funk

Coachella Band Preview: Janelle Monáe

Another week in Mexico and another week wishing I was in Southern California instead. Don’t get me wrong I love being in a warm climate in the winter, I just wish there was less humidity here. California has that kind of weather and they have it year round. We’re a little under 2 months away from Coachella now. The clock keeps ticking. The weeks become less. The planning intensifies and the time to listen to this year’s performers decreases. This week I’m previewing a female powerhouse who will be playing her second Coachella.

Janelle Monáe Robinson better known to the world as just Janelle Monáe hails from Atlanta, Georgia. She was discovered in Atlanta when she was 18 by rapper, songwriter, and producer Big Boi of Outkast fame. Monáe was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas though. Upon connecting with Big Boi, she was signed to Bad Boy records in 2006 after Big Boi’s friend and fellow artist and producer Sean Combs (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy) decided to take a chance on her. She initially released her first EP prior to her signing with Bad Boy, but her debut was then re-released with a slightly different title Metropolis: The Chase Suite (Special Edition). The record included two bonus tracks as well. It was received so well that Monáe earned a Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her single “Many Moons”.

Janelle Monáe’s debut album The ArchAndroid was released on May 18, 2010. Since her initial idea with Metropolis was to create a concept album that was to be released in 4 parts, The ArchAndroid contains parts 2 and 3 from the concept. The album debuted at number 17 on the Billboard 200 and earned Monáe another Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

She released her sophomore album The Electric Lady in September 2013. The album continued with the same sci-fi theme as its predecessors. The album debuted at number 5 on the Billboard Top 200. It was just prior to her album released that Monáe played at her first Coachella in 2013.

In 2015, Janelle Monáe created her own independent label Wondaland Arts Society (now known as Wondaland Records) in conjunction with Epic Records. Along with 4 other artists signed to her new label, the EP The Eephus was created. Monáe contributed to the EP with the song “Yoga”. She also collaborated with Nile Rodgers & Chic that year on the song “Pressure Off”. 2016 brought Monáe a new type of entertainment exposure when she appeared in Academy Award nominated films Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Prior to her film debuts, she voiced the character Dr. Monae in Rio 2.

Janelle Monáe released her third studio album Dirty Computer on April 27, 2018. It included the release of what was referred to as an “emotion picture”, which was a visual representation of the songs and story of the album. It debuted at number 6 on the Billboard Top 200 and has since received 2 Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and for Best Music Video for the song “Pynk”. Over the last year Janelle Monáe has toured and played the festival circuit in promotion of her latest release, which makes sense of her slated Coachella 2019 performance.

I would define her music as experimental. It’s experimental in the sense that it combines a variety of genres. It obviously infuses R&B, hip-hop, and pop, but also incorporates elements of soul, funk, and new wave. It’s musically advanced and brilliant, especially the concepts behind her music.

Honestly, I knew about Janelle Monáe as an actress before I knew about her as a music artist. Once I started seeing her name on festival lineups in 2018, I realized her talents went beyond film. I was introduced to her music this past fall, when a friend of mine told me to watch the Dirty Computer video. I did. I was impressed and I enjoyed several of the songs. There was also a lot of hype surrounding her from several of my co-worker friends who caught her performing at festivals or in concert last summer. Despite my exposure to her music, I can’t even say I’m a huge fan yet. I like her music, but I haven’t been listening to her constantly. I’ve just heard great things about her live performances, which is why I think her performance at Coachella this year is one that can’t be missed.

Janelle Monáe plays Friday. She’s billed as a top performer. To me, there’s no reason why she wouldn’t be playing the Main Stage right before Childish Gambino or overlapping his set and headlining the Outdoor Stage. Even though this will be her second Coachella performance as a solo artist, it’s not her second appearance. She joined Outkast on stage during their headlining set in 2014 and Grimes in 2016. I think she’s grown in popularity over the last year as well, which means her set will most likely be crowded. I’ll say it again…you don’t want to miss this set. Here’s a few songs you’ll probably hear during it:

  1. Make Me Feel
  2. Pynk
  3. Tightrope
  4. I Like That
  5. Django Jane
  6. Q.U.E.E.N.
  7. Yoga
  8. I Got the Juice
  9. Electric Lady
  10. Dirty Computer
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Got More Boom Than A Dynamite Store

I know it’s been awhile again, but summer means festivals and festivals mean I get really busy. That’s a good thing though! Unfortunately, because of that, my blog is suffering this year. But, no worries because I’m back with a new post and a new band to tell you about!

Magic City Hippies from Miami, FL is the band that started when Robby Hunter was forced to stop his career as a street performer and take his talents to some place where he could play a real show. That place became a local dive bar. He recruited Pat Howard and John Coughlin to join him. The trio performed under the moniker Robby Hunter Band.

The band self-produced their first LP Magic City Hippies in 2013 and then adopted the title as their new band name. Magic City Hippies released their first EP Hippie Castle in July 2015. Their single “Fanfare” reached #1 on charts on both Spotify and Hype Machine. The group released two more singles, “HUSH” and “Heart Wants”, in 2016, and began touring as the opening act for Hippo Campus in 2017. They also played Bonnaroo last year, which was their first festival appearance. In 2018, they’ve continued touring and playing festivals with stops at Okeechobee in March and Electric Forest in June.

Their sound is primarily indie pop but there’s definitely some electronic/funk/reggae mixed in. It’s different, yet super chill. There’s even a hip hop vibe to their sound at times just from the way Hunter speaks on a few of their tracks. It’s pretty hard to classify. Super chill is probably the best description I can give you. I’m not going to say they sound like alt-j because they don’t, but their sound originality is comparable to that.

I found out about Magic City Hippies about 2 months ago when my friend Jen sent me the song “Heart Wants”. I was into them initially, but after finding out they were playing Electric Forest I decided to take a greater interest and listen to more of their tunes (since I was working at Electric Forest and would be able to see some music). I took a liking to “Limestone” and fell harder for “Heart Wants”. It’s safe to say I’d definitely buy one of their records. The great news is that they have yet to release a debut album! I’ll be looking forward to that.

In the mean time, you should check them out while they’re fresh. I always like learning about bands or artists when they’re relatively new. It’s cool to see them work their way up in the music world and build a fan base. So definitely check out Magic City Hippies as soon as you can, because they could be about to blow up!

Coachella Band Preview: Sia

As I say almost every time I post a Coachella Band Preview, the days keep dwindling until the epic festival in the desert. At this point, less than 2 months remain until Coachella Weekend 1. This week I’m actually not previewing any band though. I’m previewing a singer who’s been active since the mid-90’s, but has only received great acclaim in the last 2 years. I’m not sure if you’d be able to recognize her if you saw her out on the streets somewhere due to her somewhat recent decision to not show her face when she performs. You may however know her from her over-sized platinum blonde wigs that cover most of her face. If that rings a bell, then yes it’s Sia and she’ll be performing at Coachella this year for the first time (sort of, but I’ll explain later).

Australian singer-songwriter, Sia Furler, known to the world as Sia, began her singing career shortly after she graduated high school in 1994 as a singer for acid jazz band, Crisp. By 1997 the band broke up and Sia released her debut solo album, OnlySee, but the album didn’t receive much success. Sia then moved to London where she performed as a background singer for the band Jamiroquai and lead vocalist for the band Zero 7. During the time she fronted Zero 7, she released her second and third solo albums entitled Hearing is Difficult (2001) and Colour the Small One (2004), respectively. The single “Breathe Me” off Colour the Small One received commercial success throughout several countries in Europe and even gained Sia some attention in America as the track was featured in the final episode of the HBO series Six Feet Under. By 2005, Sia decided to make the move to America in an effort to further her music career.

Between 2007 and 2010, Sia released three more albums. The first was a live album in 2007, Lady Croissant, which featured songs performed at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in April 2006 while she was on tour and one studio track, “Pictures”. The following year she released her fourth studio album, Some People Have REAL Problems and in 2010 released her fifth album, We Are Born. Both albums had a few successful singles that were charted in a few European countries and Australia. We Are Born even won the artist two ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Awards in 2010. After touring in North America, Europe, and Australia to promote We Are Born, Sia decided to retire from her career as a recording artist and focus on becoming a pop songwriter. It was at that point that the unexpected happened.

Sia wrote a song for recording artist Alicia Keys. However, the song was sent to French DJ and EDM artist David Guetta. David Guetta ended up using the song with Sia’s original demo vocals without her approval and the song, called “Titanium”, became a worldwide mainstream success. Despite the popularity of the song, Sia wasn’t pleased since she had recently retired and wanted to focus on songwriting. She did co-write songs from 2011-2013 for many artists like Beyonce, Flo Rida, and Rihanna. In a similar situation to the one with David Guetta, Flo Rida used Sia’s vocals on the song “Wild Ones”.

In 2013, Sia came out of retirement, so to speak, and released the single “Elastic Heart” featuring The Weeknd and Diplo as a song on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. In July 2014, she released her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, which she intended to be the last album she needed to release in order to release her from her record deal, but the album became her most successful to date. It debuted in the top spot on the Billboard Top 200 and sold 52,000 copies in the first week. It reached the top ten on numerous European charts and number 1 in Australia. Along with “Elastic Heart”, which she released as a solo version on the album and as a single, the track “Chandelier” received high praise worldwide. Sia even received four Grammy nominations in 2015 for “Chandelier”, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video. After the Grammys last year, Sia announced she had completed a follow up album to 1000 Forms of Fear because of her success.

Sia’s seventh album This Is Acting was released January 29, 2016. Her first single from the album, “Alive”, which she co-wrote with Adele, debuted prior to the album release in September 2015. In the following months leading up to the album debut, she also released several other singles, “Bird Set Free”, “One Million Bullets”, “Cheap Thrills”, “Reaper”, and “Unstoppable”. I’m not sure if her latest album will achieve the same success as her prior release, but with the quality of the newest album, it may come close.

Sia’s music can be considered pop, indie pop, and electropop, but her vocals incorporate elements of hip-hop, funk, and soul. I feel like her most recent work (1000 Forms of Fear and This Is Acting) exhibits more power in her vocals than in past records as well, especially in the songs “Alive”, “Chandelier”, “Unstoppable”, and “Eye of the Needle”. If you listen to We Are Born the last album before her “retirement”, it has a much more indie pop vibe. Some People Have REAL Problems is more pop with elements of soul included and Colour the Small One is very pop as well. Healing is Difficult has a hip-hop style and almost reminds me of 90’s hip-hop/R&B girl group, TLC. It’s evident that throughout the years of her career Sia’s style has fluctuated, but it seems that she’s finally found her niche with her power pop vocals and pop/indie pop sound.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard of Sia before she was featured on “Titanium” and released her latest two albums. I definitely heard of her throughout the 00’s, but never listened to her music because it didn’t fit with what I was listening to at the time and also because she wasn’t a “big deal” musically. Even within the last two years, I didn’t listen to her music. It’s only been during the last few weeks or so that I really started getting to know this talented artist. I added the song “Elastic Heart” to my Spotify playlist of recent music finds after seeing it on my favorite soccer player’s monthly music playlist and liking the song after listening to it a few times. It was recent single “Cheap Thrills”, which again was featured on that player’s monthly playlist, that hooked me on Sia though. I just purchased her latest album on Friday and have been listening to it since. It’s good. She’s good. I may just have to purchased 1000 Forms of Fear as well, except, I definitely want it on vinyl.

As I mentioned before, it will sort of be Sia’s first time performing at Coachella this spring. She appeared during David Guetta’s set in 2012 to perform “Titanium”, but has not ever done a solo set at the annual event. Sia’s Coachella appearance will actually be her first live set in five years, so it should attract a huge audience. Not to mention in the last five years Sia’s popularity has sky rocketed. Sia plays Sunday at Coachella. If I had to make a guess, even though set times won’t be released for weeks, I’ll say she probably plays the main stage before Calvin Harris closes out the weekend. You’re most likely not gonna want to miss her performance, so to get you ready:

  1. Chandelier
  2. Elastic Heart
  3. Cheap Thrills
  4. Alive
  5. Breathe Me
  6. Big Girls Cry
  7. Unstoppable
  8. Clap Your Hands
  9. Bird Set Free
  10. Fire Meets Gasoline
  11. Eye of the Needle

 

Coachella Band Preview: Jungle

63 days remain until the first weekend of Coachella 2015 which means the prep time for listening to bands is slowly dwindling. That also means so is the time to preview some of the bands playing. Another act playing the festival this year is Jungle, a relatively new band (formed in 2013) I heard of about a month or two before the lineup came out. I downloaded a pretty catchy song called “Time” by these guys after hearing them on some sort of indie playlist/website. Then when I saw they were playing Coachella I decided to check out more of their music. I wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t really know too much about this band until I started doing some research on them for the blog.

Jungle, formed in 2013, was founded by two childhood best friends Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson (known as J and T). Both are from London, England. Their sound though is what sets them apart from other bands that fit on the indie spectrum. In fact, I doubt there are many, if not any other bands playing Coachella that are similar in music style to Jungle. When I decided to listen to more of their music my first impression was that they sounded like a group straight out of the 70’s, but with a modern vibe. Think indie funk. Never did I think I would be into music that sounded like something you’d hear on Soul Train, but their music works. I love it.

Another reason to love this band is that they focus on their music as an art form. They put effort to express their music in a certain way through their music videos. From simply using eye contact to form a connection with the audience, to dancing on roller blades, to using an insanely talented 6 year old break dancer, their videos present certain messages that go beyond a normal music video. Their music in general also features plenty of non-traditional instruments and sounds that adds to the artistic nature of this band.

In the coming months until the festival I plan on listening to Jungle frequently. I’m in the process of securing their self-titled debut album as part of my Coachella preparations. I can’t wait to see what they offer at a live set which I plan on attending at the festival. If you’re heading to Coachella this year or just looking for some new bands to get into, I recommend listening to Jungle. They’re definitely something different, but like I said it just works.

Song recommendations:

1. “Time”

2. “The Heat”

3. “Burnin’ Easy”