Big Boi – Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors
From his years spent in OutKast to his rather nascent solo career, Big Boi has always been an adventurous artist, dressing his clever quips and winking innuendos in everything from futuristic funk to country to opera. More importantly, he and his collaborators made it look easy: The experiments were never forced and his music bristled with vitality and ingenuity. The issue with Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, Big Boi’s second solo record (third if you count Speakerboxxx, which some do), is that his omnivorous taste finally gets the best of him, resulting in a messy, disjointed record, where awkward tonal and stylistic shifts are the norm rather than the exception. While he ordinarily joins up with musicians on the hip-hop and R&B sides of the divide, he takes a risk here, employing indie artists like the good-vibes punk outfit Wavves and the dreamy, largely electronic duo Phantogram (who show up on three tracks) instead. By itself, this is fine. Rappers, including Big Boi, have successfully incorporated these styles into their music in the past. (One of the great things about hip-hop is how malleable and receptive it is to other styles.) The difference is that here, he often tries to shove each band’s aesthetic into his own, rather than find a compromise. Phantogram’s cooing hooks on “Objectum Sexuality” and “Lines” feel out-of-sync with the verses (though the stylish “CPU” fares better), and when Wavves show up on “Shoes For Running,” Nathan Williams’ snotty vocals end up detracting from the track’s gravitas. Fortunately, his third collaborator, Little Dragon, with their electro-R&B inclinations, is a far more natural partner: The languid “Thom Pettie” and the narcotic closer “Descending” are two of the record’s highlights, feeling cohesive and inventive in the way the other tracks aren’t. But, guest spots aside, the major problem with Vicious Lies is that the songs simply aren’t that good. Sure, we have the smooth, triumphant “The Thickets,” the boastful “In The A” and the simple groove of “Mama Told Me” (tellingly co-written by Little Dragon), but even these lack the replayability of past Big Boi greats. There’s no club banger on the level of “Shutterbugg,” no song with the giddy energy of “Daddy Fat Sax,” no instant pop high like “The Way You Move.” The saving grace, as usual, is Big Boi himself, whose dexterous, rat-a-tat raps; goofy, ladies-man persona and wounded sincerity help elevate the album to something above its collected parts. Yet, as it stands, it’s not so much the songs on Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors miss the mark, it’s that they hit their target and hardly leave a dent.
Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Genre-bending soul freak Janelle Monáe’s debut EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), only suggested her potential, but on her first full-length, the ambitious, sprawling The ArchAndroid, she demonstrates the extent of her powers. As the subtitle “Suites II And III” on the cover suggests, this album indeed continues her futuristic liberate-the-oppressed allegory that she began on Metropolis. Yet like many great concept albums, following along with the story, which in this case regards Monáe’s 28th-century robot clone, isn’t necessary. Rather, it adds to the richness and depth of the album. Musically, Monáe is just as ambitious, and there is much to savor. Her command of the several styles she explores here is as stunning as it is effortless. She turns it up for the funky “Tightrope,” cools it down for the spacy soul of “Sir Greendown” and the Funkadelic-inspired “Mushrooms & Roses,” and has fun with the warped pop of “Wondaland.” The fact that all of these songs seem like logical extensions of each other rather than forced eclecticism is all the more impressive. The only real exception is the of Montreal collaboration, “Make The Bus,” which doesn’t quite fit in with the rest here. The ArchAndroid‘s wild ambitions, both lyrically and musically, can initially make the album seem daunting, but its accessibility and cohesiveness fight against this tendency. Rewarding more and more upon each listen, this is one of the best albums of the year.