Janelle Monae's The Archandroid was a landmark R&B album, released in 2010 when Monae was only 24 years old and poising her to accept the baton from her predecessors. With The Electric Lady, she accepts entry into that pantheon of great soul artists, and even collaborates with several of them. Her duet with Prince, "Givin Em What They Love," is a raunchy bit of slow rolling rock 'n' roll that does the Purple One proud, with Monae giving a snarling, Karen O-like performance. She enlists Erykah Badu to collaborate on "Q.U.E.E.N.," for a jam that's both glitzy and soulful, unafraid of seeming both current and strange ("Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror? And am I weird to dance alone late at night?" Monae asks). But her duets fellow new guard members are equally thrilling, on the sassy title track with Solange, jazzy "Dorothy Dandridge Eyes" with Esperanza Spalding and showstopper "Primetime" with Miguel. The music is remarkable and unpredictable throughout, from the loungey outro to "We Were Rock N Roll" to the Flaming Lips synths and Brazilian jazz chords of "Ghetto Woman." And impressively, with all these big names, Monae remains the star, singing and rapping like the second coming of Lauryn Hill. On her own, her songs are no less striking, singing an uplifting hymn with "Victorious" and closing things out beautifully on the reggae-tinged "What An Experience." What an experience The Electric Lady is, indeed!
The Weeknd's music came to us like a cold front from Canada, gorgeous R&B melodies shrouded in lo-fi sound and cool atmosphere. After three excellent EPs (collected together in Trilogy), Abel Tesfaye has released his first big-budget album, Kiss Land, and thankfully he hasn't lost his underground cool along the way. The same creeping menace that gripped us in songs like "What You Need" is in full force on songs like "The Town," a song about rekindling an old flame after time on tour that echoes its feelings of longing with dramatic synth work. Though Tesfaye's lyrics can fall onto the lothario side, he's also got a romantic way about him, breathily cooing "this world's not for us...I can teach you to dream" he entreats on the gorgeous "Love in the Sky." Musically, he keeps things fascinating throughout. The brutality of his Portishead-inspired beat in "Belong to the World" helps send that song's disaffected love lyrics home. And though his duet with Drake is a bit of a snoozer, the upbeat, relatively carefree "Wanderlust" saves the day by easing the tension. The album's murky final tracks see Tesfaye showing off at what he does best — creating epic (and epically sad) R&B anthems, like the hip-hop equivalent to tracks from The Cure's Disintegration. Kiss Land may be a downer, but Tesfaye's catharsis makes for a beautiful listening experience.
Some good things do come out of Florida. Take Jacuzzi Boys, for instance. From their name, you might think they're a bunch of white wine sippin' sleazes, and while that may or may not be true, their self-titled album (actually their third) is weirdly sweet, garagey power-pop. There's tons of reverb and cool affectation and all that, but the star here is nervously hooky single "Double Vision." If only all garage bands were this good at writing catchy songs!
Once you get past their silly name (although I would like to see that Halloween costume), you'll find a scrappy bunch of C86 revivalists who know their way around a fuzz pedal, with delicious boy-and-girl harmonies and a little bit of screamy mayhem thrown in for good measure. If you think you might like this, trust me, you will. They've got a fucking song called "Sugarcrush" for Pete's sake!
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