Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (Bad Boy/Atlantic) –
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
The danger in actress/vocalist Janelle Monáe dropping her Bowie-like sci-fi persona is that her earthbound identity might be less innovative. But in these 14 tracks, Monáe proves doubters wrong by offering sexually and politically charged tracks that are among the finest in R&B today, while going much deeper than her previous work.
Okkervil River, In the Rainbow Rain (ATO) –
Okkervil River, In the Rainbow Rain
On Okkervil River’s latest album, Austin’s Will Sheff polishes these 10 tracks to a Hall & Oates or mid-period Motown finish. The result may not be as complex and majestic as previous albums Away
or The Silver Gymnasium
, but the tunes are perfect summer ballads — and since Sheff is the lyricist, they cover odd topics like celebrity tracheotomies.
Kimbra, Primal Heart (Warner Brothers) –
Kiwi dance-pop queen Kimbra has been promising for months to release her inner Maori, raising fears of cultural appropriation or clumsy missteps. Instead, tracks like “The Good War” and “Like They Do On TV” enhance her traditional dance styles with Eno-esque polyrhythms. The result may not be a huge leap in creativity, but it expands her capabilities nicely.