Posts Tagged ‘Metropolis’

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london calling.

August 6, 2010

So I’m in London again spending the weekend with Toby, and already it’s turning out to be a sociable weekend. Toby left me in bed this morning to go to work (which felt half sad, half decadent) and since then I’ve been out to meet up with my friend Sarah for the first time in ages. She texted me impromptu, said she was free, was I free, and we took it from there!  Caught up on lots of gossip and exchanged stories about our lives, a lot has changed! After that I went to Oxford Circus, where I wandered around the shops, picked up Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis I: The Chase Suite and Vivian Green’s Beautiful albums, went to Selfridges for the first time and had to resist spending £30 on a Thierry Mugler book, and decided not to go anywhere for lunch there because all the cafés were ridiculously crowded.

So as the weather was overcast but pleasant, I decided to walk through Hyde Park to Knightsbridge, where I am now writing upstairs in a very crowded, cramped Starbucks while I drink a strawberries & cream frappuccino. After this, I intend to walk to the Saatchi Gallery (I’m doing a lot of walking in an effort to keep fit and also do some sightseeing along the way!) and have a cultural afternoon wandering around there before going to meet Toby at Gloucester Road once he finishes work.  I bank on a relaxed evening tonight eating something yummy and hopefully watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which I purchased last week on a whim and fell in love with (unnecessary racist caricature Mr. Yunioshi aside). Tomorrow Toby, Claire (his housemate), Nana and I intend to go shopping round Westfield before we have Toby’s housewarming neon-themed party in the evening. Then it’s back home Sunday afternoon!

This is basically an itinerary, but I wanted to jot it all down to show how exciting London is.  I’ve been here for 3 long weekends now, and although at first in the face of ‘real London’ (I’d only ever been to Leicester Square and Oxford Street in the past), I felt lost and swamped, I’ve grown to love its sprawling commerce coupled with quiet, sedate residential areas that make Bristol look like a grimy speck in comparison to LDN’s magnitude. Sure, I haven’t explored all of London and I haven’t yet been around any of the rougher areas, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  In addition, it’s refreshing to enjoy a speedy, reliable public transport system (the Underground) which makes Bristol’s bus system look pathetic, and I love bumping into my friends and being able to socialise at a moment’s notice, which to be fair I can do in Bristol.

Two other things I’ve learned:

  • Walking around London with a full bag carrying my laptop is agony after a while!
  • My love affair for Starbucks does not apply to London. The Starbuckses here are crowded and cramped, and I was refused my free filter coffee refill here.  On this count, Bristol comes out firmly on top, because the service is nice and friendly, and the cafés are relaxing, tranquil places to go rather than a fight over seating space. Nevertheless, I’ve manoeuvred myself into a nice corner and am happily typing away on my laptop, so it’s not all bad!

Could I see myself living in London in the future? It depends what happens; I’m not thinking about that right now as I’m about to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday 16th, and I intend to stay there for at least a couple of years; in a year’s time, I’m hoping to do the masters in Careers Guidance at UWE and hopefully gain an MA in Education.  I also appreciate that while London is exciting because it’s a big step up from Bristol in terms of its urban landscape, fast pace of life and shopping potential, I enjoy the fact that Bristol (although it’s a fairly-sized city) now feels intimate and familiar, and I have plenty of friends there as well as my family, whom I wouldn’t want to be far from (although they drive me mad on the regular). It depends how Toby and I progress as a couple too; where he sees his future is going to have a large impact on where I see mine.  I try not to talk about it too much because I don’t want to get too heavy and risk freaking him out, but I feel like now that I’ve overcome all of my initial neuroses about our relationship, I can see myself being with him for a long time. So I’m prepared to compromise to be where he wants to be, and I’m sure he’ll do the same for me.  Watch this space. But my priorities for now are car, move out into my own flat, tone stomach and allow my relationship to continue to grow. 🙂

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.