Monday, December 13, 2010

The Really Long Nerdy Post about Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae is awesome. I've been obsessed with her and the world she's created for months now. Which actually means I'm very very late. I decided to write this blog post for those who may, by some chance, be later than me.

Monae's debut full-length record The ArchAndroid came out in May. But that's not the place to start trying to figure her out. In 2007 she released an EP called Metropolis, it's on this release that the story begins. The story is that of an android named Cindi Mayweather who falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. Cindi is then marked for disassembly and left to wonder the streets of the 'Neon Valley Street District' to hide from bounty hunters.

It's a quirky concept but it's easy to get lost in. If you need convincing watch the short film/video for "Many Moons" off of Metropolis, in which many of the recurring characters mentioned throughout Monae's work are introduced.

So what follows Metropolis is 2010's The ArchAndroid. There's too much to say and I can't think of a not-complicated way to say it so, I'll literally let wikipedia fill you in:

The ArchAndroid is the follow-up to Janelle Monáe's debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007) and consists of the second and third parts to her Metropolis concept series. Partly inspired by the 1927 film of the same name, the series involves the fictional tale of Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love. In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, Monáe said that she was inspired by the quote "The mediator between the hand and the mind is always the heart". discussed her incorporation of the android as a metaphor for a minority and the role of the story's protagonist in an interview for Blues & Soul, stating "she represents the MEDIATOR between the have’s and the have not’s, the minority and the majority. So in that way she’s very similar to Neo, the Archangel from The Matrix'. And basically her return will mean freedom for the android community".

If you're caught up on this being a conceptual series about a freaking robot and thinking you won't be able to relate to the material you're probably wrong. I for one cannot make it through "Cold War" without feeling an overwhelming sadness when she sings "I'm trying to find my peace, I was made to believe there's something wrong with me and it hurts my heart. Lord have mercy, ain't it plain to see this is a cold war?". It really doesn't help that she breaks down in the video, despite her efforts to compose herself.

My friends are probably tired of me quoting "Locked Inside". This song is heavily filled with the ideas and concepts of the world Janelle and her team created but they're universal at the same time, depressingly so. Parts of the track sound like domestic abuse of some sort ("...he hates to talk but loves to fight") then it jumps right into genocide ("the color black means it's time to die"). It's all about interpretation.

Mostly The ArchAndroid is just FUN! It's one of the more interesting releases of 2010. It's a big project and it produces a big sound that Janelle handles well. She has amazing range and is very flexible vocally. I don't think anyone ever expects what they hear from her on "Come Alive" where she screams and delivers piercing, scratchy vocals. Then there's "Make The Bus" with Of Montreal, great song, even though as far as I can tell it makes no sense. It's completely out of control.

The ArchAndroid was a great departure from the emotional ups and downs of indie music I fill my brain with everyday. I've listened to about 60 of this year's releases and basically this record became my chaser after I overdosed on the heartbreak of it all.

I highly recommend this record. I'll post my favorite records of the year later this month along with a little rundown of my favorite...everything else of the year. But let's start here. Seriously, give this one a listen.

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