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Continuing our look at some of 2013′s most notable R&B/soul releases, next up is the new LP from Dungeon Family songstress, Janelle Monae, which sits among the best of the year. Like recent releases from The Foreign Exchange and John Legend beside it, Monae’s sophomore effort, Electric Lady, carves its own path, rather than subscribing to industry-created formulas for “success”.


Continuing a narrative started on her debut EP, Metropolis: Suite One: The Chase, and followed by her stellar full-length debut, The ArchAndroid, Electric Lady continues the tale of her robotic alter-ego, in some sort of alternate universe 1970′s, where androids are a downtrodden, persecuted minority. Narrated by fictional DJ Crash Crash (played by real life personality Chuck Lightning), the story of Electric Lady follows Cindy Mayweather, as played by Janelle, who is on the run for being an illegal android.


Metaphorically, Janelle’s narrative mirrors the Civil Rights movement of the 1960′s or the gay rights movements of today, as her archandroid alias is representative of any group that faces adversity from mainstream America. The narrative doesn’t quite extend into the music itself, but does a great job of sewing it all together.


While not as airtight as her full length debut, Electric Lady is still a very impressive follow-up to ArchAndroid. She gets right to it by kicking the album off with an eyebrow raising pair of collaborations with the rock-tinged “Give Em What They Love” with Prince, and funky Erkyah Badu collab, “Q.U.E.E.N.” You think your guest list is hot because it has the entire G.O.O.D. Music / Young Money / MMG roster? Janelle’s sharing studio space with legends.


What follows is another set of high-profile collaborations, on “Electric Lady” with Solange, and “Primetime” with Miguel. While these tracks boast big names in the current R&B world, truthfully Janelle takes center stage on both tracks, as the guests kind of melt into the background of the LP. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.


So after these attention-grabbing appearances set the album up, Janelle does a fine job carrying the rest of the album herself. Rather than going full Cee-Lo Green retro for the entire LP, she bobs and weaves with many different styles and sounds. The catchy “Dance Apocalyptic” is a fun sock-hop of a jam, while tracks like the sultry “Look Into My Eyes” and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” employ cinematic, samba-bossa nova vibes. This is hardly fashionable in this day and age, but highly likeable.


And thats what set Janelle Monae apart from all of her contemporaries. She’s producing smart, well written, musically rich soundscapes here, and piecing it together with a multi-level narrative that extends to her past and future works. True, she set the bar unbelievably high on her full-length debut, The ArchAndroid, but Electric Lady serves as a worthy follow-up. It will be interesting to see how she closes out the seven part narrative on her next project.

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