Schoolcraftwax is shifting slightly. As you know, I’ve invited Ewolf to write his own pieces here. He and I have had a multitude of exciting conversations about music. Together we’ve got most of Detroit’s music covered. That’s a bold statement to make, I know. And it’s mostly true. Our knowledge of music overlaps just the right amount. We like to talk about music, and we both like to write. Together, we hope to inspire one another to write more regularly. Our conversations are vibrant. I hope that writing in my own singular voice directly to you will be equally great.
Perhaps you can tell by the title of this post that this is about music that I try to like, but ultimately don’t.
I want to like Janelle Monáe. Her ideas are intriguing. She is the kind of feminist musician and performer that I get excited about just for her ideas! She is beautiful, stunning to look at. I like how she dances. Her facial expressions are great when she performs. She is an incredible performer. But she holds back in an odd sort of way. She seems reserved in a way that limits what she communicates in her music. Maybe she’s young still. Maybe there’s a lot more to come from her. I hope so. There’s a spark there that I appreciate. The sound of her music is too reserved. I wondered why I liked what I heard, but only to a mild degree. I didn’t freak out about her the way I freak out about the other sounds that I freak out about. When I feel something from a set of sounds, I want to know why. What is it, technically, about what is happening, sonically, that moves me? Monáe’s recordings sound compressed (thanks Ewolf for that one). It’s like all the pieces of sound, all the patterns, all the recorded tracks that are mixed together into a single song, are mushed into one, clean, pristine sonic layer. I don’t like this. It somehow removes funkiness. It bothers me so much because I like her ideas and I like her presentation of herself. I want to be moved by her music.
I do like this song. I also like some of Miguel’s songs. I have a very large place in my heart for r&b.
And she can really dance. Watch Tightrope. When the dancing’s good, I’m bound to like it. That’s why I can’t stay away from Justin Timberlake for too long. Dude can dance.
I will regretfully say this. On her first EP, she did a cover of DeBarge’s “Time Will Reveal.” It was not good. The beat was limp. It’s DeBarge! Don’t mess with that. Those cats are from Detroit.
Maybe some of you are wondering why I have not mentioned Afrofuturism in reference to Monáe. I find it interesting and important, but other people do it better. I spent so much time on exquisitely careful writing in my dissertation and now in my book; I want this blog to be easy and fun for me. Academic, careful writing can be fun, I’ll admit, but it’s not easy. Afrofuturism is a way of addressing Black peoples’ experiences with alienation on a massive, global scale and their resulting aspirations for a futuristic utopia. This idea is often formulated into cultural expressions, like music, literature, film, and other types of performance. For more on Afrofuturism, I turn your attention to Alondra Nelson. (When she was in grad school at NYU, I was an undergrad student and took some classes from her!!) Please also check out this fellow for some brilliant insights into this concept as it relates to Detroit music: Tobias Van Veen.
It’s a concept that relates beautifully to the music and ideas of the Detroit techno group, Drexciya.Tags: Afrofuturism, Alondra Nelson, Tobias Van Veen