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Vince spits hot fiya RE: the As-Seen-On-TV APA indie rock band Seriously’s self-titled debut EP release. Check it out:

Seriously, Seriously, Indie Rock, Chaos Theory Music

The self-titled EP by the band Seriously is a Sunday afternoon, light breeze collection of cookie cutter, bubblegum pop rock. One wouldn’t be surprised to catch a tune of their’s like “Fireflies” or “Dare I Say” during a touching moment on a teen drama of the 7th Heaven, Dawson’s Creek variety. The album has a very high school groove to it. The band pushes the nostalgia bug on you after a few guitar strokes and the entrance of the sandy vocals, but fades just about as quickly because all the songs drag on a bit too long and sound like some song you heard before already.

Lead vocalist Christopher Pham sings between a reassuring familiarity that nicely echoes the group’s subject matter and the ordinary generic flavor of a coffee shop’s house band that you and your friends thought were okay. The lyrics, guitar riffs, and snare beats are nothing you haven’t heard from plenty of other acts out there. Seriously isn’t bad by any means, there are very “meeh” in every sense of the word. It seems Seriously finds a place more among a mainstream, safer style along the lines of a John Mayer, which plenty of people eat up gladly. But for a soul that’s looking for a fresh sound or double-taking your ears on a great line of songwriting? Look elsewhere, friend.

vincent chen

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This little number comes from our very own Vincent Chen. Read on!

We here at Ninja Pants have received a fair amount of feedback expressing concern about strict standards and the ramifications of negative reviews towards the Asian American music community. Albums from megastars with cult followings like Lyrics Born and Ken Oak Band have been trashed by writers here, including yours truly. But beyond the pedestrian debate as to whether we are too harsh or if the music is just simply bad, I wonder, “How much are we as writers influenced by stereotypes and the dominant ideology ourselves?”

Asian American musicians and artists face certain obstacles as barriers to entry into the contemporary mainstream pop charts and public eye. In a market dominated by images of William Hung and Yo-Yo Ma as some of the most prominent faces out there, of course the popular ideology is going to formulate stereotypes of Asians ranging on the extremes of a laughable spectacle to a dull cellist. Neither really convey any style that resembles the cool, hip vibe that seems mandatory to receive any real cred in both pop music and the subcultures of indie rock and underground Hip Hop. Combined with other racist notions of Asian males being meek, asexual nerds, does this popular musical representation make us take artists like Surprise Surprise or Notorious MSG less seriously than we should?

Moreover, does being conscious that institutional and structural racism exists remove me from being influenced by the same hegemonic notions that can be intentionally reproduced by the rich, white CEOs of record companies? Just because I know that the heads of news corporations, FOX, and American Idol purposefully chose to represent William Hung the way he was represented, does not remove me from buying into it, does it? At the very least, this knowledge does not impact the amount of exposure I receive. Ergo, being conscious of all the inequality of racial and cultural representation in mass media does not necessarily leave me immune to letting it affect me, perhaps in subtle or even subconscious ways.

Therefore, one must wonder how much we, as members of the Asian American community, have internalized self-hating notions about our own people not only in music, but all walks of life. We feel this burn every time we cringe internally when worrying about being “too Asian”, hanging out with too many or only Asians, or being embarrassed when family members speak broken English in public. As much as I want to portray a proud identity of myself as an Asian American with no history of insecurities, there is no doubt many of us go through these same growing pains during our earlier years trying to discover and decide who we are.

Returning this discussion back to the music scene, it is probably impossible to discern how much of our opinions are based upon legitimately objective ears as music critics or by social constructions perpetuated through individual, ideological, and institutional influences. I guess it’s just the old nature vs. nurture argument in a way, and no doubt it’s hella scary to think that we are all more products of our environments than we’d like to be. Regardless, let me end with a toast to the promise of groundbreaking Asian American artists that can throw down existing stereotypes and help us all break the chains holding us down with some good music, growing exposure in new and positive roles, and ultimately greater prominence.

We must realize that we need to actively participate in defining our own self-identities by sifting through all the bullshit and thinking critically. Kind of like how we should tackle music reviews too.

vincent chen

Vincent Chen opens coverage on Surprise Surprise’s debut release, UnderDawg, in time-honored Ninja Pants fashion by, well, rambling for three paragraphs. Check it out:

Surprise SurpriseUnderDawg (2007), Hip Hop

The Surprise Surprise debut release UnderDawg does not shock and sounds how one would expect an independent Hip Hop record to sound: production is simple, lyrics are raw. A few delicious beats here, a nice hook there, and a few good lines are sprinkled throughout, but otherwise: lots and lots of filler. Not much exists to distinguish the group from the rest of the sea of artists trying to get their foot in the door.

That said, you can feel the heart put into the album. The skits don’t really work, but it lets you crack open a window and spy on the crew’s personality and sense of humor. And in this respect, the low-budget feel of the album works well. You can see the members putting the record together. And the end product is reflective of who they are and that they are not afraid to show themselves to the world. The critics out there are harsh I guess, and rightfully so. There’s a helluva lot of music out there for us audiophiles and we can only have so much time to sort through it all. We want to make sure we’re listening to the cream of the crop.

But we must remember that making music takes a lot of passion. You must battle not only external forces like labels, managers, being popular, selling records, hyping crowds, earning bread… but also internal issues such as supporting your fellow musicians, keeping everyone in the band happy with the sound and direction, and maintaining enough motivation to get through it all and create collective art. And you know what, no matter how many albums I have trashed and will probably bash later on our little site here at Ninja Pants… I nonetheless recognize every single note, lyric, and beat is a work of art that someone carries against the world’s criticism. It takes a lot of courage to be an artist.

“My Desire” and “Music” are the best tracks. They make you think about the music-making process and demonstrate how passionate these cats are about putting out good material. I chose to focus on this aspect of UnderDawg, but they have some other sides as well (of course). It’s just that none of the other ones are interesting at all.

vincent chen

Vincent Chen really wants to holla at the Shanghai Restoration Project:

David Liang, Shanghai Restoration Project: Special Edition (2007), Jazz/Hip Hop Fusion

My “Skip Next Track” button has been getting a lot of use lately, thanks to the Shanghai Restoration Project. Their album is a fusion of traditional Chinese instrumentals with Hip Hop and Jazz elements. Good theory. But in this case, it failed in execution.

Almost ever song in the playlist is about two minutes too long. They produce repetitive racket at best, and are simply boring at worst. For example, the sixth and fourteenth track can be summarized by two lines: “Lemme holla at you…” and “La la la”. For eight minutes.

The entire project just seems lazily made, hinted by the overuse of loops and the jam sessions of measures and measures of the same material. It wouldn’t be surprising to find this album or others of its quality in a $1 value bin of a record store. It plays like a soundtrack to a terrible movie.

The idea of mixing a Pipa string assortment with an ill walking bassline and jazz drums sounds promising, and there are moments of potential (like “Jade Buddha Temple”) but unfortunately the dream we conjure fizzles after half a listening. Maybe next time.

vincent chen

Vincent Chen gives us the last of the Thao Nguyen coverage this week.

Thao NguyenLike the Linen (2006), Indie Rock, Trust Me Corporation

My eyes struggle to open as the sun’s rays shine through the blinds. In a t-shirt and boxers, I make a cup of coffee without my brain even directing my hands. Showered, shaved, and dressed, I drive to school amazed at how cool the morning air feels. This is the perfect time to listen to Thao Nguyen’s Like the Linen.

Thao’s soft voice and gentle guitar evoke a dreamlike, contemplative mood. The folky sound is in the same vein as Mirah with some Aimee Mann flavor. Nguyen’s songs are catchy and personal. She drops honesty:

“There’s nothing in your eyes
But slightly amused
An offer of me you politely refused
Is it that my heart beat too loud
Is it I did not bid it come down
Your round about etiquette
You hold the door but you won’t let me in”

The album oozes empathy with beautiful lines like that. The tracks paint a pretty picture but the sole drawback is replay value. Because of the album’s nature, it works better as short and quick listenings. Prolonged sessions make the music fade: you stop listening to the lyrics and her voice sounds more strained. Spin the record for those in-between moments with a smoke and a pause; enjoy the tranquil lyricism as real as your linen sheets.

vincent chen

A momentous occasion like a debut single from an API artist like Tila “Tequila” Nguyen deserves its appropriate spotlight on Ninja Pants, so a bunch of staff writers decided to let you all know exactly what they thought of “I Love U”. Tina Kang wins the Long-Winded Masturbator title from Matty Wise, though, for writing a two-page-long article about it. Without further ado:

This is my new theme song.

chelsea yamabe

On Tila Tequila’s new song:

F***ing loved it. 
 
marisol lazaro

If a porn star with less brain cells than Jessica Simpson released a single it’d sound like Tila Tequila’s single “I Love U”. I’d rather listen to a Michael Bolton and Vanilla Ice sing a duet of “Mambo #5” than this garbage.

vincent chen

This is exactly what I would expect from a short Vietnamese girl with slightly skewed nipples who’s not afraid to take off her clothes. She’s not afraid to make a ridiculously simple song where the two key phrases are “I’ll fuck you up” and “I love you.” Like nudity, this naive simplicity will definitely have some appeal.

bihn kim

As much as I admire Tila’s crazy, I don’t give a f@#k attitude, her unique beauty, and her struggle to success and stardom, I think that she has crossed the line. I don’t really like the fact that celebrities cross over into surrounding realms of entertainment or business; what right do they have besides money, fame and power? (Perhaps that’s all you need.) Previous cross-over artists such as Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, and J. Lo have made millions off of people who give these media giants undeserved attention and respect, not to mention money to buy products, wear the clothes, listen to the music and watch the movies of these moguls. But why? Are they really good actors, singers, business people? Maybe yes, maybe no. But why do we give them so much recognition – is it because of their true talents as singers or actors? I think it’s a little something called name recognition…to succeed in the media is all a popularity contest. We blindly buy into those who are popular, thinking that they are good, talented, wonderful people. This popularity does not go unrewarded. In the media popularity implies influence and influence equates to money. Which is horrible, if you think about it.

Her single sucks hard. I’m sorry I can’t put it more eloquently. Tila’s voice was not made to sing. It sounds like a 12 year old girl’s, and not in a good way; more of a whiny, immature, shrill kind of way. In addition to this, her lyrics are a little, ah, insane. From the beginning of the song:

“You know I just want to let you know…that I never felt this way about anybody else, I..I..I think I love you. So don’t think I’m crazy when I tell you this. But if you ever hurt me….I’ll fucking kill you.”

I guess if you’re all about crazy, insane, obsessive, dysfunctional love you’ll probably like this song. The lyrics of the song make me think of being in the relationship with a bipolar woman; I love you, I fucking hate you, you know the kind. The kind that slashes your tires, and disconnects your phone, the kind that will fuck you up – scary but I guess it’s more realistic than talking about lovey dovey romances filled with flowers, candy and unconditional love. Tila puts the fun back in dysfunctional. I know she was trying to be serious, but with a voice like that of a small creature that lives in a bush I can’t take her seriously.

I must say she exudes a raw and untamed passion in her song…perhaps she really is “the bitch that’ll fuck you up,” for that I will applaud her. She sings from an angle that screams femme fatale, and it scares the shit out of me thinking that such fiery anger could come from such a petite being such as Tila. It’s fun, I guess, but I won’t take her seriously as an artist. I just think that she doesn’t have the skill, the actual talent to become a musical sensation. We’ll see how long Tila can fuel her musical ventures, riding out the admiration of Myspace whores and adolescent boys. I don’t give her that long, but I sure as hell admire her for trying.

tina kang

Vincent Chen opens up this week’s look at Chan’s Politickin’.

ChanPolitickin’ Vol. 1 (2006), Hip-Hop, Dynasty Muzik

Steady beats drive sharp, smart lyrics in Chan’s Politickin’, Vol. 1. Snacky Chan raps about life, hip-hop, politics, women, and growing up as an Asian American male in the United States. The New Jersey native does this without coming off too preachy. He raises sociopolitical issues but the choruses and production have enough head-nodding goodness to keep the apathetic ears tuned.

A true underground head, Chan spits, “This is life or death/ I got no regrets/ All the money in the world can’t replace respect!” He talks a lot about the music scene, from calling out the big labels and sellouts to staying true to the art form. It may sound a bit trite, but still rings relevant.

The album as a whole isn’t very cohesive, and plays like a collection of good singles rather than a body of work with a concentrated focus. As such, we have a myriad of common subjects that all get touched upon but not dug into substantially. But Chan is at his best when he reflects about political and racial identity and ultimately empowers fellow APIs in the United States:

“We know participation
Y’all ain’t part of my nation
Put your hands up in the sky if you love bein’ Asian
I see a vision in the mirror
God’s greatest creation
My sister’s the target of Caucasian infatuation”

Overall, a solid amalgamation of years of material that puts a much-needed voice in the game. Give this record a spin.

vincent chen

More on Asobi Seksu by Vincent Chen:

Asobi Seksu (2006), Indie Rock

Welcome to the world of “sex for fun”, a rough translation of “Asobi Seksu”. Here we reside in an audio air of silky smooth vocals, occasional distorted guitar, and frequent bouncy pop beats. Yuki Chikudate’s tranquil voice instantly emerges as the key standout and gently carries us through the project. Citrus is a pleasant realm to enter and explore. There is talent here.

The album gets off to a roaring beginning; the first three songs are sublime and draw you in quickly. One of the first handful of tracks would make a great opening for a mix. As you progress through the beginning of the album, excitement builds: “Wow, will the whole album sound this good?” Unfortunately, some disappointment follows, as the second half cannot match the quality first half originally sparked. While the sound does start to lose its buzz starting from “Red Sea”, there is enough strong material to warrant a repeat listening.

The influence of My Bloody Valentine is present, but not heavy. Asobi Seksu is not proper “shoegazer” rock, but rather a serene blend of said genre and power pop. You can hear hints of The New Pornographers in “Goodbye”. Comparisons to the Sophia Coppola compilation for the Lost In Translation Soundtrack (Which MBV frontman Kevin Shields also had a hand in making) are legitimate as well. Citrus creates a mood of estranged, contained anxiety while maintaining a playful attitude at the same time. The trouble with Citrus is that while it is a unique sound, it can downgrade into background music at times and songs occasionally sound repetitive. What we have here is half of a brilliant magnum opus. It’s half genius, half filler.

vincent chen

V-Chizzy on Lyrics Born’s Overnite Encore.

Lyrics Born, Overnite Encore (2006), Quannum Projects, Hip-Hop

From the Bay Area to Australia, Lyrics Born brings his full band and microphone to the eager crowds of Sydney and Melbourne. This release from last October features recordings from two shows and some bonus in-studio tracks. The Berkeley native is a rhythm rapper, dragging you along his phrases and lyrical stylings. If you were at these shows, you’d put your hands up and cheer in joy (especially Melbourne’s).

However, listening to the CD is a different experience. Verses sound muddled and are often incoherent, though some of this can be attributed to the live recording production. The charged crowds and funk-driven band with hot guitar licks help re-create the atmosphere and sometime drive the set along better than our MC. You want to root for all-heart Lyrics Born but in the end the album falls a bit short. His raspy voice can get tiresome. You find yourself getting bored after a few songs and maybe catching a nice chorus or two every set. There are some great moments like “Bad Dreams” and “I Can’t Wait For Your Love” but a higher share of dull, skip-worthy tracks.

Overnite Encore is like a peek into shows that you wished you could have attended, but don’t want to listen to if you didn’t. Sometimes you just had to have been there.

vincent chen