The Color of Music: Bruno Mars

With the release of his new album “24K Magic,” Bruno Mars has transported pop back to the ’80s. No longer is he the charming, romantic crooner everyone knows and loves. Now, he is an entertainer oozing sex appeal. From his flashy clothes to his wild dance moves, Mars has added his own flair and originality to the airwaves. No one expected the “The Lazy Song” singer to go from chilling in a snuggie to dancing in a sequined getup surrounded by beautiful women – but it happened. And, it works.

The catchy hooks on this album have reestablished Mars as a musician with undeniable talent. However, he could not have created “24K Magic” without the inspirations of soul, disco and R&B artists such as Marvin Gaye, R. Kelly and James Brown. Mars flaunts his charm through the seductive slow jam “Versace on the Floor,” showing some possible inspiration from the R&B group Boyz II Men. “That’s What I Like” takes a ’90s approach with its funky bass riffs and playful vocal melody. The New Jack beat, rhythmic synths and Mars’ vocal delivery make this song the ultimate bop. The song “Finesse” starts off with banging drums that lead to a dance-able chorus, which gives off some serious Bobby Brown vibes. Overall, “24K Magic” is a music industry game changer.

Bruno Mars’ smooth implementation of synths, funky bass lines and foot tapping beats have cultivated an album of perfection. His ability to transform from a fedora wearing crooner to a snapback, gold chain stunting swag master shows his versatility as a musician. As a result, this album is an ode to the passion for music and entertaining he has had since his Hawaiian childhood.

Since birth, Bruno Mars has always been surrounded by music. The stage was practically his second home. He found his calling for performing when he took part in his family’s music show as an Elvis impersonator. Growing up in Hawaii, where the only thing he could do was play music, Mars honed his craft. These humble beginnings have pushed him to transform into the dynamic performer he is today.

I have no doubt that Mars’ musicianship will inspire others. His versatility sets him apart, probably due to his childhood on stage. Mars recognizes this, and has called his performance filled childhood some of the best years of his life. As a result, Hawaii has raised an entertainer who continues to push boundaries and create new standards for music.

Featured Image by Daniel Gregory. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/okJu1R 

Hippo Campus: An Interview and A Show

On Thursday, March 2nd, I had a last-minute phone interview with Nathan Stocker, the guitarist from the indie rock band Hippo Campus. He came across as a nice, sincere guy with an undeniable passion for music both in person and onstage.

Guitarist Nathan Stocker and me. Photo by Rica Perez.

This interview, a month in the making, was an eye-opening experience, as I was able to talk to the guitarist of one of my favorite bands. Nathan Stocker was a complete sweetheart, responding with well thought out and genuine answers that made me love the band more – if that’s even possible. I nervously asked questions that touched on the inspirations for their newest album, “Landmark.” The songs on the album reflect the future sound of the band, and Stocker’s guitar setup. He appreciated my “attentive” comments on the combinations of the guitar accompaniment with the lead singer’s melodic vocals. He explained how the sound of “Landmark” demonstrates a progression in musicality as the band continues to experiment with different sounds and techniques; being stagnant is not an option.

Stocker also commented on how crazy their journey has been – from playing in garages to playing at Lollapalooza. However, Hippo Campus still finds its greatest support at local shows in Minnesota.

I had the opportunity to see Stocker’s guitar prowess during the Hippo Campus concert at the House of Blues later that night. From the opening band Avid Dancer (who put on a solid performance) to Hippo Campus’s first song, “Sun Veins,” I was filled with excitement and anticipation. And, I was not disappointed. From start to finish, the group put on a stellar show with a sixteen-song setlist that included oldies such as “Little Grace,” “Bashful Creatures” and “Sophie So,” and newbies such as “Simple Season” and “Western Kids.” The old and the new equally excited the hyped up crowd.

Hippo Campus’ setlist. Photo by Rica Perez.

What impressed me the most was Hippo Campus’ ability to sound even better live than they do on the album. Jake Luppen’s vocals coupled with the band’s harmonies were an infectious duo. His vibrato, falsetto and playful vocal melodies demonstrated his talent as a lead singer and made the show an even more memorable experience. Stocker’s guitar skills melded perfectly with Luppen’s voice, incorporating bouncy riffs and licks that gave the songs character. Adding depth to their performance was Zach Sutton’s bass. For a tall guy with glasses, his groove was smooth and his dance moves were even smoother. Sutton knows his way around those four strings, and proves that bassists are an integral part of any band. Last but not least, Whistler Allen climbed his way to one of the top spots of my list of favorite drummers. Songs like “Western Kids” show off his funky style of drumming. The group had me bobbing my head the entire time.

Hippo Campus is a group of talented individuals who come together to put on unforgettable performances. Amazingly, I had the chance to meet all the members after the concert. I introduced myself to Nathan, and it made me so happy when he remembered our earlier conversation.
If you have never listened to Hippo Campus, please do. You won’t regret it. They don’t try too hard to fit the “indie” genre, and they have formulated a sound so unique that it’s basically irresistible. Thank you for the great night, Hippo Campus.
Featured Image by Rica Perez. 

Back from the Dead: All Time Low

Pop punk act All Time Low hit the airwaves again with its new single “Dirty Laundry,” launching fans into a rabid frenzy. The song’s moderate tempo and electronic vibes give the band a new sound. Instead of jumping straight into the banging drums, bright guitar riffs and Alex Gaskarth’s belting vocals, however, “Dirty Laundry” takes a while to pick up. Not until the very end does the song build and explode into the All Time Low sound we know and love.

The crescendo, however, is fleeting, leaving me unsatisfied and bored with the overall result: a pop song. Normally, I have no qualms with pop songs. They’re catchy and enjoyable to listen to. But, pop from All Time Low? I’m not a fan. Even though Alex’s lyricism isn’t bad, as he opens up about loving someone in spite of their flaws, the lyrics of this song do not make up for what it lacks in musicality.

Since “Future Hearts,” All Time Low has been experimenting with its sound. From rock ballads such as “Missing You” and “Tidal Waves,” to anthem-like tunes such as “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Kids in the Dark,” it seemed like the band had finally found its sound and was progressing. Unfortunately, with “Dirty Laundry,” All Time Low took a step back, writing music that does not suit them or the image of the band.

In addition to this release, All Time Low made a surprising announcement that shocked long-time fans: they are the new signees of the Fueled by Ramen record label. FBR is an alternative label with a monopoly on big league acts like Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, and, just recently, Twenty One Pilots. Despite its impressive lineup, FBR is notorious for changing the sound of its bands from alternative to radio friendly, pop-esque music. All Time Low seems to be FBR’s newest casualty.

All Time Low has never been my favorite band, but it doesn’t take a hue fan to see that they’ve written much better songs. “Dirty Laundry” is a disappointment, and I hope their new album has a different sound. For now, I’ll just continue listening to “So Wrong, It’s Right,” “Nothing Personal” and “Don’t Panic.” 


Featured Image by Jack Barakat for Behind the Barricade Photogrphy. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/beyondthebarricadephotography/. 

The Color of Music: Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper is killing the charts with his newest album “Coloring Book,” and raked in three awards at this year’s Grammys, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album. At 23 years old, Chance is the first black hip-hop artist to win Best New Artist since Lauryn Hill took home the award in 1999. However, his influence as a black man in the industry constitutes more than just a few big, shiny trophies.

Chance has built his growing fan-base and platinum career exclusively as an independent artist. Unlike entertainers such as Drake and Kanye, he is not signed to a major record label. Many questioned his decision to turn down a $10 million record deal. Chance’s priority, however, is not to make money, but to gift his loyal fans with free music. “Coloring Book” is the first Grammy winning and Billboard 200 charting album that is solely available through streaming. Chance the Rapper has redefined the meaning of success in the music industry. He does not have the million dollar ads and promotions that performers usually have. Instead, he has a loyal fan-base and an undeniable passion for music. Chance is a true artist.

Chance is also a proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement. In late January, President Donald Trump tweeted that if measures were not taken to decrease the violence in Chicago he would send in federal troops. Chance the Rapper, born and raised in a Chi-town suburb, felt that Trump’s comments were unjustified. In a recent interview with The Undefeated he stated that Trump’s proposition does not actually focus on the root of the violence. In reality, it targets minorities and low-income neighborhoods, using them as scapegoats. Rather than dealing with the violence by punishing the people themselves, Chance volunteered another approach: distribute equal funding for the education system and inner-city housing. To show his distaste for Trump’s beliefs during the election, Chance even led thousands of Chicagoans to local polling places in the city.

Many people believe artists should not participate or have a say in politics because they do not have a “normal” life. This belief is unjustified. Chance the Rapper is regular person who has worked hard to be where he is now. Like the most reputable chemists, engineers and educators, his opinions are valid and he should use his platform to draw attention to current social issues. Chance the Rapper is an entertainer for the people, not the music industry. And, that is why I will continue to support him, as an influential person of color, in entertainment.

Featured Image by Rob Loud. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/pembertonmusicfestival/14516610850.