Janelle Monae-Dirty Computer: Album Review

The relationship between album single and track-order is an interesting one.  A band like Weezer smacks you in the mouth right away, generally with their second single, which is a little bit slicker than their first single (“Thank God for Girls” -> “California Kids”).  Beyonce’s lemonade was ingeniously rolled out, it’s back-end burner “Formation” getting the world hyped without revealing the stories of infidelity that would dominate the front half of the master work.  The you have the classic Janet Jackson strategy: single=title track; title track=first proper album track.

Queen of future everything Janelle Monae dusts off old moods and puts them in 2050, all perfectly DJed together in a flowing, effortless manner and her single strategy was wildly good here.

First, a pair of tracks.  “Make Me Feel” is a perfect single–perfect for Monae, this album and otherwise–its vocal pops and gluey bass line turn whispers giant.  It’s f-bomb in the chorus is perfectly suitable for fast summer driving and fuck boy disregard.  Simultaneously released “Django Jane” was a bit less immediately exciting, a rap track that we would later find out is an outro.  With a monster in the 8 slot and the slightly more tame “Jane” at 6, perhaps the album is front-loaded with slow burns, then things get hype.  “Make Me Feel” could be an outlier in a righteously militant protest collection.

Then a surprise. Single number two’s floating Grimes-featuring production comes in at 7.  A queer-femme anthem with more genre ambiguity than anything else Monae’s almost ever released, this delicate track comes in at 6.  The gender of it all is intriguing, first masculine coded sonics with a vagina monologue, followed by full frontal femininity, capped off with an impossibly fluid touchstone. (Not to mention the complete outlier status of smooth single “I like That” in the 9 slot).

What does it mean to have all this smack dab in the middle?

It turns out the full picture is some combination of these moods expanded outwardly and all mixed together.  Largely, the album is fierce to start, with some brief steps backward, before a more moving second half that sums up the bitter sweet mood with a bright finale.  Opening with a heavenly vocal pillow courtesy of Brian Wilson, the album immediately plays with gender identity, before bursting at the seems for 25-odd minutes, with fist-to-the-face sexual politics skirting from buoyant Prince-pop, to big rap verses.

This is an album that queers Springsteen with “IM AMERICAN.” It sees Monae dance her ass off with a burning Thundercat baseline on “Take a Byte,” stomp the yard with thunderous Pharrell Williams drum production on “I Got the Juice,” and cry with desperation on “So Afraid.”  Never is it predictable, but yet it all works.

The “Dirty Computer” concept, as Monae describes it, is that those who are other–people of color, queer folks, women and non-binary people–are dirty computer programs that need to be cleansed by socialization.  Taking a hammer to all expectations, Monae expertly floats through different aspects of her identity without losing a beat on the best album of the year to date.

-Donovan Burtan

9/10

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Ought-Room Inside the World: ALBUM REVIEW

Perhaps the closest thing to streamlined indie rock that Constellation records has ever signed, locals Ought have occasionally raised eyebrows with the more accessible, hook-driven side of their catalog. Signifying the band’s move to Merge, Room Inside the World continues the trend of cleaning up their sound with a generally less jittery overarching feeling, but fleshes out the more tender emotions that classics like “Forgiveness” strived for—on “Desire,” vocalist Tim Darcy’s urgent mannerisms get backed up by a choir. The sense of scrappy youth has faded a bit, but their potency still comes from the emotional energy that’s always served as a backdrop to more anxiety driven jams.

7/10

Ty Segall-Freedom’s Goblin: ALBUM REVIEW

Ty Segall’s a figure worth following that never truly disappoints.  His projects are all consistent in sound and it’s more a matter if he gets the exact shading right for one’s individual tastes than a question of whether or not he’s delivered a fully-fledged collection of tunes.  Not to mention the fact that if an album doesn’t sit right, you probably only got to wait about 10 months for the next one.  Freedom’s Goblin is a big endeavor that sees Segall nail down some psyched out grooves as well as some sweet ballads—always landing in an endearing place.

“Fanny Dog” is bluntly dedicated to Segall’s dog: “FANNY KNOWS WHAT HER NAME IS.”  Sharp melodic writing and the usually biting guitar solo round out the perfect opener.  “My Lady’s On Fire” sees Segall’s first real tender moment, an acoustic guitar proving nimble beneath esoteric, but sweetly sung lyrics.

The backside feels like one long left turn, tossing fiery vocals courtesy of Segall’s wife, a konky saxophone, and warring guitars into one Black Sabbath-induced stew until closer “And, Goodnight” zones out for 12+ minutes.

Freedom’s Goblin feels good.  It fills out 19 tracks and well over an hour without ever feeling stale.  It’s not going to knock the socks of anyone still not awed by Segall’s aura, but it does right by Segall and his fans.  Proving along the way that prolific obsession is in fact the right route for some.

7.5/10

On the Monthly: January 2018

Lol actually successfully reviewed a lot of stuff this month, enjoy my favorite albums, not really in order although Pop 2 is a masterpiece

Charli XCX-Pop 2

“Pop 2 is a new world that’s not entirely comfortable for all of us but Charli XCX charges up her batteries with ease and sets her sights on the tron-like neon violence of the future.”

Porches-The House

The singles for the latest from Aaron Maine see two sides of the singer-songwriter. “Find Me” is Maine the detached partier, accompanied by rattling horns and driving rhythm, whereas “Country” is a confessional croon, the climax articulated by flourishing vocal layering.  The album leans a bit towards the later, oftentimes showcasing autotuned vocal wandering over sparse territory, but Maine finds ways to sneak uplifting dance-isms into the overarching gloom.  “Goodbye” offers the full scope as a mournful departure finds enlightenment with a soaring chorus and bright beat.  It’s a more patient listen than “Pool,” but Maine’s comforting intimacy again shines.

Cupcakke-Ephorize

“Cupcakke may have difficulty fitting into the FCC regulations for radio play, but her music is wide-reaching—perfectly tuned to tell young folks everywhere that their desires are valid.”

Tune-Yards: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life

“I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life also sees a little bit of an evolution to sharper and tighter sensibilities, but Merrill Garbus and her collaborator Nate Brenner remain in their relentlessly unique niche, any extra fans coming as a result of sheer will.”

Profligate-Somewhere Else

“Who’s counting but a singular work spanning noise, spoken-word, post-punk-rock, electronic feels so right on Wharf Cat Records and so fresh in the year of our lord 2018.”

Porches-The House: ALBUM REVIEW

The singles for the latest from Aaron Maine see two sides of the singer-songwriter. “Find Me” is Maine the detached partier, accompanied by rattling horns and driving rhythm, whereas “Country” is a confessional croon, the climax articulated by flourishing vocal layering.  The album leans a bit towards the later, oftentimes showcasing autotuned vocal wandering over sparse territory, but Maine finds ways to sneak uplifting dance-isms into the overarching gloom.  “Goodbye” offers the full scope as a mournful departure finds enlightenment with a soaring chorus and bright beat.  It’s a more patient listen than “Pool,” but Maine’s comforting intimacy again shines.

8/10

Profligate: Somewhere Else: ALBUM REVIEW

Riding a wave of arpeggiated synths, minimal drum machines, and dance-able bass lines, Noah Anthony’s Profligate conjures a seething aura on Somewhere Else.  A mainstay of the DIY electronic community, Anthony steps into somewhat of a new realm here.  The ominous landscape that sets in with distant percussion and oscillating keyboards on the title track finds a mood not unlike 2014’s Finding the Floor, but the rhythmic drive is left up to swells of the instruments and noise at his disposal rather than a consistent techno sensibility.

After Somewhere Else sputters out, A Circle of opens with screaming shots of noise, eventually jolting itself into a post-punk feeling groove highlighted by eerie high vocals from Anthony’s new collaborator Elaine Kahn.  Enlist exhilarates with a punchy bass line and another spike in energy as a massively distorted melody draws viciously outside the lines.  The project is remarkable in its unity, always seeming to pick up where the last track left off and over the first three tracks, the album evolves from a muttering wind to a barreling freight-train.

Elsewhere, the rhythmic momentum stalls and Kahn’s lyrical side adds complementary poetic imagery to the anxious darkness of the sonic pallet.  After the haunting melodic line on Lose a Little dissipates, she takes over the droney landscape, speaking about “the water’s grey narcotic web” and how “to live is to disorganize.”  Anthony’s vocals tend to remain contained and monotone and Kahn’s ability to both match that and add instances of heightened energy elsewhere helps flesh out the swells of activity.

Between the loosened rhythmic feel and the edition of Kahn, Profligate has reached a new zone.  There’s room to grow from here, but Somewhere Else is a masterful amalgamation of DIY experiments.  Who’s counting but a singular work spanning noise, spoken-word, post-punk-rock, electronic feels so right on Wharf Cat Records and so fresh in the year of our lord 2018.

8/10

Bibio-Phantom Brickworks ALBUM REVIEW

Adding to a long, eclectic discography, Phantom Brickworks sees the English electronic musician’s acoustic side ruminating in ambient space. Although Bibio describes the work as a collection of improvisations, there’s an effortless flow between the tracks, particularly in the first six, where he alternates between hollow, somber energy and more uplifting piano flourishes, culminating in the stunning moment of clarity in “Phantom Brickworks III” where loud pillars of piano descend in shimmering glory. Perhaps this could be seen as a return to his pastoral explorations, but these productions are more muted and meditative with an amplified sense of vulnerability — a hauntingly beautiful collection.