Firstly, music, music, music. Janelle Monae has been so hyped over the last two years I had very little time for her. Of course, she also had actual songs like ‘Many Moons’, which slightly disappointed me, as the reviews promised so much. I was also put off by her convoluted conceptualising, especially as it is all to do with robots, which seem to be everywhere in music these days, from Robyn’s Fembots to Royskopp to you name it. Monae’s album has now arrived and is again being well-reviewed and is impressive. The lead single ‘Tightrope’ is brilliant. Monae does a cool hipster female impersonation of James Brown and holds her own against an almost scene-stealing bridge rap by Big Boi. It is overlong – a trend in albums these days – but Monae is a versatile and stylish songwriter and the album is diverse and rarely flags across almost 20 songs. Highlights include – Dance or Die, Wondaland, Cold War and Faster.
Speaking of Robyn, the maverick wunderkind is back with her second album of the year – Body Talk Part Deux. The plan is to release 3 records over the year. Robyn has dressed it up in interviews as an experiment in releasing music in a way that works against the current typical processes of the Music Industry. Part 1 was patchy in my view and felt like a mix tape rather than a cohesive whole. In some ways that sort of critique is probably redundant. Robyn’s final objective appears to be an attempt at producing music in an immediate, accessible way so that fans can assemble their own pick and mix albums, which is of course what fans do anyway these days.
Part 1 of Body Talk had dancehall/electronic reggae (Dancehall Queen), Swedish folk (Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa), one of the wonderful almost parodic rap songs Robyn does so well (None of Dem) and of course the obligatory epic electro-ballad she has made her forte (Dancing on my Own).
In Part 2 the recipe is mostly the same, the epic single this time round is the electro version of ‘Hang with Me’ from part 1. Nobody does this sort of song better than Robyn at the moment. She always goes for the biggest emotion possible in a contemporary pop song. It is always exultant melancholy. But the absolute highlight has to be her ‘gangsta duet’ with Snoop Dogg. It’s brilliant and hilarious.
Arcade Fire’s new album The Suburbs has some wonderful tracks, but I do feel they are over-hyped. I have liked all their albums but have felt they were all uneven. Their pattern seems to be brilliance interspersed with filler. And Win’s lyrics in the last two albums have been, at times, sentimental and trite. But the high points are immense – my favourites are ‘We Used to Wait’ and the title track. WUTW, in particular, is a very clever, complex and subtle song.
Highlights include – The Suburbs, We Used to Wait, Sprawl (Mountains Beyond Mountains), City of Lost Children, Month of May.
Have started reading Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov as part of my bookclub, and I can already see this novels is emblematic of me! In fact, all of my friends in the bookclub are seeing themselves in Oblomov. My edition’s cover is perfect – two feet sticking out of the end of a bed.
Mostly, this has been the year of re-reading. I don’t know if others do that so much, but I have certain books I find myself returning to again and again. Re-readability is an interesting and precious quality in any book and it is very hard to define what makes a book a keeper in this way. There has to be a character you love, a narrative voice you can’t resist, a style you admire or perhaps elements of all of these.
In any case, I think ‘Oblomov’ might be the latest keeper on the block!