Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III)

Janelle Monáe is one fascinating character. This genre-busting singer is just waiting to unleash herself on a largely unsuspecting world this year, with the next instalment of her sci-fi hip-hopera. You may already have guessed at this point, but singer is a rather limiting description for Janelle Monáe, who also writes and produces all of her music. Best of all though, she has fabricated a complex and at times bewildering science fiction back story concept for her releases to date. On Monáe's 2007 debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) she introduced us to her android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, and a tale of forbidden love, and high adventure.

Now with the release of The Archandroid (Suites II & III) we are finally being treated to the next chapters of this story. It is near impossible to pigeon hole The ArchAndroid, as Monáe flits constantly from RnB to pop to soul to hip-hop to indie pop, unwilling to be tied to just one style. What it all has in common though is that it is very, very good. This is after all an experimental high-concept album which manages to remain light and listenable at all times, and that is a rare feat indeed.

High Points

Honestly there are just no weak links in this album. The guest spots from Saul Williams, Big Boi and Of Montreal were what stood out for me on first listen though. 'Dance or Die' featuring hip-hop poet Saul Williams really gets the album jumping after the cinematic 'Suite II Overture'. Janelle is in rap mode, demonstrating a flow that all but matches her singing voice in quality, over a bouncy track with a wandering bassline and funky trumpet samples.

And Monáe is still rapping on 'Tightrope', the first single from The ArchAndroid, this time ably accompanied by one half of Outkast Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton, and vocally she sounds even more accomplished here. 'Make the Bus' is a departure though, featuring fey indie favourites Of Montreal, this comes across like Ziggy Stardust and Donna Summer drunkenly performing a Scissor Sisters track on kareoke.

'Cold War' is a great example of what this girl can do on her own though. Starting out as a fairly up-tempo RnB track showcasing the power and precision of Monáe's vocals, it soon breaks down to just a beat and guitar and almost (I said almost) turns in to a straight-up rock tune. And, just to prove a point I think, 'Oh Maker' is included, as a dreamy indie pop nugget, reminiscent of Of Montreal.

The Verdict

I can't really emphasise enough how good this album is, it oozes quality from every beautifully produced pore. Even the album artwork is a thing of beauty, looking like a ageless piece of musicalia (a word, I fear, I may have just made up). Without doubt this will not be the last we hear of Janelle Monáe; in the near future she has plans to adapt this album for Broadway, and create a graphic novel based on the concept, and she has committed to record a video for every track, and then when she's through with all that, I think, we still have Suite IV to look forward to.

Final Score: 93%

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