#7. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

Everything from the album's kooky, science fiction concept, to Monae's respectable eclecticism and undeniable charm just rings fresh. The album, which is actually two albums put together (identified as Suite II and Suite III), is part of Monae's bizarre concept based on the black and white science fiction classic, Metropolis, where she is a messianic ArchAndroid, held down by the nature of her robotic identity. The reference appears a little random and irrelevant at first, but when Monae uses the metaphor to represent the racial struggles of African-Americans and makes musical reference to musical heroes from R&B's past, the imagery becomes profoundly effective. Following the orchestral Overture opener, Suite II begins with three quirky, upbeat R&B wonders that seamlessly blend indie pop, modern hip hop, and nostalgic R&B/soul styles to create a brilliant piece of retro afrofuturism that is at times thoughtful and engaging, but always fun and light-hearted. Monae's theatrical and artistic background shines in a way that is novel while still avoiding the conceptual trappings that would keep the album from feeling like it is trying too hard.

Whether she is referencing Music of My Mind-era Stevie Wonder in "Locked Inside" or switching between swirling indie pop and R&B choruses in "Oh, Maker", her vocal acrobatics and consistent songwriting keeps the genre-flipping feel like a natural outflow of her glowing personality. Each song explores different aspects of Monae's masterful vocal talents and studious musical knowledge that encompasses Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, old spy movie soundtracks, and her own brand of vocal quirkiness (see "Wondaland"). And then there is "Tightrope", a single so well constructed that it proves that Monae can translate her unique musical vision and voice into something instantly accessible and catchy as well. Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid is hard to define and tie down, but still manages to be fun; an instant a classic in this way and a great reminder that there is incredibly exciting music to be made if we continue to make room for unique artists like Monae to exist.

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