24 May, 2010@5:36 am
Janelle Monae’s debut EP, 2007′s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), only offered a glimpse of what to expect from the Outkast-affiliated songstress, who made her debut on the soundtrack to the duo’s Idlewild film. Nothing terribly earth-shattering, the EP introduced us to a petite, wierdo-hipster chick who believed she lived as an android in a sort of Blade-Runner-meets-Metropolis-meets-Bioshock alternate universe. Who would expect that this would be the prelude to an even greater work released on Bad Boy records (!), taking it to a completely different level, catching universal critical acclaim in the process?
The Archandroid (Suites II & III) is somewhat less conceptual than it’s predecessor, but doesn’t need to be, as it pulls you in from literally the first listen through. A completely unique approach to making millennial R&B music (and to categorize it among today’s R&B is almost an insult), Janelle employs a wide variety of live musicians to construct her spacey odyssey, almost playing out cinematically. It’s separated into acts, complete with overtures and intermissions, and constructed together like the perfect mixtape – or better yet – movie. In today’s day and age, she delivers something that is completely unlike anything else out there, in sort of a futuristic vision, culminating all of the roots of many generations of Black music. It’s almost like the offspring of Back To Black and The Love Below – but entirely original that people will look beyond categorizing her as simply a fembot Andrea She-Thousand.
The album opens with the luscious “Dance Or Die”, which combines tribal rhythms with full body horns and moody atmospherics as she gives a taste of her musical palette by sharing rapped lyrics with Saul Williams. This leads directly – in key – to “Faster”, a good-feeling, uptempo jazz-rockabilly set which amazingly continues directly into the vibey “Locked Inside” – again, in key – leaving the listener’s jaw dropped at how cohesive this thing is, at only three songs in.
She switches genres seamlessly as she belts out “Cold War” at “Bombs Over Baghdad” speeds, then goes directly into two-step territory on the catchy lead single “Tightrope” with Big Boi. From there, she travels into Violent Femme’s-esque rock vocals on “Come Alive”, and directly to a Jimmy Hendrix experience on “Mushrooms & Roses”. She further shows off her musical range on the funky “Make The Bus” with Of Montreal, channeling Prince and Funkadelic, not before trading flirtatious airy girlishness on “Wondaland” with a sultry, breathy seductress on “BaBopByeYa”, proving her an ideal candidate to sing the next 007 theme song.
Taking three years to complete, and employing a team of over fifty musicians to complete, it’s very obvious that Janelle’s official full-length was a labor of love, not some pushed out, record company product that needed the right “hit single”, guest appearances, or ghost writer to make it happen. Janelle Monae has delivered a masterpiece with The Archandroid, one that will push the boundaries for what can be expected from artists rooted in hip-hop and R&B music from this point forward (whether this idea is embraced is another story). While it may be another quarter decade before we see Janelle close out the series with Suite IV and beyond, the Archandroid has enough winding parts in it to allow it to run for years.
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