Terri's Cellar Door

Stuff that happens to me, Terri.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Neon Valley Streets and Kaleidoscope Hearts

So, yeah, this is a little late. I thought I'd have it done before the end of last week, but who knew? This is my review of the just released sophomore album by Sara Bareilles, "Kaleidoscope Heart" and the four month old review of Janelle Monae's sophomore album, "The ArchAndroid"; both of which I just purchased from Amazon. I decided to do both reviews together because I bought them together. No, it doesn't have to make sense to you.
To start off, what do the albums have in common? Well, other than being two second albums that follow up successful first albums, it doesn't seem like too much. Sara B. is a California pop singer, who's performances last year with Rachel Yamagata could have been the hipster event of the year. Janelle M. is a soul flavored cyborg who tells tales from the future (more on that later). However, I find that both albums require multiple listening to truly appreciate. This is because both Monae and Bareilles are superb storytellers and song writers. The message they want you to get, you won't get on the first listening. You may not get it on the second listening. The songs are catchy, and you'll find yourself humming them, but the deeper meaning might escape you right away. Later, listening to that song, you will be floored by a turn of phrase, or a passage that changes the whole meaning of the song. Also, both have amazing voices. Range, yes, but there is a clarity that makes the sound just perfect. It's that kind of talent that will follow these amazing women throughout their careers, and makes them kindred spirits of a sort.
SareBare (whose career I chronicle here) is a favorite artist of mine. As you can tell from the fact that I seem to mention her on a biweekly basis should give you some idea of my admiration for this amazing breed of the genus SingerSongwritus. This is her second album (her first being 'Little Voice'), and I'm going to tell you right off the bat is full of love songs. If you've ever listened to Sara before, you knew what was coming. She likes the subject, and honestly, she tells the story well. She's got the singles that will appease the radio people, and the slower songs that will make you reevaluate your own relationships. On the last album, these songs were peppered in to great effect, and end the album on a somber note. However, it seems to me that the songs were weighted down on the last half of the album, which seems just a little to heavy for its own good. The songs are good, but the pop (not pop music) that was so evident on the last album seems a little lacking. Of course, her voice as always is fantastic, and this album let it shine in a way that the production on Little Voice didn't, and for that I'm grateful. But as she's said in a few interviews, this album was created after a bout with writer's block. It seems to me that a few more months (or maybe waiting until next year), would have made this a much more solid album with 13 songs that would have floored me from start to finish. But, don't get me wrong, the first half of this album (I'd say two thirds, even), is the best album of 2010. Hands down. Seriously. It's fun and serious, fast and slow, love and hate, everything. But it's terrific, and it makes what happens at the end at the same time disappointing and worth it if you're buying the CD.
Janelle M.'s first album was a paltry seven songs long (which left you wanting oh-so-much more), and she makes up for it on an album with a whopping 18 tracks. It's supposed to be 2 albums together; Suite 2 and 3 in the story of Cindi Mayweather, a cyborg in love with a human, Anthony Greendown. In the future such a love is illegal, and Ms. Monae claims to have brought back the story from that place. To see such imagination in a neo soul album is unique indeed, and I absolutely love her for it. I'm a bit of a nerd and when things are mentioned that give you geek cred, I take notice. Her liner notes are the best, with mentions being made of "Princess Leia's cinammon buns hairstyle", "Walt Disney and Salvador Dali", "the blue Luke's lightsaber", and "Jack White's mustache." That last one wasn't geeky, but I loved it anyway. As was true with Sara's album, this gets better with more listenings, but where Sara's album seemed to fall a little short on the last half, Janelle's soars as the story of Cindi and Anthony comes to a head. But the story is more than just lyrical, the music shows us the way as well. There are sounds, and sound effects as the music progresses that gives of a clue to what will happen next. And when you think this album can't do anything else, she starts singing in that crystal clear voice of hers, and it just touches your soul. It's a testimony to her neo soul roots, and the wings she's not afraid to set to the skies. Musically, this is one of the most ambitious sounds I've heard in a while. There are horns, and strings, ambient noise, echoes, robot voice boxes, and synthesizers. And it all melds with perfection.
Now for the part, you've all been waiting for (or not, whatever), the scores. It should be obvious to you if you've read this review that I seem enjoyed "ArchAndroid" more than "Kaleidoscope Heart", which is true. But, I think that Janelle Monae's album was so ambitious, and she just hits so many highs, that you give her not only points for succeeding, but for trying as well. Sara stays in familiar territory, which is good, and she does it so well, which is even better. Had I listened to each one of these albums separately, I have no doubt each would have gotten a different score. On the face, they're both great albums, it's only together when they impact the other. So, on Terri's Scale of Music with 1 being that album William Shatner did of spoken poetry, and 10 being that same album, but listened to when realizing that it's William Shatner: I would give Janelle a 9. Sara is a bit lower with a 7.75. I would suggest Janelle if you're into neo soul or anything odd, Sara if you like piano pop with a lovey dovey feel. Both if you're just absolutely head over heels in love with music.
Fave tracks:
Janelle: Cold War, Oh Maker, and Make the Bus*
Sara: Uncharted, Hold My Heart and Say You're Sorry**
*Honestly, if I could have put 18 songs, I would have.
**Really, there are much more than 3 that I'm in love with. Seriously.


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