An SFnal musical interlude.
Science fiction is no stranger to music and vice versa. Artists over the years haven’t just been influenced by SF, but have contributed to the genre with their own original science-fictional stories and fantastic tales, just a few of which were covered here on Volume 1 of the New Worlds Weekly playlist. While Vol 1 featured single, standalone songs, this week’s interlude features five concept albums from the year 2000 onwards, albums that are built around a central theme. Without further ado, let’s plug in those earphones, turn up the volume and jump straight into the music.
1. Daft Punk – Discovery / Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
I like to think of Tron: Legacy as one long Daft Punk music video which perhaps qualifies it as their best concept album. Then coming in second would be the influential French duo’s 2001 album Discovery that first saw them reveal themselves as robots. Call it robo-pop, robot rock or just plain good music, Discovery is as dancy and trippy as it is soaring and spacey and the album that gave the world the monster hit, One More Time. Exploring the themes of childhood and childhood memories, the concept of the album would be fully realised and visualised in Interstella 555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, the space operatic anime adaptation of Discovery by Leiji Matsumoto, the highly regarded creator and force behind such classic anime as Space Battleship Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Interstella 555 tells the story of the kidnap of the blue-skinned members of an interstellar pop band as they perform on an alien planet, their travails at the hands of their abductor Earl de Darkwood – who has been kidnapping bands from across different worlds – and their eventual rescue and return.
2. Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
‘It’s the year 3030’. With these words begins the self-titled debut album from the hip-hop supergroup, Deltron 3030, comprising Del the Funky Homosapien – as the hero of the story, Deltron Zero, Dan the Automator as The Cantankerous Captain Aptos and DJ Kid Koala as Skiznod the Boy Wonder. This groovy, rap-filled, hip hop space opera (hip-hopera?) is set on a future Earth in 3030, run by a big brother-esque oligarchy and tells the story of Del Zero, a man who goes about precipitating change by winning intergalactic rap battles. Touching upon societal ills and issues, a dystopian future, the increasing role of technology, featuring interstellar travel and aliens, Deltron 3030 is worth a listen even if you’re not into hip-hop.
3. Grimes – Geidi Primes
The shortest album on this list, clocking in at just about 30 mins, Canadian artist Grimes’ 2010 debut album takes its inspiration from the classic widely cited as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel – Dune by Frank Herbert. While the whole album – starting with its name, after the home planet of House Harkonnen, Geidi Prime – name drops a whole lot of Dune references including Face Dancers and Feyd Rautha in the song titles, the songs themselves only very tangentially touch upon the topics it refers to. Geidi Primes is a good showcase of Grimes’ highly experimental, eccentric nature and unique sound, and draws from a host of stylistic influences ranging from disco and R&B to Japanese music and synth-pop. Dreamy and evocative, this short album is worth a listen even if you’re not a Dune fan.
4. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Named in many ‘Best Albums of 2010’ lists, this acclaimed Grammy-nominated full-length debut sees Janelle Monae in top form and consists of Suites 2 & 3 in her 7-part Metropolis series, inspired by the 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang. Her previous EP, Metropolis: Suite I introduced Android No.57821 aka Cindi Mayweather, a mass-manufactured android who falls in love with a human – a crime in Metropolis for which she is scheduled for immediate disassembly. This album charts her transformation into a messiah figure, the ArchAndroid herself, who time travels back into the past to save the citizens of Metropolis from a secret society that uses time travel to enslave citizens. As the ArchAndroid, Cindi represents the heart as a mediator – a theme of the film Metropolis – between the haves and the have-nots, the majority and the minority, the humans and post-human androids. The fact that it touches upon, and tackles, the topics and issues of class, race, slavery and isolation, self-appreciation & isolation may make it sound like a drag, but The ArchAndroid is really a joyous, peppy – and may I say ‘dancy’ – album which mashes together all kinds of genres: soul, rock, hip-hop, electronic, to make this worth your time. Have a listen, and if you haven’t been exposed to it before, let this them be your first taste of Afrofuturism.
5. Dio – Magica
Wizards and spells, monsters and captives, frozen wastes and netherworlds, a champion, a hero, Magica – an album about a dying planet, inspired and clearly influenced by Jack Vance’s classic Dying Earth series – has it all in a storm of sweeping guitar riffs & solos, and soaring vocals. Not strictly ‘science fiction’, but when it comes to Ronnie James Dio – one of the most influential and towering figures in the history of metal, and the man who once fronted Black Sabbath and Rainbow – one does not split hair and nit-pick. Instead one just presses ‘play’ and immerses oneself in the first concept album from Dio, the story of which is narrated and recited by Dio himself for a full 18 minutes on the final track.
On that note (no pun intended), I sign off for this week wishing you all ‘Happy Listening’ and hope to see you back here again at New Worlds Weekly next week with a special tribute to a special person from the early days of modern science fiction.
Live long and prosper!