I’m still making up my mind concerning Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz (for the record, his All Delighted People EP is excellent) and I’ve yet to listen to anything by Janelle Monae, but I like the way that Joel Hartse thinks (emphasis mine):
I am really no expert on aesthetics, but I’m pretty sure that [Theodor] Adorno is wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but irrelevant. I don’t know exactly what kind of popular music he was writing about — Tin Pan Alley, maybe? — but I do think that while we will always have the robotically perfect unserious pop songs of people Dr. Luke and Max Martin (they’re responsible for many of the candy-pop hits you’d hear on the radio if anybody still listened to it), we have also, this year, heard pop music that has moved to an altogether different plane than even the concrete totality of Adorno’s serious music.
I am speaking of the 2010 albums by Janelle Monae (The Archandroid) and Sufjan Stevens (The Age of Adz), both of which I have been listening to this morning, both of which are expansive, gorgeous, and confusing, and possess a spirit-penetrating totality.
Whatever it is, [Sufjan Stevens’] record — like Monae’s — is the work of an artist is committed to inhabiting the words and sounds they create. This is where I want to perhaps go too far, using words like sacrament and incarnation, but to avoid blasphemy I will just say this: there is something deeply satisfying about listening to a pop record that clearly believes in itself, in all its flailing and incomplete totality, and its source.