The Electric Lady

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Cindy Mayweather, The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady, and Android No. 57821 are all just a compilation of one of the many characters within the universe Janelle Monáe creates within her music. Mostly known by the general public for her ten second guest appearance in Fun.’s We Are Young. Last month, Monáe released her second album The Electric Lady as the third part of her conceptual series. Based on Fritz Lang’s Sci-Fi classic Metropolis from 1927, Monae’s discography follows the tale of an Android on the run. In the opening song of her 2007 EP titled Metropolis, Violet Stars Happy Hunting creates the entire universe her music is set in. With the opening lines: “I’m an alien from outer space/ I’m a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind”. She tells the fictional tale of Cindy Mayweather, an android who fell in love with Anthony Greendown, a human. Being chased by the Ministry of Droids for falling in love, she slowly begins a revolution. In one song alone, she is able to fully create the setting in which her entire catalogue follows and make compelling, innovative music with the idea.

Deciding to split the tale of Cindy Mayweather into seven suites, with the release of The Electric Lady she has released the first five chronicling this fictional character. With the release of her 2007 EP, Metropolis is the first suite following Mayweather on the run. Composed of just five songs, the EP quickly caught on with many music sites and publicist. Three years later, Monáe would release her first full album to deep anticipation. Released in 2010, The ArchAndroid contains Suites two and three. Based on it’s initial release the album received universal acclaim. Amounting to a composite score of 91 on  Metacritic and listed on several best of the year lists. Even amounting to number one on The Guardian’s best of 2010 for music and nominated for Best Contemporary R&B album at the Grammys, her continuing tales of Cindy Mayweather was very successful. When titling the ArchAndroid the best album of 2010, this is what The Guardian had to say.  “No other album this year seems so alive with possibility. Monáe is young and fearless enough to try anything, gifted enough to pull almost all of it off, and large-hearted enough to make it feel like a communal experience: Us rather than Me”. The albums biggest single, Tightrope featuring Big Boi from Outkast, was just as universally loved as the album. Titled the 8th best song of the year by Rolling Stone Magazine and as number one in NME’s top music videos of 2010, Monáe had hit a gold mine of acclaim.

Monáe’s chronicling suites can be considered albums themselves. Suite two is composed of eleven songs and suite three is a collection of seven songs. What is apparent when listening to the two of them is neither of them can be tied down to just one genre. Both Suites start out with an orchestrated intro that not only carries several of the sounds from the previous suites but is composed of several hints towards what will be in the following suite. Using both a fully organized orchestra and decked out band, the range and direction she is able to take her music is wide. In Dance or Die and Neon Valley Street, Monáe raps. Faster and Locked Inside harkens back to the King of Pop’s reign over music. With Cold War and Oh Maker, Monae shows her vocal talent with the combination of emotional prowess. Come Alive and Mushroom & Roses, she shows the full talent of her excellent band. With one being a haunting punk song and the other being a psychedelic, artistic song of expressionism. In 57821, Monáe shows her folk side reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel. Lastly, Monáe ends the album with BaBopByeYa, a song that sounds like its straight out of the ending piece of a musical.

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Her new album, The Electric Lady carries the same amount of variety and production value as anything previously released. Once again split into two suites, Suite four and five. The first suite being jammed with what seems to be a collection full of would-be hits, Monáe shows her excellency when it comes to creatively making smart, but very danceable tracks. She brings out her big guns out quickly with her first song, Give Em What They Love. Featuring the R&B legend Prince in all his glory, the song is full of fun funky grooves as the two break it down. Followed by Q.U.E.E.N featuring another R&B legend Erykah Badu and the title track with Solange(Beyonce’s sister), she continues to jam with her friends and idols. She slows down things with Primetime, a lovely ballad with Miguel that is carried by the rawness of their vocals. Shortly after she finds a way to break out with Dance Apocalyptic, instantly the closest song to becoming a major hit. Harkening back to the fast paced beat of Hey Ya by Outkast, the song shows her talent as a performer. Going into the next suite, Monáe gets a bit more experimental. Starting with It’s Code playing out like a Motown sound of the 60s, the song quickly transitions into the next one. With Ghetto Woman, Monáe addresses several of the social-economic issues in her fictional universe that are reflective of our own. With Victory, Janelle Monáe shows off her vocal range by beautifully singing words of inspiration. With Sally Ride, Monáe goes over the trials and tribulations carried with being alone, while once again showing off the great ensemble within her band. She perfectly concludes the album with What an Experience, similar to the easy going synth music of the early 80s. The Electric Lady is not only organic and full of rhythmic progression but it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. What it is just like her previous albums, is a compilation of cinematic and entrancing songs that compile an excellent double album. Looking at each song itself, every single one stands out as flawlessly executed and solid.

Concerns over sexuality, race, and identity are just a few of the major themes carried within her songs. Unlike the majority of her competitors, Monáe isn’t afraid to go with anything when it comes to her music. She also doesn’t let her persona consume her creativeness. She comes to every stage with the same amount of energy and wearing her defining suit and tie. She has played live with her idols, including Stevie Wonder and recently performed on Letterman where she took the opportunity to dance on top of his desk. After her performance, he said: “Ladies & Gentleman, the hardest working woman in show business”. While none of her songs have reached Top 40 stations, Monáe is currently one of the most important, entertaining, and creative performers out there. For someone who is on the run from being immediately dissembled, one can only hope that she doesn’t stop anytime soon.

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Is The Last of Us the first “Mature” Mature Video Game? (NO SPOILERS)

The Last Of Us will be turning two weeks old as of today. Released with universal acclaim from the majority of critics and taking a fairly positive reception from gamers, Naughty Dog’s last game for the ending seventh generation is something that will be discussed for quite a while. Less than a few weeks old, The Last of Us is already receiving differing opinions from gamers.  From complaints about the gameplay and that Naughty Dog should just start making movies. The differing opinions fit along something that comes across commonly among music, movies, television, books, and video games. It’s very common that people will carry different taste when it comes to any form of entertainment. It’s for that, that it can also be seen why one wouldn’t like something you may love. I can totally understand people not being able to get into Mad Men, when it’s such a slowly drawn out show and at many times no one seems happy. Kid A is not an easy album to get into nor is Kanye West’s recently released Yeezus. Both albums can be seen as alienating and much darker than the artist’s previous albums. I myself could never get into The Usual Suspects nor can I see why it’s #26 on iMDB’s Top 250 Movies(Please don’t kill me). That’s what great about this medium of entertainment, it can be argued and discussed as the years go by. Some are even saying The Last Of Us is the “Citizen Kane of Video Games”. While I would never go that far, I would say it’s one of my favorite games of this ending generation. What really stood out for me though was the level of complex and grown up storytelling the game held.
The Last of Us at it’s purest breakdown is about survival. It’s the reasoning for the actions done by Joel and those who surround them. Twenty years into the post-pandemic world, Joel has done some terrible things. He’s realized that living in such a world as he does, doesn’t come with it’s accounted consequences. As Ellie says in the commercial “He tells me that on this journey, you either hang onto your morals and die or do whatever it takes to survive”. Joel chose the latter and for this he is still alive twenty years later. What The Last of Us does so well is the cast of characters are more than just an array of survivors. They have their own ambitions, reasons, and causes that at the same time will be given away at an instance for survival. It’s also fitting that these characters no matter their sex, race, or sexuality carry no matter in how they survive or are reflected. Even the most despicable character you meet in the game is out for his own survival even if it’s for all the wrong intentions. Naughty Dog has created characters that until recently could only be found in Television or Movies that fit right along with the thematic and daunting material that is carried along within the game.
The Gameplay also rides on the sole factor of survival. The clickers and hunters you come across in the game are both out for their own survival. Ammo and supplies are limited with good reason. The choices you make in combat, especially when played on Hard or Survival mode hold many consequences. You could run out of ammo during combat and still have three hunters to face with just a brick. If you decide to make a moltov cocktail it may take a while until you can make another health kit. Using the last of your shivs on a clicker may mean you won’t be able to open a door in the next room. The Last of Us rides on these choices and while they aren’t as pivotal as the choices made in Mass Effect or The Walking Dead, you can end up leaving a building with completely different results. Naughty Dog also got rid of two mechanics that would be found in their Uncharted Series: The ability to jump freely and to go into cover with the press of a button. There is no crazy acrobat skills carried in Joel that allow him to jump from ledge to ledge. It’s clear when he will have to find another a way to reach an area. The ability to crouch allows you to hide behind counters and beds but it doesn’t completely allow you to hide behind it. It’s for these reasons and limitations held within the gameplay, that adds tension that hasn’t been seen in a video game for quite some time. I won’t spoil anything but the third season that you come across in The Last of Us is the closest I’ve ever felt to being excited and fearful to see what was going to happen. It was a moment like this that kept me captivated and glued to my seat as I played through these horrible events happening right in front of me.
Now there has definitely been other games that have carried such mature storytelling, Red Dead Redemption and The Walking Dead come to mind. But as an overall game with the gameplay in mind the only other game I have ever felt carry such a surreal level of maturity is Half Life 2. Which is interesting due to Half Life 2 and The Last of Us sharing several similarities. Such as taking place after the world as we know it is over, cities being run by an overbearing force and very creepy zombie-like creatures living outside of these cities. Just recently there was another game that came out with universal acclaim that everyone thought was going to be next step in video games: Bioshock Infinite. While I really did like Bioshock Infinite and it’s amazing ending, the gameplay sticks out as the sore end of the game. In the past few months since the game has been out, I have seen the gamplay questioned more than a dozen times. While I don’t carry any complaints about the amount of violence, it just seems that the story was put more into importance than the gameplay. While this definitely isn’t a bad thing, in fact I’d rather play a game with a good or interesting story than gameplay(Deadly Premonition), I feel that The Last of Us excels with both. The gameplay plays just as an important role in forming and characterizing the characters than the story being told does. It’s the intertwining of the two that it really makes the game feel just as mature as it’s trying to be. I’m not saying The Last of Us will change the way games will be told or made nor will it be universally loved by all gamers but it feels like The Last of Us is everything that Naughty Dog has been building up to over the past twenty years. As the company and industry has matured so has their games. The Last of Us should be held down as their golden landmark in narrative storytelling and gameplay. Whether you actually end up liking the story and/or gameplay, that’s completely up for you to decide.

New Music: Only Tomorrow by My Bloody Valentine

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New Music, looks at the some of the best new tracks released of late. A link of the song is attached at the end of the article.  Note: Since Pop Cult was just started we will be making a few quick look at some of the songs released in the past five months.

For a band to release an album twenty one years after their previous one and for it to sound like they never stopped making music together is impressive. This is what My Bloody Valentine did back in February, when they released their long-awaited third album, m b v. The entire album just feels like a direct sequel to Loveless(1991) and sounds like it could have been released back in 1993. That being said the twenty year wait was well worth it. While it won’t be held down as an instant classic that Loveless, m b v is  a great continuation in what made them stand out so well. Composed of nine songs and split into three parts, the albums follows three different suites. The first one calls directly back to the classic sound of Loveless. The same sound that held such inspiration on other bands such as Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nine Inch Nails.

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My Bloody Valentine back in 1991

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My Bloody Valentine in 2008

The second suite follows a mixture of both old and new. The chords feel drawn out as usual but the percussion in these three songs make the suite sound broader than the previous one. Finally the last suite, shows a new direction. The percussion is much heavier and the tempo is as fast as they have ever gone. Only Tomorrow falls in the first suite and is the second song on the record. After the slowly drawn out opening song, Only Tomorrow doesn’t take anytime to start out loud and full of fuzzy guitar playing. Distortion is Kevin Shields best friend when it comes to playing guitar and it sounds just as great as it did two decades ago. It’s the dreamy and uplifting effect he makes with the multi-layered guitar playing that makes the song perfect to listen to with headphones. His vocals wash in and out along with the distorted waves to go along with the sensual feeling that comes with the track. The lyrics as obscure as they are and being only composed of ten lines, are just as effective in creating the dream-like state that occurs when listening. The opening line: “Into the night we all come back to/Into the heart it’s getting hard”, is perfect for fans who have been waiting so long to receive any form of new music. Kevin Shields is  a known perfectionist when it comes to his music and the countless times he has scrapped sessions containing dozens of songs, only establish his criterion. At the same time, once he has struck gold he will release it, instantaneously. While there probably won’t be a need to worry about the quality of their next album, one can only hope My Bloody Valentine won’t take another twenty years to release it.

Only Tomorrow- My Bloody Valentine

New Music:Honey By Torres

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New Music, looks at the some of the best new tracks released of late. A link of the song is attached at the end of the article.  Note: Since Pop Cult was just started we will be making a few quick look at some of the songs released in the past five months.

Honey was released really early on in the year on Soundcloud and it still sticks out as one of my favorite songs of 2013. At the age of 22 and from Nashville, Torres sings with a brutally raw voice on a very emotional moment. The song itself features the addition of an distorted guitar and a single drum beat, but it’s the scathing honesty, she carries as she sings, that really gives it’s lasting appeal. The goosebumps I get when she rages: “Honey, While you were ashing in your coffee, I was thinking ‘bout telling you, What you’ve done to me.” is pure beauty. The open lyrics allows interpretation on what she exactly discussing but in many ways it’s beneficial towards the song’s purpose. It’s sincere, full of rage, and loses control as it arrives closer to it’s conclusion. The song itself continues to build up but it never actually reaches a full climax. It’s a mixture of raw emotions that feels empty and full at the same time. Lines like: “What ghost crawled inside my guitar?” and “Twice in a year is too much./Heavy are you on my mind.” are haunting and full of release. With no Wikipedia entry and limited articles on her, Torres is a complete mystery. The only thing I can pick up from the other nine songs on her debut album is that Torres is singer/songwriter that carries many burdens of a haunted past.

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New Music:Pusher Love Girl By Justin Timberlake

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New Music, looks at the some of the best new tracks released of late. A link of the song is attached at the end of the article.  Note: Since Pop Cult was just started we will be making a few quick look at some of the songs released in the past five months.

Just like the previous artist, Justin Timberlake took many by surprise in January. Which now seems to  becoming  a common trend among artists and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. JT released speculation back in January, when he released a video showing that he was back in the studio. Four days later we would see the release of Suit & Tie and then the announcement of JT’s 20/20 Experience. We finally saw his third album’s release back in March, 10 years after his first album and  seven years after FutureSex/LoveSounds, one of the greatest pop albums of the last decade. While both Suit & Tie and Mirrors were great singles, I see Pusher Love Girl as a classic example of  what he brings into his music.

It’s now become expected  that most of Timberlake’s songs that run over five minutes usually have two parts to them. Pusher Love Girl, isn’t an exception. With it’s Prince-esque vocals and bubbly melody, JT makes allusions towards getting high off his girl. At the 5 minute mark the song transitions into its outro. Spoken over a chopped beat Childish Gambino style, the song gets more direct with its references. With lines like “My heroine, my cocaine, my plum wine, my MDMA” and “Now I can’t wait ’til I get you home and get you in my veins”, it’s really clear on what he is talking about. It’s reminiscent of “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean, where the breakdown towards the end of the song is much more direct than the first half. This doesn’t prevent the song from being as fun and catchy as any of his other songs. With it’s neo-soul grooves and Hollywood strings, Pusher Love Girl was stuck in my head while listening to the rest of the album and stands out as one of the best tracks on the record. With the announcement of there being a second part to 20/20 being released in November, I’m excited to see if there more highlights like Pusher Love Girl.

Pusher Love Girl – Justin Timberlake

New Music: Where Are We Now? by David Bowie

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New Music, looks at the some of the best new tracks released of late. A link of the song is attached at the end of the article.  Note: Since Pop Cult was just started we will be making a few quick look at some of the songs released in the past five months.

It will be the end of the world when David Bowie isn’t surprising anymore. Released January 8th of this year on the stroke of midnight on iTunes, which also ended up being his 66th Birthday. Where Are We Now?, surprised the world after his so called retirement back in 2006.  Not only did he just release the song that day, but his 24th album was placed for pre-order, being his first album since 2003. Both the song and the album(released two months later) its featured on, are very nostalgic. Harking back to his Berlin years, the album feels very much like a sequel to his Heroes album from 1977. Just look at the album covers side-by-side:

Heroes(1977) on the left and on the right The Next Day(2013)

Heroes(1977) on the left and on the right The Next Day(2013)

The artwork is simply made with the title placed over his younger self and the cross out of  Heroes as the album title. With a little inferring the song itself could be reference to the lyrics in the titular song Heroes.  “We can be Heroes/Just for one day”. But what happens,  The Next Day? Given that the Berlin Wall has now been down for the past twenty years, the album itself seems to be a focus on what has happened over the past thirty years. Getting back to the song itself, it’s the perfect song for his revival. Instead of releasing one of the more rock filled songs from the album he releases this powerful ballad. The melancholy taste to it only helps establish that Bowie is back. Even 45 years and more after starting his career he still is just as a major tour de force in the music industry. Where Are We Now? just shows that Bowie can take a whole decade off and come back even stronger than before. A near perfect way to start out this year of music.

Where Are We Now?-David Bowie