Eugene of Boston Progress Radio put up a neat post called “Intergenerational Love” (it’s not what it sounds like!). Read it
here.

It was this bit that caught my interest:

Getting this kind of e-mail makes me think about why this blog and radio station got started. Initially, I wanted the radio station for selfish reasons. I wanted to be able to tune into a station and find awesome Asian American music. With the help of friends, we just did it. That’s it. Today, maybe BPR has a larger purpose. Maybe we’re here to spread the word about Asian American music to communities across this country. Maybe we’re here to make connections to Asian Americans who came before us… And to those who will come after us.

Ninja Pants was born of a similar gut (“selfish”) reaction; we wanted to have a space to talk about new Asian American music, and if other peple wanted to join in, so much the better. It wasn’t until we started the project in earnest that we had to start thinking about what it meant to look for “Asian American music”. After years of throwing events for our college API community, which inevitably included digging up API artists for concerts and such, we just kind of got used to thinking about the race of the musicians that we were listening to. Then we realized, roughly a month after Ninja Pants’ beginning, that we had created a new genre. Oops.

Thinking about “Asian American music” as a genre is a little bit unusual because it isn’t organized around a particular set of musical instruments or techniques, or even a general unifying style. Rather, it is a genre we have asserted into existence, through projects like Ninja Pants and Boston Progress Radio, and its central organizing theme seems, at first glance, to be the racial identity of its artists. It is “interdisciplinary”, since Asian American artists can participate in any genre or combination of genres. We have our Hip Hop artists, our indie rockers, plenty of singer-songwriters (…), jazz musicians, etc. Aside from perhaps an occasional reference to yellow fever or the model minority myth, there’s really no musical consistency that we could expect from browsing a hypothetical “Asian American music” section at our local Amoeba Records. Deborah Wong is careful to dismiss the discussion of “Asian American music” for precisely this reason in her book, Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music; the idea of Asian American music as a musical genre implies that the definition of the genre is located in music (beat, lyrical structure, etc.) or possibly the myriad practices of an identifiable geographic region (a la Hip Hop and its origins in the Bronx), and it isn’t, so she instead opts to study the music that Asian Americans make. Since it seems unclear exactly how an all-white band, for example, could participate in Asian American music in the way that they could participate in rock and roll.

On the other hand, simply being an artist who is Asian American doesn’t seem to be sufficient to participate in Asian American music. Editing a publication like Ninja Pants involves deciding who we let into our own definition of “Asian American music” on a daily basis, and we come across artists all the time who appear to identify as Asian American but aren’t really all that interested in making overtures to explicitly race-based music communities like ours – generally, I imagine, for the same reasons that people who check the “Asian” box might still be reluctant about participating in explicitly race-based non-profits, or student groups, or what have you. Putting your music out into an Asian American space says more than simply “My folks came from Asia” because the term “Asian American” is still an inherently political one. We expect a modicum of social responsibility from artists who participate in Asian American music, that they are somewhat literate with issues of power and privilege and how those play out in issues of race.

This, to me, is the reason we declare particular works, like Bayani by the Blue Scholars, or Sung Kang’s latest movie, The Motel, as “Asian American” works. It seems that denoting a subset of a medium as Asian American describes more of the thought process behind the art rather than a characteristic of the art itself. It’s like food that’s labeled “organic”; while an organic Fuji apple is essentially the same thing, materially, as a not-organic Fuji apple, the “organic” label (at least, ideally) specifies something about where the apple came from, and the process it went through to make its way into your stomach. Those who are drawn to Asian American music are drawn to it not necessarily because we’re drawn to a certain set of musical properties, but rather because we’re conscious not just of what music we’re consuming but who is making it and how. Presenting these artists in the context of an Asian American identity isn’t just a matter of convenience; that we care about the identities and processes of our musicians is a highly political statement.

pat m.

Murdasol follows up on coverage of Valerie Chang’s extended play EP.

Valerie Chang, extended play EP, Indie Rock

Track uno. “I’ve Got” is the right opener for this short EP. I like how the song itself begins. It’s got a catchy quality to it, a sort of rock songwriter’s song that’s single-worthy. It gets things going, and sounds like she is determined to get the message to her lover across. I find it infectious though it’s not really outstanding or unique. What I like about this song is the way she spaces out the phrases “I’ve got my love/I’ve got my unsuspecting/ fears of your love” and matches them to a melody that you can easily warm up to. In other words, it flows nicely, and is possibly my favorite among the tracks.

I like to imagine “Goodbye Kiss” being played while you’re driving down a windy road in the moonlight. In a VW Jetta. Thank you corporate America media for providing me with that one. It’s about giving a goodbye kiss, if you didn’t catch on. It’s got that type of romantic sweet contemplation to it that some might find sappy. I like this sappy though. Again, this track is nothing new but I find it quite easy on the ears.

At the opening of “Note From Jailbird,” I thought my music player was playing songs from another artist. This song plays a shmidgen faster a bit more frenetic than her previous more calmer introspective-like songs. Think rocker girl/indie angst. I’m not as crazy about this song as I am the previous two, for the reason that the tune and her style of singing are annoying here. The same goes for her last song as well. What gets me is that when she emphasizes certain notes at regular intervals, she goes off key. It seems like it is intentional, like it was her style to do so, but it was annoying. Annoying in the way someone sitting by you keeps singing this discordant tune over and over again- it drives you nuts, like you’re on a boat that makes these annoying intermittent lurches every off beat, or as in “Cold Jeans,” in a slow 6/8 time. Slow or fast, those lurches make you uneasy. Also while listening to “Notes from Jailbird” I was imagining this dispassionate expression on the singer’s face despite the frenzied mood of the song. Where was the passion? Was her emotionlessness preventing her from hitting those weighty notes on-key? I wondered. I pondered. I wondered how crazy it is that “wondered” is one letter away from “pondered”. I mean they virtually mean the same thing, but they are pronounced so differently! Amazing.

Well, anyway, Val Chang was a sort of 50/50 for me. I don’t think the last two songs are unlistenable, but they don’t have the repeat quality that the first two songs have. As for those two tracks, I’ll be a-holding on to them and listening to them after my review. While I wonder about pondering and wondering. Or the other way around.

marisol lazaro

Lyrics Born, Zion I, and Mistah F.A.B. all show up in an ad for a PSP beat-making game, Traxxpad. It’s linked below.

MySpaceTV: Traxxpad PSP AD by Justin Lomax

pat m.

Kim del Fierro’s “Gone” is the latest to show up on the AArisings Screening Room. Kind of reminds me of early ’90s R&B. Check it out at the link below.

AArisings: Da Asian Pacific American Entertainment Resource: The Screening Room

pat m.

Okay, so I know most of the Ninja Pants writers are getting kind of tired of acoustic guitar folk singer songwriter blah blah blah, but for the heads out there who can’t get enough, “Lesa” sent in a link to Dawn Xiana Moon, a Chinese American artist who creates “Melodic folk pop infused with passion and honesty.” Sounds like fun. She’s got plenty of material at the link below, if you’re interested.

Dawn Xiana Moon: Melodic folk pop infused with passion and honesty.

pat m.

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

Everybody’s favorite sexy voice – er, I mean, Lyrics Born – has a new interview posted up on his MySpace blog. Here’s a chunk:

Let me ask you about Same Shit, Different Day because a lot of people tend to view remix albums as just something for DJs to lay down when they’re either spinning at a party or making a mixtape. But, it’s noticeable that a lot of people seemed to embrace the album as a whole. Were you meticulous when you chose who to remix the tracks?

I definitely was because when you talk about what you’re first perception of a remix album is I was trying to avoid that. I didn’t want people to look at it like “Oh well, this is just a bunch of shitty songs that were put together in an effort to sell records.” I wanted to make an album like Same Shit Different Day feel like a new album. When I did my first album [Later That Day] there were a couple of outside producers but for the most part I did it entirely myself. I didn’t want it to feel like that. I wanted it to feel like there were a lot of other influences involved because Later That Day was not that way. So yeah, I was very selective about who I got to remix it, and very selective about whom I wanted to work with and what vocalists I wanted to work with on the album. It needed to feel a little less conceptual than Later That Day but still feel like a whole cohesive album.

Read up on the rest of LB’s interview at his MySpace blog, linked below.

blog.myspace.com/lyricsborn

pat m.

Tina Kang opens up coverage on rock-girl Valerie Chang’s recent EP release, extended play.

Valerie Chang, extended play EP, Indie Rock

My Google search of Valerie Chang left me empty handed – no Myspace, no link, nothing. (editor’s note: I think Tina was more likely too busy with her new job at a MOTORCYCLE CUSTOMIZING SHOP to research. -p) I usually like to research a little on what or who I’m writing about, but without much material to work with, I will have to let my flowery imagery and superflous use of adjectives do the talking. Without further delay, I present to you, the shortest review written by yours truly…ever. The Valerie Chang EP.

I’ve Got – Although this song started out possibly edgy and catchy enough, I was misled. Before I knew it, the song turned into a cotton candy covered love song. Something about this song screams innocence, innocence matched by newborn babies and my Hello Kitty underwear. Perhaps its the light hummingbird like voice that does not adequetely fulfill the requirements needed for a song like this. Instead of sounding like the passionate woman she intended to be, Chang ends up sounding a little Hilary Duff-ish monotone blare. Overall, the accompaniment seems unnecessarily crowded and overpowering – becoming center stage and casting a dark shadow upon Chang’s voice. Chang’s voice seems to quiver, as if uncertain of the next note. This uncertainty gives the song a karaoke-singer feel leaving the song sounding emotionless and lifeless.

Cold Jeans (Acoustic) – This song has probably got to be one of my favorite songs on the EP. This song, with its simple guitar backdrop and elegant melody, create a warm, sensual sound, bringing out the sweet soulfulness of Chang’s voice. This song paints pictures of love in the autumn remembered – burnt orange and fiery red leaves and crisp winds. I could soon add it to my list of songs for the soundtrack of my life. I think that this song truly captures Chang’s personality and exhibits her true talents as a songstress. The bittersweet sound of this song melts into your heart and tugs at your heartstrings. Maybe I’m just a lovesick puppy, or maybe I just appreciate a good love song – either way, I realize that this song is genuine – you can hear her pain. And for those of you that have loved and lost, or just lost…you know how much it sucks.

The Goodbye Kiss – I enjoyed this song because of its light and airy pink-colored sound. The song gives me the feeling that I’m eating strawberry Cool Whip out of the tub with my fingers, dressed in a crisp white linen sun dress while sitting on a cloud. Either that or watching the sun set slowly into hazy purple-pink mess below the edge of the velvet ocean. You have to hear it to know what I mean. On occasion I like to indulge myself in a good cry, usually by repeating heart-wrenching songs of heartbreak and neglect. Upon hearing this song, I realize that love songs have the ability to be sweet, and not reduce me to tears upon hearing the first few lines. If I’ve gained anything from this song, I suppose it is the fact that goodbyes can be bittersweet – and should be. The ups, downs and transitions in Chang’s voice and sound, although not as crisp and precise as I would like them to be, provide a uniquely personal twist embodying this bittersweetness of love. The song is elegant and well done. It is romantic without being sugar-coated and generic, and leaves one wanting more.

Note From Jailbird – Why does the intro sound so familiar? Perhaps because it is so similar to that of many rock and alternative artists out there. Even that was forgivable. But as the song progressed, I felt like I was in a bad American Idol audition. I don’t have many good things to say about this song. I do not think that it suits Chang’s voice or personal style – and this is apparent in the lack of energy, apathy, and ill-fitting sound. I feel that this song is much too “hardcore” for a woman who has a voice I have previously compared to a hummingbird. Overall, the song reminds me of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song that has been Disney-ed up for my favorite target, Hilary Duff to sing. Unfortunately, Chang and this song, like the ugly step-sister who tried on the glass slipper…JUST DON’T FIT. I would advise Chang to do the same thing I pray Hilary Duff will do – not trying to be a musical sensation by dabbling in musical genres that are popular but ill-suited to their vocal stylings – it doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing it. Chang’s voice seems strained in the confides of this song – drowned out by the intense percussion and electric guitar rifts. Okay…is it obvious? This is my least favorite song.

Chang’s voice is slightly scratchy, limited in range and occasionally off key. Her choice of musical style also poses somewhat of a problem for me. I feel that she is experimenting with her musical options and hoping to gain recognition in each. However, I think it is best to stick to what she is good at. Smooth, sensual crooner. I do admit that these qualities make her sound a little under-developed as an artist and often times comes off as amateurish, but I like that it sounds real. I respect her for doing what she does and give her the props for doing so. The EP wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever heard, but I expect better things from her. I hope to hear more from her in the future to see the progression of her musical maturity and fine tuning of her talent.

tina kang

Magnetic North announced today that their debut album is no longer in print because they couldn’t get the licenses needed for the sample they used in “Drift Away”.

So what sample was it? If you hadn’t already guessed – Drift Away.  It was definitely a blow to us to have to pull our song, especially because we had only used 1 1/2 lines from the original.  Everything else including the verses, the rest of the chorus, the guitar, the drums, the entire instrumental was our own making.  Putting that piece of “Drift Away” in the song was more a sentimental reason than anything else… the original “Drift Away” is one of our fave songs.

Anyway, we mentioned rebirth earlier ‘cuz that’s what you have to do when you’re struck down.  So we revised “Drift Away”, took out every lil thing that could even minusculy seem like a sample, shined it up all nice with some new engineering and mastering and you know what?  We like it better than the older version.  We hope that ya’ll will too.

Check out the rest of the blog entry at the link below, or stop by their MySpace for the new song, “Within the Rhythm”.

blog.myspace.com/magnetichiphop

pat m.

Jin the MC is sufficiently into Barack Obama to write a song about his presidential campaign called “Open Letter to Obama”. Cute. None of my friends do that. MTV.com reports:

“One of the questions I kept getting asked — and this is before the campaign caught wind of it — was, ‘Why did you do this record?’ ” Jin said. “And in my mind it was like, ‘Well, I do this, or the record about the chick with the fat ass in the club.’ [He laughs.] And I was like, ‘Let me go with the Obama joint.’

Barack 1, Badonkadonks 0. Check out more of the news article at the link below, or cop the track here.

MTV News | Make Room, Moms For Obama: Jin Is Barack’s New MySpace Friend

pat m.