ and ‘Brian Eno’ all rattle along in a psychedelic daze whilst the lilting ‘Someone’s Missing’ and the closing ‘Congratulations’ are suffused with a kind of sweetly melancholic inertia. The centrepiece is the 12 minute long ‘Siberian Breaks’, which is a wonderfully pretentious as the title suggests. Bloody-minded but often brilliant, Congratulations was the ‘difficult second album’ it was more than OK to love.

Best track: ‘It’s Working’

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New Music Monday

Well, well, well, a modicum of success! Mark Ronson took his perfect quiff and his lucky troupe of singers and writes all the way to the UK No. 1 position…in the midweeks. By the time Sunday rolled around, those Irish no-marks, The Script, had managed to lure enough ladies to Tesco and they nabbed the top spot. Oh well. Ronson will have to make do with a No. 2 (LOLZ). Elsewhere, Deerhunter – somewhat unsurprisingly – didn’t feature anywhere, whilst Janelle Monae continues to be one for the critics only as she missed out too. (We’re going to see her play at the live filming of Jools Holland tomorrow. Like, OH. MY. GOSH.). Anyways, let’s focus on the matter in hand shall we?

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I Am Not A Human Being by Lil Wayne

Blimey. In a week that sees two men who you’d rather not listen to in their respective bands going solo (we’re looking at you Fran Healy and Carl Barat), this is a pretty dull week. But, you can’t rule out some excitement when Weezy’s around, only, he isn’t really around, him being in prison and all. Recorded before he entered the slammer, this is an EP that’s actually an album and it’s rather good. With three Drake collaborations and a track called Gonorrhea, it’s difficult to see what more you’d want from an album.

OH, AND THIS IS OUT TOO

Zeus EP by British Sea Power

Now, this is an EP. We’ve not heard it of course, but we used to really like this band so we’re assuming it’s passable at the very least. If it’s shit, well, “soz”.

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‘Joombi’ by Wiley

British MC, Wiley, is proper batshit. First, he uploads his entire hard drive onto the internet (not porn, but all the music stuff he’d ever done) and then he starts a Ustream channel thats’s just him hanging about in his flat or going for a run in the park (the laptop was left outside on the ground whilst he just went off for a jog). After the brushes with commercial success – ‘Wearing My Rolex’, ‘Cash In My Pocket’ – he’s back with the barmy ‘Joombi’, a strange melange of vocal samples, phat synths and tinny beats.

New Music Monday

Wow, so last week all three of our choices crashed into the Top 3, making it our most successful week, EVER! Only, this didn’t happen. We’re being sarcastic. No, absolutely bugger all happened last week, with all three of our choices missing the Top 100 (hell, they could have missed the Top 250 for all we know). Granted, the picks were hardly likely to set the world alight, but still, we don’t like being ignored. Let’s see if these bad boys fare any better…

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Record Collection by Mark Ronson & The Business Intl.

There’s so much to dislike about Mark Ronson. The quiff, the suits, the smug grin, the model girlfriends, the sense of superiority. But, you know what, the guy knows what he’s doing and when he’s on form, he’s a brilliant producer. So, the follow-up to the ubiquitous covers album, Versions, features a host of guest talent, from rappers Theophilus London, Wiley and Ghostface Killah to crooners such as Rose Elinor Dougall, Boy George and Simon Le Bon, not to mention songs written by the likes of Cathy Dennis, one of Mystery Jets and the singer from The Drums. Sure, some of it is dated (there’s a painful D’Angelo song that could have been so much better), but most of Record Collection is stylish pop at its best.

BUY THIS TOO. BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT.

Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s fourth album follows lead singer Brandon Cox’s excellent Atlas Sound solo project and its the spectre of that album that hangs over Halcyon Digest. Each song comes with a strange fragility, as if it’s all about to unravel and yet it’s also their most confident set of songs. Tracks like Helicopter, Earthquake and the closing He Would Have Laughed (dedicated to the late Jay Reatard), are amongst the most beautiful things they’ve done. It’s not immediate, but it’s worth all the effort, trust us.

Also worth mentioning this week are Salem‘s King Night and Everything In Between by No Age.

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‘Cold War’ by Janelle Monae

We recently went to see Janelle Monae play a ‘gig’ and during her set she did the moonwalk. Now, there’s a very short list of things a pop star need do in order to elevate his or herself into the upper echelons of our respect-o-meter, and doing the moonwalk ranks pretty highly. Needless to say, she could have pulled her trousers down and shat on the stage and we would have walked away still proclaiming her a bit of a genius. This amazing song only confirms it even more.

Don’t cry Janelle

Well, we’ve all had a bit of time to digest the Janelle Monae album and, yes, it’s still amazing. She’s playing in the UK this September so if you live in the UK (or any of the countries surrounding it) we suggest you buy a ticket NOW. You won’t regret it one bit.

Below is a brand new video for the excellent ‘Cold War’. It’s the album’s most straight-forward moment and from listening to it and knowing a bit about Monae and her general image, you’d expect a big, dramatic production. Instead, she’s created a very understated video of her lip-synching to the song, possibly naked and getting a bit emotional. During the line “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me” she stops, laughs it off and then bursts into tears, which, we’re not gonna lie, made us well up a bit too. LAME.

Click on her face below to watch it.

It joins the pantheon of music videos that include close-ups and leaking eyes. These are the other forerunners.

Sinead O’Connor ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’

Bjork‘Hidden Place’

New Music, er, Tuesday

So, for the first time ever in Musick/3mins30secs history, we missed an edition of New Music Monday. Forgive us. What happened, yeah, was that we went to a festival, slept for about ten hours in total and then promptly fell asleep yesterday at 3pm and woke up at 8:30pm so hungry it hurt. Basically, we let you down. As did you though, let’s be honest. Janelle Monae was NOWHERE in the charts, which is basically a crime. So, you guys are now criminals, how do you feel about that? Elsewhere, M.I.A entered just outside the top 20, which, given the hype and all that press is mildly disappointing, whilst Mark Ronson crashed in at no. 6, which is actually pretty respectable. Well done Mark Ronson. Here are some more suggestions for you all to ignore.

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Crooks & Lovers by Mount Kimbie

We went to see The xx the other day and this faceless duo were supporting them. Now, we love a good chorus as much as the next blog, but sometimes there’s something about fractured, minimal dance music that makes us go a bit weak at the knees. Crooks & Lovers is chock full of tiny beats, crystalline synth lines and odd flutters. It’s basically the perfect starter for a main course of The xx is what we’re saying.

DO NOT BUY THIS

United Nations of Sound by RPA & The United Nations of Sound

Seriously, this is one of the worst albums of all time. It’s overblown, pretentious, cynical, cloying, trying, ridiculous and, worst of all, criminally dull. We reviewed it for The Guardian and gave it 1 star. This was the response from a fan, who, like Richard Ashcroft himself, has a strange ability to tread the line between serious and satire:

Thank God for Richard Ashcroft and his great musical gifts in this world –

at a time when we really do need to wake up from our old world-mind ways and start acknowledging a presence of truly gifted authenticity.

Some cliques just fit – ‘It takes one to know one’. How else can we begin to recognise anything?
Unfortunately, career media critics are never paid to be perceptually accurate (even if they were willing and/or able).

Mr. Ashcroft’s global chart topping talent and longevity is what REALLY speaks the TRUTH here – he’s an awakening, clearly conscious human being and enlightening musical artist of immense creativity, heart and integrity.

And no, an enlightened state of being is not meaning delusions of messianic ego.
I’m not referring to old religious dogmas or any other matrix induced and conditioned habitual unconscious misperceptions, limiting beliefs, philosophies or psychologies ~:)

But hey, ponder a moment how christed conscious awareness in general gets historically perceived by the deluded masses around here.
If only mass ‘balance’ of perception wasn’t so, well, ‘off’ as a baseline reality…

Old classic story really – the unenlightened judging those wayshowers clearly leading their time – ho hum. Can’t we all get tired of that already and move on?

RPA is always relevant and talented beyond any common belief – his
newest music endeavour w UNofS is creatively fresh and alive in melody and momentum – apparently to a fault, if you read the stock level reviews on his newest RPA & UNoS album.

I invite you all to begin clearing out the old and welcome anew – stepping out of the cookie-cutter matrix has always been the hallmark of creative perceptivity and courage. Take a chance. Quit your day job – it sounds awful anyway.

Try the rarified air of a more universally perceptive truth – it’s clearly revitalising.
And you just might enjoy the new view (and be able to write a new true review).

Doesn’t that music sound great to your ears?

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‘Tomboy’ by Panda Bear

We saw Animal Collective‘s Panda Bear a few months ago and he may well have played this song, but to be honest it was all such a bore blur, that we can’t remember. Anyways, this studio recording of the first single from his forthcoming second album is very lovely indeed, all distorted guitar riffs, spacey vocals and, whisper it, a melody! We certainly didn’t hear one of those a few months back.

New Music Monday

People, people, PEOPLE! Is it something we’ve done? Do we just put you off things? Like, “oh, well, if 3mins30secs are saying it’s good then maybe we should show them by not buying it. Yeah, fuck them! We’ll bring them down”, etc, etc. We only ask because the new Mystery Jets album entered at no. 42, whilst that Kelis single entered one place higher than the new Lee Ryan single (!) at no. 32. To recap, a hugely underrated band who can seemingly knock a hit single out in their sleep miss the bit of the chart anyone cares about, whilst a bonafide club banger enters one place higher than a man who claimed whales being hunted was somehow more of a pressing urgency than global terrorism. If we were school teachers we’d be calling you all in for a detention, making you write lines and filling your heads with religious doctrines. Yeah, it’s that bad! By the way, Big Boi missed out too but, frankly, we’re passed caring now. Roll out this week’s victims…

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The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe

We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. Ladies and gentleman, members of the jury, please welcome the future…Janelle Monáe! We did a bit of writing on this album, emailed it to The Guardian and they only went and put it in their printed pages thingy and on the interweb super highway. This is a link. It’s as if it says everything we wanted to say about the album in a neatly packaged 150 word review. Needless to say, The ArchAndroid is aceness.

BUY THIS TOO (FOR THE PEOPLE, YEAH)

/\/\/\Y/\ by M.I.A

OK, so she’s not everyone’s cup of tea and a lot of the time her political polemic seems to stem from a desire to cause controversy as opposed to a genuine desire to spread a specific message, but as an artist she’s never less than really very interesting. The difficult to spell /\/\/\Y/\ is her third album and first since she got properly famous (Grammy awards, Oscar nominations, etc), so what does she do? She makes an album based mainly on the sound of drills, weird internet connection noises and Suicide samples. Thankfully, amongst all that racket, there are some genuinely excellent songs, including the lovely ‘Tell Me Why’ (produced by Diplo), the dreamy ‘Space’ and the frazzled, ‘Teqkilla’. Well worth a listen, as ever.

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‘Bang Bang Bang’ by Mark Ronson & The Business Intl feat. Q-Tip and MNDR

Well, who’d have thunk it? Mark Ronson has only gone and made a very very good pop single and there’s not a horn in sight. ‘Bang Bang Bang’ is a blast of synths, all tumbling about all over each other, whilst newcomer MNDR adds some sultry vocals and the permanently chillaxed Q-Tip adds some stylish rap-talk. Perfect.

Pointless post about a pointless poll

We love a good list, don’t you? They’re pointless of course, but they’re fun to read and it gets everyone slightly animated. For example:

My favourite films of all time:

1). Weekend At Bernie’s

2). Teen Wolf Too

3). Show Girls

Now, no one can deny that those three films are stone cold classics, but not everyone would put them in that order, which would then start a massive discussion about whether, in fact, due to Elizabeth Berkley’s barnstorming performance, Show Girls should really be at no. 1. Lists are contentious and divisive and this is a good thing.

With that in mind, here is a list compiled by an American radio syndication company, called NPR, of the Top 50 best albums of 2010 so far. Voted for by the people, it puts Gorillaz Plastic Beach album at no. 1, with American bores The National in the runners up spot. Here’s the rest of the top ten, with our expert, one-word review next to each one:

  1. Gorillaz:  Plastic Beach – “SPRAWLING”
  2. The National:  High Violet – “BORING”
  3. The Black Keys:  Brothers – “BLUESY”
  4. Broken Bells:  Broken Bells – “SNOOZY”
  5. LCD Soundsystem:  This Is Happening – “ACE”
  6. Vampire Weekend:  Contra – “PO-FACE”
  7. Beach House:  Teen Dream – “DREAMY”
  8. Mumford and Sons:  Sigh No More – “SHIT”
  9. Spoon:  Transference “COLLEGE”
  10. Sleigh Bells:  Treats – “NOISY”

Seriously, America, come on. Mumford & Sons at no. 8!? We’re not confused because this came out here last year, but just that an album of lightweight folk pastiches aimed at people who shop in Burtons does not a good album make. We would also like to draw your attention to some glaring omissions from your top 10 people of NPR: Flying Lotus at no. 14; Joanna Newsom at 22; Janelle Monáe at 24; Charlotte Gainsbourg at 35 and Laura Marling at 48.

Still, arguing with these results is like railing at the weather; pointless, frustrating and ultimately just ends with you getting pissed on…er…

This was fun, wasn’t it? Pointless of course, but fun.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a new Best Coast track:

New Music Monday

Last week wasn’t a good example of what we at 3mins30secs stand for. We were jaded, tired and we took you for granted, so please accept our sincerest apologies. Basically, we’ve had a Mary Portas-style look at ourselves and decided to tighten up, look at what’s happening in the modern marketplace and sell veg boxes to the local community…oh, no, we haven’t. Erm, we’re going to finish posts properly and not just give up. Anyway, we mentioned some albums last week and one of those was the new Scissor Sisters record and that charted at no. 2, with about 50,000 sales, less than a quarter of what their last album Ta-Dah sold in its first week. Just goes to show what happens when you don’t have a big first single. Those Tesco album buyers are a pretty fickle bunch. All eyes down for this week’s selection.

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Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi

When Outkast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, it was supposed to signify the end of their working relationship. Essentially two solo albums fused together under the Outkast moniker, it felt safe to assume actual solo albums would follow. Instead, they released the flawed (but mainly amazing) Idlewild soundtrack and there’s talk of reconvening soon to record a follow-up proper. Whilst that percolates, the more hip-hop half of the duo has finally finished his debut effort, an album first started about five years ago and one that has been passed from label to label. It’s not clear why no-one wanted it; ‘Shutterbugg’ is one of the best hip-hop singles of recent years, ‘General Patton’ samples some classical piece from 1962 and is bonkers and Janelle Monáe is on it, ergo, it must be brilliant. He may not dress like a transsexual, but Big Boi is clearly not to be thought of as the straight foil to Andre 3000‘s maverick genius.

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Serotonin by Mystery Jets

We did a big thing about this album a while back so there’s no need to dissect all further. What we will say is that a). they deserve success more than most bands because they write brilliant songs and yet no-one seems to care and b). it’s an actual grower and not just an album that screams “NOW” and then disappears down the back of your stereo speakers. Plus, ‘Lady Grey’ makes us dance AND cry at the same time, which is one of favourite past times.

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4th of July (Fireworks) by Kelis

Right, now, we all know what went wrong last time don’t we? ‘Acapella’ was a big hit, and rightly so, but then no-one went out to buy the parent album, Flesh Tone. So, Kelis has played her part and selected another all out pop banger and she’s relying on you to make this a success and, in turn, the album. If this doesn’t happen we will continue to live in a world where Ke$ha and Pixie Lott are considered actual pop stars. Do you want that on your conscience? If you do, we can’t help you, if you don’t, get buying. We’ll reconvene here next week to see how well you did.

Monáe’s too tight to mention

Over the past month, we’ve been raving to anyone who’ll listen about the debut album by Janelle Monáe. For the uninitiated, Monáe is like a more masculine Andre 3000, with more than a dash of James Brown and her album, The ArchAndroid, is already in the running for debut of the year. Over eighteen tracks it manages to mix rock, hip-hop, R&B, English folk, Peruvian jazz, right-wing Christian flamenco and Swedish death metal. It’s basically amazing.

For reasons we’re still trying to fathom out (and it may have something to do with the fact she’s signed to P Diddy’s Bad Boy label), the album hasn’t done massive things in America. Thankfully, this didn’t stop the producers of the BET awards from booking Monáe for a Prince tribute they were organising to honour him getting some big award. Below is Monáe’s breathless, hyperactive version of the classic ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. Please note Prince’s expression throughout:

This is one of her own songs, ‘Tightrope’, performed live on Letterman:

Monáe’s too tight to mention

We did a thing on Janelle Monáe ages ago after she released her first mini-album, Metropolis: The Chase Suite. Well, now she’s back with the first single from her forthcoming album, The ArchAndroid. ‘Tightrope’ is a funky, James Brown inspired workout, featuring Outkast‘s Big Boi.

Nice.