So I was hanging out with Jay Legaspi (we’re still working on your review, Jay!) at Pitzer College’s Weapons of Musical Dissent music festival before he came on, shooting the shit about loop pedals and Beau Sia, when he commented something along the lines of, “Man, you guys were rough on the Ken Oak Band, I’m worried about how my album will go over.”

Now, I’m not going to apologize about the Ken Oak bit (except that unfortunate search result bit – that’s not our fault!), and I should preface this by saying that the best way I could possibly describe Mr. Legaspi during my all-too-brief interactions with him that day would be “adorably nervous”. But the general point remains: are we too hard on API artists?

This sort of thing comes up every now and then, perhaps the most notable example being the Kiyoshi Graves Chase review by Matty Wise that went up a week or so ago, where Mr. Graves himself actually discussed some of the finer points of Chase with Matty in the comments section of the review post, and he brings up a relevant point:

There is a practical issue at play of time and money that factors into this and I think reviewers of independent material should be careful not to make direct comparisons to major-label artists with budgets, and support and the ability to focus solely on their art. Not being a full-time musician, time and resources for creating and developing songs both in the writing and production side is limited.

When we set out to start up Ninja Pants (all of, uh, ten weeks ago), I made it clear to the writers that if they were going to “go easy” on any of the less “professional” acts, it wasn’t going to be because their beloved Editor-in-Chief was going to tell them to. While Graves brings up an interesting point – certainly, it’s harder for broke-ass independent acts to compete with the pros in production values. But there are two things running through my mind:

1. Production values do not a good album make. More money can, but not necessarily will, make a good album better. That’s kind of a fundamental thesis of independent music, I think.

2. My ears aren’t sympathetic. If a gritty, low-budget sound is part of what makes an album good (and it can be!) then I will like it. If it makes it sound painfully bad, then I won’t like it, and no amount of telling myself “but they’re broke!” will make it sound any better.

The driving philosophy behind Ninja Pants is simply to cover the music of Asian America, not necessarily to do it any favors. If the individual writers want to be gentle on particular artists, that’s their prerogative – which is exactly why we try to have multiple writers covering any given album. We are writers, not cheerleaders, and we’d prefer that people earn good reviews from us because they actually mean something rather than simply hand them out as acts of charity.


pat m.