Electric ladies

Electric ladies

Pop music visionaries Janelle Monae and Anna Calvi create new worlds with their second albums.

R&B/Neo Soul/Experimental

The Electric Lady
Artiste: Janelle Monae
Album: Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Art Rock One Breath
Artiste: Anna Calvi
Album: Domino
Rating: 4 out of 5

When it comes to pop longevity, knowing who you are goes a long way - in short, you must have vision.

Ghanaian author/blogger Israelmore Ayivor once opined that "the poorest person is the one who has no vision.

Visionlessness is poverty in disguise".

In this department, Kansas City's Janelle Monae and Twickenham, England's Anna Calvi need not worry. They are richly blessed.

While ex-Disney princess Miley Cyrus believes twerking, tongue-wagging and getting one's kit off make astute strategic marketing, Monae and Calvi eschew such cheap stunts.

Private individuals, they let their music speak for itself.

With their second albums, they have erected worlds with their own rhymes and reasons.

It's up to you to open the door, walk in and experience.

In The Electric Lady, Monae continues to finesse the cosmology of Cindi Mayweather, her arch- android alter-ego who zips across time zones and takes out baddies.

You're surprised that nobody has thought of translating her vision for, say, a big-screen movie juggernaut, but then again, the whole thang might just be too mind-boggling.

The beauty is, her melodies are so sinewy, it doesn't matter if you don't buy into her Afro-futurist apocalyptic universe that's part-steam punk, part- 1920s jazz era and part-feminist treatise. You sing, you sway, you punch your fist in the air.

Sally Ride, her tribute to America's first woman in space, opens with water swirling and birds chirping and, yes, the sound of a sub-sonar wave before a church choral and a serpentine electric guitar come on.

Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, a love letter to the first African-American actress to get an Oscar nomination, struts with 1980s-styled R&B grooves. You half- expect Anita Baker to come lend a maternal arm, but instead, you have a rising star, jazz bassist/cellist Esperanza Spalding, who shows sisterly support.

Monae has numerous other famous pals in tow, such as Miguel, Solange, Erykah Badu and the estimable Prince, but this is clearly her show.

It's a dance apocalypse unlike any other: Blurring the lines among funk, soul, reggae, electronica, this is one Electric Lady who goes boldly where few have ventured.

Anna Calvi, too, raises the stake with One Breath. The Mercury Prize-nominated singer-guitarist adapts a matador aesthetic: Red lipstick, slicked-back hair, boleros and a stentorian voice that commands.

One Breath is a meditation on death and memory loss written after a relative died - but what you are struck by is how she rides the thin red line of supreme control and letting go.

Cry is a tightly coiled muscle of power and savage beauty. Piece By Piece falls into place like a film in reverse: Her voice whispery and brusque, counterpointed by the sharp drums and cascading synths.

Danger and hope stalk every verse, and you're willing prey.


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