First Impressions: 'The ArchAndroid' Has Regally and Ambitiously Landed

Monday, May 17, 2010

Janelle Monae isn't messing around. She is steadfast and genuine with her execution of this entity called music. She's passionately intent on separating herself from other pop droids and R&B queen bees and formulating a style and persona all her own. All this evidence and more is presented here on The ArchAndroid, and the verdict is now out. Janelle Monae has achieved a higher high with her ambitious manifesto in the form of her official debut, and all she's basically waiting on is for us to catch up to her thought process.

Following up her the little musical bullet that could, 2008's Meteropolis EP: Suite I, Janelle Monae finally has released her first full length album, The ArchAndroid: Suite II and III, and it's been a long time coming since she's been sitting in limbo in Diddy's Bad Boy world. Now Janelle has been let out of her cage and we might not be ready for her, but buckle your seatbelts please, as tripping the funk fantastic with Monae is a thrill ride indeed.

Flat out, The ArchAndroid plays like an elaborate movie/musical soundtrack. No surprise, since the album's overall theme was inspired by the 1927 flick, Metropolis where each song segues into each other effortlessly and stands on it's own footing. In fact, after listening to it, the imagination runs wild with thoughts of how Monae could turn her gilded alien queen persona and future world landscape fantasies into a full-blown musical. It will happen, if the cards are played right.

The main event on ArchAndroid is definitely the genre flip-flops and musical arrangements on each track, as there are enough live instruments to keep things from being less than ordinary. There are electric guitars (the unicorn in R&B music these days)! There are funky 80's synths! There are massive orchestrated strings! Saxophones! Big band brass! Harps! The list goes on, and right from the climaxing two minute orchestral opening, you've stepped into a project like no other which explores beyond what makes soul music so universal, but also spices it up so it's not always the constant. Amid all the attention to musical arrangements and eccentric styles, Monae's powerhouse voice doesn't wander or wavers, she is brazen and holds up each song with that energetic voice she possesses.

Monae sprints ahead with "Dance Or Die" and twerks around, dipping her saddle shoes in speedy speech hip-hop, Reggae and shuffling funk this side of James Brown, all in one compacted track.

Dance Or Die

Skittish "Faster" and the finger snapping, piano cruising Stevie Wonder arrangement styling of "Locked Inside" keeps the album strutting along. Flipping the sheet music, the eerie "Oh Maker" has a melting 1960's psychedelic guitar strum feel to it, yet a harmonious R&B feel, just with a smidgen of The Beatles somewhere there.

Oh Maker

The track seeps perfectly into the familiar "Come Alive (War of the Roses)"  which still sounds the spirited younger cousin of the B-52's "Rock Lobster". The spacey and amplified, "Mushrooms & Roses" is an updated "Dear Mr. Fantasy" by Traffic, as it just oozes with oddity and curls up in a corner of fog and mystery. Things are perked up with the peppy coos of "Wondaland" and the meditative string n' horn big band mid-tempo ballad, "Neon Valley Street" is delish.

Neon Valley Street 

Ending out the album, Monae lets the eccentricity keep on churning with the psychedelic harmonizing on the Deep Cotton assisted, "57821" and the somber piano laced creep of the gorgeous "Say You'll Go". The ruthless final track, "BabopbyeYa" is an eight-minute opus, though indulgent, it blantantly reinstates that Monae is on another plane, as it's part jazz, part spy movie theme song and searing Samba...and then some. You have to hear it to believe it.

The ArchAndroid is the 'different' that some (like myself) have groused about wanting to hear in the Soul/R&B music market and it's the 'different' we've been needing. Right when you believe that Monae might go ahead and sound like her contemporaries, she gives a staunch finger and takes it a step further, turning R&B and Soul on its head, injecting the juices and styles from all genres. Brilliantly it all works. As ArchAndroid is a brave new world and a rousing wail for a change of pace, it might lose a few as it's not a straight or expectant musical affair as there is nothing but detours and twisted expressways of varying sounds that keep things from being constant. Monae does indeed keep the spirit of Soul music alive, but she changes the game plan by adding in new rules and not playing by the others. In a sum up, this album is fantastic, a breather from the norm and is the futuristic turn that 2010 needs. Janelle Monae has clearly raised the bar.

Rating: 9.8/10
Released: May 18, 2010

1 comment:

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