ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae, 2010 (Part II)

I have trouble knowing exactly how to understand the two Suites found on The ArchAndroid.  What really throws me off is that the first Suite (Monae’s album The Chase) and presumably her fouth/last Suite are albums to themselves.  Why has she put the middle two on one epic album?  Are they incomplete without each other, or was it simply practical?

Although the two Suites are distinct from one another separated by their overtures, the album is listened to in its entirety.  Never have I thought to myself, ‘well, I think I’ll just listen to the third suite of The ArchAndroid now’.  The album is divided, but it’s still one album: If Monae really wanted separate listening experiences, she would have turned it into a double disc at least.

And so here we are where I left off: The third Suite’s overture chiming in, interestingly enough not only foreshadowing the melodies to come, but also picking up on themes provided primarily by the final song of Suite II, “Mushrooms and Roses”, further evidence that there is something more substantial linking these particular two Suites.

“Neon Valley Street” moves directly out of the Suite III Overture with a much smoother transition then that of Suite II.  It feels almost like a song meant to give you a bit of time to remember where and when you are in the performance, and settle into your seat for the second act.  “May the song reach your heart” beckons the listener back into the story, and by the time Janelle’s robotic rap starts up I am hooked again.  The speaking outro could just as easily be the intro to “Make the Bus” which abruptly begins with Of Montreal’s Kevin Barns voice which is totally creepy, and works super well with the whole science-fiction vibe.

In fantastic form, Monae proves that she can indie it up, and then move into “Wondaland”, whose melody is reminiscent of the catchiest of an Earth Wind and Fire track.  I find myself humming it when I’m walking around work, or waiting for a bus on a regular basis.

The next two tracks are on the mellower side, “57821” (the number referring to Cyndi’s droid number) points to her chosen-ness.  Sir Greendown is both her lover, and biggest believer in her being a Messianic figure, and it seems that this song suggests that even her droid number somehow prophecies that Cindi will indeed be the one to save Metropolis.  Musically, the song layers harmony with Monae and Deep Cotton, and reminds me of something that Fleet Foxes would do.  (Have I mentioned that her genre diversity literally blows my mind?)  “Say You’ll Go” is haunting and beautiful, and comes across to me as a duet between Janelle and the piano.

Finally, “BaBopBye Ya” which transitions through a whole bunch of varied sections, and yet always makes me think of the James Bond movie songs that scroll during the opening/closing credits.  You know, like this:  It allows the album to end while still holding an intrigue and mystery as to what is to come with Suite IV.  I’m ready for it, Janelle Monae!

The ArchAndroid, though only the middle of a story, has a lot to say.  About love, freedom, race, and boundary crossing.  And it is definitely worth a listen.

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