Fucking awesome. That is how I would describe Ms. Monae’s music. As each of her three albums—2007’s Metropolis, 2010’s The ArchAndroid, and 2011’s The Electric Lady—is based around a science fictional story, each and every one is getting the exclusive gaze of science fiction mix tape. Up today: The ArchAndroid. Hold onto your android-loving dystopian hats.
ArchAndroid begins with an orchestral overture that places us firmly within the realm of theater or film. Thereafter it dives directly into the dance worthy “Dance or Die” and pings and pongs between musical styles for the remainder. There’s a little bit of everything in here: funk, electro pop, folk, pop, hip hop, glam rock, big-band, rock and roll, and and and. It also features the likes of Saul Williams, Of Montreal, and Deep Cotton. And of course with Monae’s ear-shaking vocals front and center.
The album continues the story begun in Metropolis. So we’ve got our heroine, the android Cindi Mayweather, who in Metropolis fell in love with a human and was sentenced to disassembly by the government. In The ArchAndroid Cindi is fighting for the freedom of the rest of the ‘droids because it turns out she is The ArchAndroid herself.
In an interview with Blues & Soul, Monae explains the concept behind the story: “I feel that, because of the way technology is so rapidly advancing—it’s becoming faster and smaller—there’ll come a time when robots will be able to learn the patterns of our emotions, and will be able to have mapped-out the human brain. So that, for example, if your long-time friend rang you, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate between her and an ANDROID calling you! And, while I am intrigued by that, I’m also concerned about how we’ll all get ON in the world! Because to me the android will represent a new ‘Other’ – just like any of us who’ve ever been considered ‘the minority’ at some time can feel like ‘The Other’! And so I’m basically asking people to think about whether we’d DISCRIMINATE against this new ‘Other’… And what makes The ArchAndroid herself very special is that 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.”
Social commentary, androids, dystopian governments, and fucking great music? Yeeeeeeeees. It has been too long since I’ve let any new music onto my playlist, but I am so glad that Monae was the woman to break down that door.
It takes intense attention to the detail of the lyrics to get that from this album, however, because above all, it is music to make you dance to make you sing along to make you feel like pressing play on the old stereo. The science fiction is all over this album, but it is subtle enough that pretty much anyone could fall in love with it. Even someone who hates science fiction.
Monae also planned well, she should tell you because fucking awesome: “I’m shooting a video for every song on the ArchAndroid so we’ll be creating a movie with a very beautiful narrative. We also have a graphic novel coming out. We’ll also try and take this show on Broadway.” (source) BUT ALAS. Besides a beautiful trailer for ArchAndroid and a video for Metropolis’ song Many Moons (both below), none of these are available on youtube (or in Germany at all, so I’d like to send another big fuck you out to Gema). If you are not in Germany (or the internet doesn’t think your computer is in Germany, nudge nudge), they you can watch Monae’s videos on her website. Sadly, I haven’t found any sign of the graphic novel. She is selling a pretty sweet “Electro Phi Beta” sweatshirt on her website thought.
Alas alas alas. Awesome music (did I mention that ArchAndroid was nominated for a Grammy?) and short science fiction films and graphic novels are all wins all the way down over here.
Though my favorite Monae songs live on her other two albums, Faster is probably my favorite ArchAndroid number. As far as I can tell, it’s Cindi’s love song to her human. But shit is getting ugly because of that love affair, so “faster and faster I should run,” she says. Wire-crossed lovers…