First and foremost, an album must be cohesive.
The worst feel more like random collections of songs, and the worst of the worst sound more like random collections of the same exact song recorded multiple times over. This might be cohesive, but it lacks the sort of variability that makes listening experiences dynamic.
The best albums find a way to be both diverse and cohesive, with every song sounding radically new while also feeling completely connected in relationship to each other; a unified whole comprised of diverse parts.
That’s merely one of the many achievements of Janelle Monaé’s Dirty Computer. My cinephile readers may know her as Chiron’s surrogate mother in Best Picture-winner Moonlight (hot take: she deserved the movie’s Supporting Actress Oscar nomination over co-star Naomie Harris; the flashier and bigger role isn’t always the most deserving, Academy!), but she’s a true renaissance artist of the highest order, as is on display all across her latest album.
This interwoven dichotomy between cohesion and diversity runs through this masterstroke’s core. So many of its songs sound like three different tracks in one, which — along with the brilliantly-seamless transitions — makes detecting when one ends and the next begins perfectly difficult. Some last mere seconds, while others stretch into the heavens of an incessantly changing soundscape that somehow still always feels of apiece, courtesy of HOLY GODDAMNED FUCKING SHIT THE PRODUCING!!!
Most of the songs can (and probably will) work alone as bop singles, but they’re also elevated in tandem when put in proximal conversation with each other. And I haven’t even delved into the deeper meaning, social commentary, and societal relevance of this true piece of art, but I’ll leave that to others whose trained musical voices deserve to be heard more than my own.
I’ll just end with this juicy pull quote: Janelle Monaé’s Dirty Computer is my favorite solo album since Lemonade.