Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alice & Janelle

This entry is particularly exciting for me because I have been in love with these two songs for some time. I know that I say that a lot on this blog, but I am always very sincere whenever I say something like that. This entry is also exciting because I think it will be enjoyable for some of my readers who may not exactly listen to R&B.

Alice Smith and Janelle Monáe are two of R&B's brightest young talents, but describing their sound as just R&B is still a stretch. Alice Smith's debut, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, is full of melodies better suited for pop and rock, but Smith's bluesy delivery makes her overall sound hard to classify. Monáe's music goes beyond what is considered modern R&B and is reminiscent of the experimental territory covered by Kelis' first two albums and Gnarls Barkley.

Alice Smith's "Know That I..." is a wonderful hazy gem of an album track. I love great songs like this that are buried further down on the second half of an album and never become singles. They seem to just come out of nowhere and surprise you. The song's atmosphere is lovably dreary for most of the running time with Alice holding it together well with her soulful yearning vocals, but what really caught my attention is the rise in tension of the instrumental sections that follow the refrains of "love in the end". The song goes from sounding like a Sheryl Crow demo to an unexpected Moody Blues interlude in just under three and a half minutes. It catches me off guard nearly everytime, but in a satisfying way. As amazing as that moment is, the emotional core of the song relies completely on Alice Smith, and her performance is very convincing as the speaker's mood subtly switches from unsure to positive towards the end of the song without resorting to histronics.

Alice Smith - "Know That I..."

"Sincerely, Jane" is probably even more amazing. It's the final track on Janelle's astounding first release, Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase, which, let me remind you once more, only costs $5. The concept of the Metropolis suites is a narrative built around the adventures of an android named Cindi Mayweather. Monáe has stated that she would like to see the Metropolis suites eventually be turned into a movie and it shows in the details of the songs and the album art. It really is fitting that the final track on the EP would also be its most cinematic. While it's basic groove is supported by a drum machine with a slightly Southern bounce and what sounds like a wooden bass or cello on a keyboard, the extravagant horn and string arrangements would be right at home at the end credits for your latest big budget action movie. For me at least, the overall result is thrilling when you add Janelle's social commentary. The pleas for help regarding her peers is what makes the experience of "Sincerely, Jane" so powerful. When she sings, "Teacher teacher, please reach those girls in them videos/The little girls just broken queens, confusing bling for soul", you get the sense that she really cares. It never comes across as self-righteous or didactic. If you need any more proof, pay special attention to the hurt and concern in her delivery on the words "Are we really living or just walking dead now?" and the chorus in general. Did I mention that the CD only costs $5?

Janelle Monáe - "Sincerely, Jane"

To buy For Lovers, Dreamers & Me from Amazon, click here

To buy Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase from Janelle Monáe's website, click here

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