Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)

The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) finally arrived May 18, 2010. Of course as it was very much anticipated after her debut EP from just about three years earlier, Metropolis Suite I (The Chase). I was late to get to know her, as only I heard the EP for the first time sometime in 2008. “Many Moons” being the first track I heard, as it was a single and a music video made for it (linked). Definitely a song I did not mind time after time! It remains one of my favourite tracks from her!

Theme wise, the album is futuristic, science fiction, and fantasy. The ArchAndroid being a continuation of the 2007 EP, Metropolis.

Just like trying to classify The ArchAndroid in one distinct genre, that being hard, describing it feels the same. It really has to be heard.

If one genre had to be nailed down I might suggest R&B, but not in the traditional sense, be it early R&B or even contemporary R&B, so I suggest indie R&B.

Regardless, All Music calls it indie rock, neo-soul, dance-rock, and contemporary R&B. R&B is actually left off of the Wikipedia article. All Music also calls the theme as “The Creative Side”, I cannot disagree! One mood (again at All Music) listed that feels like it nails it is theatrical. The album clocks in at over 68 minutes, and is a great album to listen to tracks individually, and even better to set aside 68 plus minutes and listen cover to cover so to speak.

Janelle’s versatile voice is displayed on tracks ranging from hip hop, “Dance or Die”, to country, “Oh, Maker”, to rock, “Come Alive The War of the Roses” and to pyschedelic on “Mushroom & Roses”.

The album starts with “Suite II Overture”, and if any album can get away with an overture that is not classical in nature, this is it. From there it jumps right into the hip hop? orientated “Dance or Die”. Without any pause, the song morphs, and changes into “Faster”. “Faster” is an extremely catchy, toe tapping number. Earlier in the year I said how Jully Black’s song “Running” is a good song for runners. I say the same for “Faster”, a must on a running mix.

The album does slow down, in that there is a space between tracks, for “Suite III Overture”. Starting off the third suite is “Neon Valley Street”, a track that is as contemporary R&B as you’ll get on this album, yet still it is more of a throwback to early R&B than anything, ranging from orchestral to rock backgrounds, and if that was not enough it has a futuristic rap too.

Some song melodies, and string arrangements actually came to Janelle Monáe in her sleep, and recorded them upon waking up: “a lot of the music came to me in my dream… record what it was that I could remember”. “This song is absolutely gorgeous, I cannot panic or I’m going to forget the string arrangement I’m going to forget how my voice is supposed to sound”. As such is the case for “Neon Valley Street” (link cited at the end).

One of my favourite tracks is “Wondaland”, a futuristic dreamy romp, with beats and voice modification that will have heads nodding in definite agreement (think Homer Simpson in the episode “Homerpalooza“). Plus the song has dual meaning as she started the Wondaland Arts Society in Atlanta.

“Oh, Maker”, as mentioned above, manages to land somewhere between country and R&B.

Although it is not the final track on the album, the orchestral ending of “Say You’ll Go”, could have fit very well as such, feeling like the very ending of a movie, where the credits are about to roll, or finishing rolling, right around where one would get chills down their spine, or similar positive emotion. Similarly would be the feel for the ArchAndroid. That being the second to last track, while “BaBopByeYa” the actual final track finishing just shy of nine minutes (in three movements!) ends with the lyrics, “My freedom calls and I must go”. Until Janelle Monáe and Cindy Mayweather return with Suite IV, we have The ArchAndroid to fully appreciate. An Aural feast.

Source used: Janelle Monae: Dreaming In Science Fiction (Janelle Monáe on All Things Considered on NPR).

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