Electric Ladies (Janelle Monae and Neko Case’s latest)
Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy
Janelle Monae’s latest gives you everything and then some. The first song is titled “Give You What You Love” and this wildly innovative soulful smorgasbording songstress knows you probably love a whole bunch of weird stuff because she does too, (her opening “overture” samples obscure b-movie sci-fi soundtracks like 1979’s The Black Hole). Lady floats the freak boat, as it were, over the horizon to a Wonderland lushly landscaped with everything, repeat, everything you could hope to hear. Post-bop jazz? Yep. Big-band era swing? Yes. Orchestral funk and smooth R&B balladry? Yes.Sensational and soulful singing – a definite. Synthesizers? Sure, but also bongos, wah-wah-heavy guitars and pianos. Strange sci-fi indulgences that wormhole-into abstruse narratives about alter-ego Androids, robotic DJs, deviant punk droids and dance-crew rebel alliances defying dystopian ruling regimes? Yes – that too and a relentless revue of awesome neo-funk jams.
Truly a stacked montage, almost a deluge. And, let’s not forget the guests – Erykah Badu, Miguel, and Prince! Break your Netflix-induced “binge-habits” because this ultra-eclectic and episodic odyssey demands re-spins to reveal its full bouquet. Something for everyone could mean only some dig all of it; but maybe this is a true test of how much of a musical omnivore you truly are…
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Confessional records can be cloying from anyone else, that is not the case with Case: a talented songwriter and striking voice many have gotten to know over a decade’s worth of records (with the New Pornographers and some solo LPs) without seemingly to actually know her, this charmingly defiant Canadian re-inventor of modern folk-rock. “Man,” a fist-pumping anthem set to a triumphantly jogging beat, is the clear stand-out, roaring with guitars and sweetened with harpsichords as our heroine picks at preconceptions over species classification. The enticingly tempestuous record’s gems include “City Swans,” equally bracing and upbeat as “Man,” but more revealing of her heavily contemplative nature (expressed in her characteristically quirky poetics) atop brooding cellos and hard-hitting snares. Tellingly, just like the vacillating title, the almost-Springsteen-ian styled cathartic-rock storm of “Swans” lingers at the end with a fleeting guitar statement that sounds like it’s just double checking everything before it fades.