Friday, December 30, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Father Time having a laugh

Europe - "Final Countdown" (mp3)
(purchase here)

In the cut with an editor, we rap snark over the finer stylistic points of a tourism gig. "Anyone can do it..." "But, of course, a little part of you dies every time..."

Certainly, it's all a hoot. One cannot expect life to be all roses, all the time.

That said, I admit: I'm a scribe who doesn't like the year-end list. Funny, because ds and I frequently yarn on in list-like manner, and are likely to compare lists of, oh, "Top 10 Songs With Sample Clearance Lawsuits." But year-ends in the publishing world are a different beast, its salesman-like aspects so finely skewered in this DJ Rupture piece.

That said, I understand that as a person "of the life," this is another aspect of my bread and butter. And, bottom line, anyone who knows me knows that I'm not trying to say, "You must buy this," or, worse, "You will like this." And, if you don't know me, well, now you kn...

So, here're some lists I had fun making. Most are pretty standard, some you may see in another site I write for, others are "sintalentos exclusives." As for the tune of the day? Consider it a fine summary of the only 'necessary' television in my life, 05.

Be back in 06 with some new isht! No need to laundry list all the negative that happened; let's unite and make things right...

1) Seu Jorge - The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions (Hollywood)
2) Blackalicious - The Craft (Anti)
3) Miho Hatori - Ecdysis (Speedstar International)
4) Dengue Fever - Escape From Dragon House (Birdman/M80)
5) Fatlip - The Loneliest Punk (Delicious Vinyl)
6) Beatfanatic - Gospel According to Beatfanatic (Soundsoap)
7) Platinum Pied Pipers - Triple P (Ubiquity)
8) Walk the Line: OST (Wind-Up)
9) Cherie - New Music (3d)
10) DJ Mark Marcelo - The IgNant Mix (

1) Bill Withers - Just As I Am (Columbia/Legacy)
2) Original Block Party Edits (EMI Import)
3) Keith Hudson and Friends - The Hudson Affair (Trojan)
4) Kid Koala - Def Beat Remixes (Def Beat)
5) SalSoul Acapellas (Salsoul)

TOP 10 SONGS (all genres)
1) Steve Spacek - "Dollar" (Sound in Color)
2) Anthony Hamilton - "Can't Let Go" (So So Def)
3) Seu Jorge - "Eu Sou Favela" (Wrasse)
4) Amerie - "One Thing" (Siik remix) (
5) Miho Hatori - "Sweet Samsara, Pt. 2" (Speedstar International)
6) K-Otix - "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People" (
7) Cat Power - "Hanging on the Telephone" (Cingular commercial)
8) Lady Sovereign - "Tango" (
9) Bilal - "High and Dry" (white label)
10) Daniel Wang - "Berlin Sunrise" (Ghostly International)

1) Dr. Dre - DeTox; Nas/Primo (two, because I doubt these will see the light of day for another year or two)
2) Count Bass D - untitled full-length
3) Kelis - The Puppeteer
4) SA-RA Creative Partners - untitled full-length
5) Q-Tip - Live at the Renaissance
6) Giant Drag - they just put out a record, but I'd like to hear another one; consider it an early Xmas wish-list
* Bonus: A Benzino-Kanye bitch-slap fight

1) Blackstreet - Another Level (Interscope)

BONUS! Live, Live, Live

Band Name: Robbie Fulks
Show Date: November 18, 2005
Venue: Housing Works SoHo, NYC
Description: Remember the days of entertainment? Robbie does. Guitar licks for days, but his George Jones 'tribute' yarn was Killer.

Band Name: Keren Ann
Show Date: Sunday, November 20, 2005
Venue: Tribeca Performing Arts Center, NYC
Description: I'll excuse the timid singing, insecure guitar strumming, even the weak wah-piddling. But your sideman tool? Was he your BF? If so, I hope he is either well-hung or well-paid, because he's not doing you any favors.

Band Name: Miho Hatori
Show Date: August 31, 2005
Venue: Mercury Lounge, NYC
Description: Did she make that dress? Light and bright, perfect accoutrement to her late summer soundscape masterpiece.

Band Name: n/a (not trying to give 'em any free adverts)
Show Date: February 26, 2005
Venue: Apex Art Gallery, NYC
Description: Stop giving the "Save The Hoodie" campaign a bad name. The Unabomber look is out, DUDES.

Band Name: L'ACADCO
Show Date: May 25-29, 2005
Venue: Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC
Description: "A United Caribbean Dance Force" is how they describe the ensemble and this message is vividly depicted in their staging and appearance. Not limited to the yellow, black and green of founder L'Antoinette Stines' heritage, rich reds and cool blues vibrate against their panoply of Jamaican, Barbadan, Haitian and Trinidadian dress. Gorgeous for I and I.

Band Name: Ferai, percussionist for Chuck Davis
Show Date: March 3, 2005
Venue: various NYC public schools
Description: Talking with Ferai, one understands why he rolls with Davis (of African-American Dance Ensemble fame): he's got a heart of gold and hands born to make beats. Every time was a "best solo" moment, so picking one is a bit redundant. Sound and movement come alive in this man.

Band Name: n/a (ditto)
Show Date: February 26, 2005
Venue: Apex Art Gallery, NYC
Description: The bad part was that the heckling was familiar: "You f*g suck!" The worse part was that it was from my friend standing next to me. Nice.

Band Name: Tiombe Lockhart (singing with Platinum Pied Pipers)
Show Date: April 12, 2005
Venue: SOB's, NYC
Description: It wasn't that she was juiced, but her challenge to meet the right suitor over a bottle of whiskey was positively sexy.

Band Name: Daniel Bernard Roumain
Show Date: April 15, 2005
Venue: IMC Expo, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC
Description: I fear he'll be consumed as the violin coming of Savion Glover, but listening to him enthrall an audience of Artforum subscribers, Hank Shocklee and the curious convinced me.

Band Name: xVOYx
Show Date: February 26, 2005
Venue: Apex Art Gallery
Description: Singer Texas Tom was still rocking his seven-year suit (he wore the same tan outfit for seven years) and was doing the Devo Roboto... but it was totally Tom. Reunion in The 6?

Band Name: No Name
Show Date: Didn't Happen
Venue: No Place in Particular
Description: Whoo, I lucked out this year! Or at least blocked it from my memory at this point. Guess I'm getting better at picking my shows...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just Like a Child

Cradle of Cats

Mates of State - "Nature and the Wreck" (mp3)
(order here)

Want to know why I miss the Bay? Because of such sunshine joy as Mates of State. While some company dwell in misery, this pair sings without a care... Hey, such pure sincerity is a refreshing turn from the awkward flashes that occupy plenny pods and thoughts.

A penny: "You need me to put you in the trees."

Love not so much as extroverted passion as it is introspective and protective. An escape pod for two, a journey built together... like child and parent... or like the one between a certain super-gorilla and an über-waif? The beautiful inevitable likened to parental.

Tomorrow, one last year-end type business, then we'll meet at 6!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let Down...

Even the yojimbo doesn't approve

Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Disgusted Blues" (mp3)
(purchase here)

I have been putting off a full post on Memoirs of a Geisha, because of the sheer volume of thoughts screaming in my head. In truth, I look at my notes and realize I have been waiting for over two months to write about this film, but it is obvious now that there are several different topics tugging at me. So, a quick SPOILER alert, and, in the words of the Choco Boy Wonder, keep it simple stupid -- let's rap about a rat.

To start, when I am at a loss for words I turn to that tennô-blog in the sky and summon forth one phrase:


"Hot," because, as Manohla Dargis pointed out in her NY Times review, the film dwells in lustful, soap opera territory (which may explain the soaps-style casting). Children sold off. Children separated. Child beaten. Child falls in love (with 40+ year old man). Child beaten some more. Child grows up to be a teen who gets in catfights. Cat-calling. Rape. More catfights. War. Blue-collar labor. Longing for love. Arranging sex to ward off attention of unwanted lover, thus freeing girl to pursue true love, but inadvertently warding off true love instead. Absolvement with true love. The End. If Passions is your thing, then the numerous disconnected and poorly-timed plotlines of this film will surely entertain you. However, if you appreciate a well-written, well-organized melodrama, then this film will bore the eff out of you.

"Ass," because this was the apparent organ-of-choice during the planning process of the film. A small sampling:
  • Production support from Spyglass Entertainment and Spielberg? Ok. Investing such lush support in spotty research, poor scripting and questionable direction? Wot, wot, wot???
  • Casting A-list actors like Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe and Gong Li? Ok. Having each of these non-English speakers speak in alternating broken/Queen's English in a film set in Japan with Japanese characters? Must've been too much green in they tea!
  • Slapping a Hollywood seal of approval on Asian culture in cinema by sponsoring a film using Asian culture? I'm hesitant, like when I'm being distracted by the nurse before the booster shot, but ok... Making a movie that (ab)uses Asian culture as a backdrop for a shitty storyline? Hell to the nah!
And, finally...

...a "Mess," because of the sheer volume of inaccuracies, failures and disasters that "Hot" and "Ass" add up to. Junichi Semitsu hit the two immediate points that bothered me: 1) the incredulity of this "romance" (thus proving the validity of my theory that you can buy off a girl that you like-like with icy goodness); and 2) the flagrancy of bloken engrish accents (" my opinion, a Japanese girl in a catfight with another Japanese girl while in Japan - in a movie funded by a Japanese company - should probably be speaking Japanese. And anybody with an interest in seeing this film will be literate enough to read subtitles"). And then there's the salty wash of tinted contacts, absurd parallels with and inversions of the Sweet Charity/Whore-With-A-Heart-Of-Gold storyline (apparently the screenwriter couldn't decide how inaccurately they wanted to portray geisha: as tortured whores? or as sweet goodies with a sticky red bean filling? both!), chintzy choreography (for a hilarious comparison, please compare the dance sequences with those of the actual prostitutes' in Yojimbo), gratuitous close-ups (emote, Ziyi, emote!), unnecessary use of filters (so sad!) and, I will go out on a limb, a suspect catering budget. But a summation of my dismay goes a little something like this: A Complete Waste of Talent and Money.

Look, let's put all these shards of frustration and annoyance together.

First, Memoirs is a film. I concede that racial bias makes my first impulse to raze the red lantern. But even when analyzing the film on its cinematic qualities, I find it a poor and unimaginative piece of work. In addition to the aforementioned technical flaws, the story is generally a poor execution of plain ol' conflict-resolution (introduction of protag, conflict, protag's shortcoming, training sequence wherein protag's shortcoming is overcome and resolution; by the way, you realize this is the structure of wuxia?). However, the pacing of the first quarter drags when excessive time is spent on the backstory to the backstory, leaving the audience wondering, "Where's Ziyi?" When the main character's conflict is introduced and the catalyst for her "training" occurs, perhaps two minutes (at most) are devoted to charting her "mastery" of her "craft." Instead of demonstrating to the audience why the main character deserves the reputation of being the top geisha of the game, the film makes clear its intention of dressing itself in the exotic fashions of long gazes, backstabbing, backstabbing of backstabbers and pettiness.

Even the film's greatest assets, its stars, cannot overcome such poor character development. The excellent Kaori Momoi and brilliant Gong Li are forced to troll through stock tropes of unreigned lust, menstruating hysteria and Crawfordian connivance... minus any of the appealing qualities Crawford gave to such menace (Please note, fault cannot be placed on actresses when a director is present; after all, there's a difference in responsibility between the one who signs the checks and the one who receives them). Instead, they are forced to tread the depth of Cinderella's evil step-biatches and appear onscreen solely to poke and prod Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi). In fact, contrary to Dargis' mild interpretation, their respective appearances alone bathe in and update the Dragon Lady stereotype. Swap a cheongsam out with dull clothing, Joyner-Kersee nails for some long Lee Press-ons and an effed-up accent with another effed-up accent and it's the Next Episode: 2005.

As for our main star, the girl plods through a pigsty of a script, falling into or out of other characters' arms with little directorial or camera focus to make it clear that we are supposed to know what's going on in her head. Oh, and the screaming mimi cop-out that your emotions will be explained to you? The present-day narration. Skanks for nothing. On the otherhand, if silence speaks volumes maybe Ziyi should've stayed quiet for the entire film. Where her wide-eyed looks of adolescent glee and doe-eyed bursts of unbridled passion have worked wonders in films based in her native tongue, her cotton-mouthed performance is simply painful to watch.

That said, any audience member who lives in America has to recognize a central characteristic about this country: race pays. Depending on the color, depending on the situation, race can work for and/or against you. The bottom line is that it matters, it exists. And Hollywood has been no different than any other business or art form in both exploiting and addressing it.

And this is where Memoirs inevitably runs into its social critique. Quite frankly, the film stands in line with a legacy bookended by such classics as Charlie Chan and Last Samurai. But modern times mean modern perspectives, right? So, you'd think that Memoirs would make an effort to step beyond Flower Drum Song rhetoric. But with all the aforementioned flaws, the film sinks under its skewed perspective. A telling point of the film's failure is when the American Army officer describes Sayuri as one of the "mysteries of the Orient." Unwavering faith that this is not a malicious film tells me the line is meant to paint the officer as a rube, especially when he is in the company of a gang of Japanese characters. But the line has the complete opposite effect: it illuminates the fact that Memoirs is purely the East held through the Western (kill the blue-eyed jokes!) gaze. Worse, it it is indicative of the film's willingness to observe without any active interest in understanding. Much like how Lost in Translation successfully used Tokyo (and, one extrapolates, all of Japan)'s otherness as a festive backdrop for Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray's existentialist romps through postgrad/midlife malaise, Memoirs sticks to the stump speech of the '90s (yeah, it's that behind): "Japan isn't weird and exotic. It's just different."

A couple final points:
  • I am not upset that a film that stars Japanese characters and set in Japan does not star many Japanese actors. This is a Hollywood film; if I want an all-Japanese cast, I know where to get my Japanese-made films. Also, I understand there is leeway for the actor's craft. Besides, I'm sure we all agree that the English don't have sole propriety over Shakespeare. Lastly, I am very pleased to see several terrific actors (got my eye on you, Yakusho Kôji) gettin' they daps and gettin' paid, too. As Erin Quill recently elucidated, one way to combat the underepresentation of Asians and Asian-Americans in media is to simply get out there. As any person of color knows (or if you don't, just look at some population stats, like here), we are called minorities for a numerically accurate reason. Granted, certain cities have ratios that differ drastically. But we're talkin' about the whole pie, people. Therefore, the pressure is on us to go out there with our best foot forward. Sure, I cry The Man a'plenty, but momma always said, "Crying gets you nowhere."

  • And I'm not going to fault the film for the merchandising. Frankly, a lot of the stuff looks laughably bad.
That said, I will commend the film for keeping this lady's name out of the film. Wouldn't want another Benzino. Hey oh!

Big ups to imdiversity for citations.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Girls, Girls, Girls

Guys can't tell

M.O.T.O. (Masters of the Obvious) - "The Chicks Can Tell" (mp3)
(purchase here; search for the various artists Floosh! compilation, Little Teddy LP Release 035)

Sold your soul lately for a ricecake?

Such was the lebel (no typo) of fecality (ditto) that roughly 1M stepped in this past weekend. In my humble opinion.

But more on this embarassment tomorrow, because, really, the weekend was quite pleasant in these parts. And, today, we look forward to another year in the neverending quest for concrete lurvin'. Sure, some have already paired off and have been retiring around the log. Thank goodness one lustful soul continues to stoke the flame. Skanks for the mix!

Comin' straight from the city of wind comes a blend about -- wot, wot, wot??!? -- mysterious Venus and the Mars that follow. idontkaren makes it difficult to pick favorites because they are all spectacular nuggets of soda pop rocks explosions. Ah, so much to get your mouth around! (by the way, thanks very much to the Balboa Observer-Picayune for tracking that splendid quote. I digress, once again)

So, as the 06 approaches and men don their muscle tees and other Hot Cops-accoutrement for the annual pea-cock parade, I would like to respond with this proud number from one of New Orleans/Boston/Chicago's finest, M.O.T.O. With pride and pomp, the band struts and chucks off "hormones and pheromones" in a manner unbeknownst even to Strauss. Nerds and jocks, take a cue -- it's all in the confident backbeat, brothers.

For more information on M.O.T.O., please visit their site or myspace page. Their new album, Raw Power (yes, they are that good, if they can pull off using that title), is available through Criminal IQ Records.

Friday, December 23, 2005

'til the Midnight Hour

Not everyone could afford a cab ride home...

ザ・モージョ (The Mojo) - "クレイジー・ミッドナイト" ("Crazy Midnight") (mp3)
(purchase here)

Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone - "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Not quite midnight madness, but a peculiar week indeed. A sigh of relief? It's only aggravation. And transit woes hardly hold a candle to those up in Capitol Hill.

Sittin' in the middle, we're stuck with an extension. Seems all we can say these days is, "At least it's not..." Now, more than ever, is a time to dial up the local congressperson instead of sittin' lovey...

Still feelin' discombobulated, I'll close out the week with the last of my finds from abroad. A whole series called Japanese Rockin' Psyche & Punk '65-'71 dropped just as I was leaving, all of which is phenomenal. The sound quality is crisp, though unsurprising because the tracks are tapped from Columbia Records' well. Not a lot I can tell you about The Mojo aside from being the backing band for another singer on this comp. The song is from their 1969 single and apparently it has been making some noise on the club circuit -- yes, Japanese hipsters love leather, too.

Oh, I almost forgot about the weekend! Cheers to everyone's day (hopefully, days) off... I'd leave you with Homer, Jethro and June Carter's og take on my favorite holiday tune... whose modern interpretation may actually translate to date rape... but all I have handy right now is the recent take from Elf with Zooey! So, it's ok! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ufufu You, Too

Don't call me Sayuri

一青 窈 (Hitoto Yô) - "音叉" ("Onsa") (mp3)
(purchase here)

While some gettin' surly over the MTA strike, the bigger drayma really hit high gear 'fore the weekend even started. Bush wished the press corp "Happy Holidays!" and made another pointed remark before signing off for the year. I'm with Notes' headline on this one, f'sure. Way to distance yourself from the people, once again...

While "frustration with morally reprehensible acts of a criminal politico" and "J-Pop" don't normally go hand-in-hand, I turn to one such singer for today's selection. Hitoto Yô hit it big in Japan about two or three years ago, but she came onto my radar through Café Lumière. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's tribute to Japanese melodrama master Yasujirô Ozu was maligned unfairly (who can expect to be Ozu except for Ozu?), but I found Hitoto's performance (her acting debut, no less) to be spot on. Perhaps Hsiao-Hsien was indeed taken by the parallels between the singer's background and the disconnected duality of her character (once again, the ever-trusty UK press had this interview with Hitoto around this time last year; note, the spoiler has a large inaccuracy in it), but her aloof persona is a perfect match for her character Yoko's late-20s Peter Pan-isms. But I digress.

Hitoto's music still flirts with the familiar J-Pop terrain of adolescent melodrama, but in a manner considerably more extroverted than that of her peers. While numerous Japanese artists go awkwardly out of their way to explore the other, Hitoto subtly draws her influences in and translates them in her own peculiar manner. In a word, her music is a unique blend of Japanese popular aesthetics and international explorations. Her latest single,
"指切り" ("Yubikiri," or "Nailclipper") single, is a jagged piece of rock that features a startlingly impassioned vocal from Hitoto. However, the video (sorry, a 30-second clip is the best I could find) is a reverse study of Björk-ian appropriations, clean modern lines and post-Flying Daggers dances (you like that? I got more of 'em, too). In this manner, her best songs are refreshingly discombobulating.

Today's selection is a b-side to the aforementioned jump-off single (her third album, &, was released yesterday; scroll to the middle of this page for sound clips) and perhaps the large reason why I took note. A furious, borderline emo take on Timbo, "Onsa" is, to the best of my understanding, another relationship diagram, an attempt to find convergence when paths diverge. The fragility of her voice, while unusually and brilliantly paired on "Yubikiri," is crazy displaced over this crunk-ass beat... but in an equally brilliant manner. The claustrophobic performance mixed with early '00's Missy-isms makes for a more interesting mash-up than even 50 over Philip Glass.

A couple sidenotes: I find her pronunciation refreshingly different (she is half-Taiwanese, half-Japanese and was raised in Taiwan until age 6, but I wouldn't say she has a Taiwanese accent) and, quite frankly, her occasionally faltering pitch to be pretty damn real (hey, not everything needs to be fixed in ProTools; have you heard how out of tune "Walk the Line" is?). However, all of these apparent "mistakes" are precisely what makes her music quite inventive to my ears. Tracing latitude when it appears to be longitude, yet consistently meeting.

Now, if a 28-year old pop singer can find commonalities in differences, why can't a 59-year old President just admit his ass is wrong?

One last bit of trivia: want a possible reason for the big boomin' sound of this cut? Brian "Big Bass" Gardner handled the mastering. The opening paragraph of the linked interview says it all: he's worked with Dre, Em, Mary, Nelly Furtado, Pink... and on J-Pop. Now, that's gangster.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I Ain't Got You, Babe

Vanilla Sky

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon - "It Ain't Me, Babe" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Quiet storm a'brewin'. Extensions of tension broken by glimpses of passion and flashes of mortality. Let the flock run out yonder and there they will be lost.

And I walk away with little hope for domesticity?

Certainly, the marketed titillation posed a threat. Chaps on strapping chaps? Set against the backdrop of Wyoming's broken backs?? Named Heath and Jake??? Regardless of who was on top, dibs were an open invitation.

Yet, have faith in Ang Le and ye shall receive a blessed experience. His internal struggles (The Wedding Banquet and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman) have avoided epic pomp and instead become sharply defined (Ice Storm) and lushly fantastic (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). His vision of decisions made and how they are dealt with has been consistently compassionate. Though confused and compromised at times (Ride the Devil and The Hulk), few directors approach their subject matter with the confidence to say: Let It Be.

The more I reflect on Brokeback Mountain, the more it crushes, the more it compels... the more it draws me back in. Still tryin', indeed.

Oddly enough, I then turn to Hollywood's spin on redemption. Yet what makes Walk the Line work is the hurt that rumbles below. Almost fortunate then that Joaquin ain't no Johnny and Reese bubbles past June, because they find their own pointed sadness on "It Ain't Me Babe," a search for security and trust... in the wrong person. "Someone to close his eyes to you / Someone to close his heart... / But it ain't me... Babe." While individually compelling, here their voices are so distant from each other -- his an upfront boom of darkness, hers a Brokeback escaping further into the distance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Take This Job And...

MTA/TWU Negotiations:
Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle...

Jel - "Soft Money, Dry Bones" (mp3)
(purchase here)

People in stasis; what the basis?

"'This is a fight over dignity and respect on the job, a concept that is very alien to the MTA,' union President Roger Toussaint said in announcing the strike. 'Transit workers are tired of being underappreciated and disrespected.'" (link)

But, let's be honest, when the boss floss hoggish (uh, for the second time, no less), everyone wants a cut.

And reading the above statement, it obviously wasn't completely about the talking points. All this over a pension? Please.

PS - MTA reminding me once again why I need to get into real estate.

Jel may be thinking abroad, but greed is as greed does. Chase the paper, run in circles, doggies; streets is watching...

Monday, December 19, 2005

List Service

The Lox

The Delfonics - "Didn't I Blow Your Mind?" (mp3)
(purchase here)

A weekend of farewells to old friends and hellos to new ones, yet conversations constantly returned to partnership and compatibility. Wandering souls have tired of the tired old watering holes and moved onto the next frontier. Fortunately (or so they say), from Friendster to Match, there's a site with a specific criteria whereupon you will find your, uh, match.

So why do the choices look so familiar?

Perhaps because the critiera presumes too much: that we all have favorite music; that commonly shared favorite music means compatibility (or even vice versa); or simply that having favorite music says something concrete about a person. At its most painful, it can ask a person whose exposure to music is casual, at best (such as a radio backdrop), to cite specifics on the great unknown. And what is worse is that we have become so inundated with "favorite music" selections that certain popular picks lose their meaning altogether (was Fluxblog taking tokes from the same wacky to-backy last week??).

So, in an effort to help us all (non- and über-music folk alike) I now present to you a very incomplete list of what my colleagues and I feel are:


  • Tupac, Biggie, 50 Cent ~ All get a big, "N*a please."
  • Interpol, The Strokes, The Killers ~ The inevitability of all things "Alternative." Ah, Clap You Hands and Say, Blah!
  • Jimi, Zeppelin, Doors, Floyd and some other bands with white dudes I've seen on black t-shirts ~ Likewise, the inevitability of all things "Classic." Unless you're black. Then it's, like, whoa.
  • Bob ~ And all by his lonesome, too. Who's trying to drop yardy knowledge on these boards?
  • Dave Matthews ~ There's a "Band," too, right?
  • Coldplay ~"You know how I know you're gay?"
  • U2 ~ Usually means one of two things: the Lilith Fair route ("I also like Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan...") or the Generic Alternative (see Interpol... entry above). Both of which say... exactly.
  • Neal Diamond ~ Gotta keep the list's novelty choice current.
    ...and, finally...
  • The Beatles ~ Oddly enough, if someone posted a true king of rock, that may actually say something...

Please feel free to add, edit, comment... Because it don't mean a thing to me!

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Grandma was a chick at one point..."

Sesame Street, Gifu

Bill Withers - "Grandma's Hands" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Blackstreet - "No Diggety" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Miho Hatori - "A Song for Kids" (mp3)
(purchase here)

If Japan is indeed a senior citizen state, then Bill would reason there's strength in her hands. Looking to mine, I see a pair reaching for 90 yet ever careful to fold her 1 cm2 plastic pack of medicine in half before disposing of it in the plastics-only trash bag. "Life is so hard," she smiles. "Why bother?" Because it's what we're here for. She recognizes that; it's healthy to rib it and make sure it's still breathing. No diggety.

Indeed, Japan's median age is only pushing 40, so no need to put her to sleep, aight? Still, the advancement of time makes one reflect. Ex-Cibo Matto starlet Miho Hatori is still a sprite, but she reminsces over the sweetest and sourest... and brings it up to speed. "A Song For Kids" recalls life talks with ma, pa and even that fisherman. Her solo debut, Ecdysis, is a Japan-only release, but NYC heads who missed her in August can peep her tonight:

Miho Hatori
107 Norfolk St (btwn Delancey and Rivington)
Tonight, December 16

PS ~ For more grown'n sexy, peep Calabassas' finest:
Susie Sue
Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Tonight, December 16

Opening for Martin Sexton

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Roll Out

Y'know, the one that goes, "Yellow...?"

Cherie - "Tears" (mp3)
(purchase here)

While the cherry blossom, or sakura, figures prominently in Japanese flora, the maple tree, or momiji, should not be forgotten. With its rich reds and shimmering yellows, momiji in the fall can be a breathtaking sight. Sure, North America is privy to its share of maple; I have yet to experience a proper October outing in the Hudson Valley. However, what I was practically assaulted with in Kyoto and Nara was absolutely stunning. Perhaps it is the relatively lower level of air pollution, but there is a crispness and sharpness to the color unlike any I have seen here.

Strolling through these streets in the early morning, I thought of that old sweet Dusty rolling slowly out of sleep and into the loving embrace of day. A late bloomer like the fall season and hardly a looker like her pichi-pichi girlfriends, yet facing the world through stark color filters.

Today, Cherie rolls (with the previously featured Ape Sounds crew) to the beat of the new Bacharach. She is more of a looker lost in the sugar sweet sunshine of yesterday's old Air, slow mo strutting over wet stone and through a light drizzle. New Music, the second album from this part-time model, features a couple usual suspects (Money Mark and Shawn Lee) and a delicious Isley Bros. cover ("For The Love of You"); hip takes on the traditional, check. Catch some "Tears" to coast you atop the condensation, "When the flowers bloom, so does my heart..."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Clemency for the Soul

Standing in the Shadows of Love

Tei Towa - "Risk Some Soul" (f/ Luomo and asg) (mp3)
(purchase here)

According to the CIA, Japan ranks sixth in terms of life expectancy. Other statistics, such as its high literacy rate (99%, both male and female), and fourth-place global ranking in GNP and GDP further support the common Western notion that tudo bom in Japón.

However, a report released in mid-2004 revealed a record 34,427 suicides in 2003, a 7.1% increase from the previous year. To put this in some context for us, " today's Japan you are about 4.5 times more likely to die by your own hand than be killed in a traffic accident. In the UK the same ratio is 1.7 times." According to the CDC, 30,622 people took their lives in the US in 2001.

Japan has its share of ills, especially post-bubble. And yet it still feeds on itself to a degree. The past couple weeks in Japan, the big news on the morning talk shows was of two consecutive (but unrelated) murders of young girls. In the first, a 30-year old Japanese-Peruvian man was arrested and charged with the murder of 7-year old Airi Kinoshita near Hiroshima. About a week-and-a-half after the discovery of Kinoshita's corpse, 7-year old Yuki Yoshida was discovered stabbed to death just outside of Tokyo. Yoshida's murderer(s) remains at large. Yet plenty of horror, fear and speculation abounded...

Returning home, I found a similar ill with regards to the passing of two other souls. Pryor and Williams, kicked to the curb.

How quick we all seem to be to place judgement on life, be it our own or of another.

Towa Tei may seem an unusual commentator for such a hefty load, especially when the subject line gives it up to Mr. E. That said, there is a particular sadness to this lone track that sits in the middle of his newest album, Flash. "Ain't nothing good about me / 'til we meet again." Is a first impression all we are allowed? Would each of us shine so bright in the eyes of Amida, Allah or the Christ on a first date? A little reconsideration, please.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Back to Basics

Giant Robot

Teriyaki Boyz - "Kamikaze 108" (Swisha House Remix) (mp3)
(purchase here)

The other day, I tried Googling "hip hop lyrics" and "appropriation." I thought I had actually heard some joint that used the a-word. And, no, it wasn't in a backpacker anthem, but rather a Killa Cam or B. Mack song, which was what made it stand out. Needless to say, I found mostly academic papers and no undiscovered Dipset dissertations. However, even aside from the Google search, I can say with fair certainty that in spite of hip hop's revolutionary frankness about cultural and musical appropriation, it doesn't really namecheck the concept too often.

All the better because I have always felt the onus of analyzing the process should fall on... the listener! Really, I would hate to listen to music that just maps everything out for me; gimme a lil' something to chew on, right?

Which is perhaps why I am endlessly fascinated with hip hop (and numerous other popular music forms) in Japan. The meeting of a country rooted in flipping the script with a culture that coined the phrase itself? C'mon, you know it's gotta make for a mind-bender. The first problem in attempting this via stateside is the lack of actual knowledge of J-Hip Hop over here. Remembering those Scha Dara Parr verses on that De la cut or that Beasties live track isn't enough; that's like telling South Africa it's ok to base their idea of jazz on that one Chuck Mangione record. Additionally, there actually seems to be a perception that J-Hip Hop (and numerous other things Japanese): a) bites; b) bites openly; and c) bites hard.

Before I go any further, I will preface by saying that the following comments are based mostly on observations from my week and a half of consuming. I am in no way an expert in Japanese popular culture. I spent a bit of time growing up over there and I frequently draw upon that perspective, so one can take that for what it is worth.

From a purely musical standpoint, I don't like a lot of the J-Hip Hop or J-Pop that I have heard... however, for different reasons from the aforementioned. First, a fair amount of hip hop (and pop) that makes it onto Japanese MTV (or, in general, what catches heat on radio, TV, clubs, or stores) is just like what you would expect from our MTV: simple, catchy pop. That said, if you're still tuning into MTV to get some sort of litmus on "the realness," well, I will remind you of the network's 13-year old target demographic. It is what it is, A? So, in short: I tend to veer away from pop music, regardless of national origin.

Second, even in the examples cited above, I wouldn't necessarily call them "biting" because that seems to forget the idea of appropriation. Here's a handy bit on musical appropriation, courtesy of Wikipedia:
    "Gino Stefani makes appropriation the chief criterion for his 'popular' definition of melody (Stefani 1987a). Melody, he argues, is music 'at hand'; it is that dimension which the common musical competence extracts (often with little respect for the integrity of the source), appropriates and uses for a variety of purposes: singing, whistling, dancing, and so on." (Middleton, Richard. Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. 1990/2002. p.96)
My spin on this? The idea that art, or anything, can be created from a vacuum or from nothing is a bit naïve. How does this apply to these samples of Japanese pop and hip hop? That they are logical and natural interpretations of appropriation. Style, dress, appearance, samples, song structure, melody, etc. provide form to hip hop definitions of: what makes a starlet look hot, or what defines a classic hip hop LP sleeve, or how to flip an Ahmad Jamal piano loop. However, is that blonde in the see-through briefs Beyoncé? Did Guru and Primo lose some melanin over the years? Is Jigga attempting a takeover of Tokyo? No, no and, well, I'm not so sure about the last one, but I'll wager no. Inversions, perhaps, but certainly something else entirely. So, to equate these acts with a kid spitting Rakim lines on the schoolyard and claiming them for his own seems a little meh to me.

Fortunately for the sake of time, I did not have to dig too much to find some nuggets. And, with that, I finally turn to our feature of the day: The Teriyaki Boyz. A super-group of J-Hip Hop headz -- Ilmari and Ryo-Z of Rip Slyme, Verbal of m-Flo, and Wise and Nigo of hipster illuminati A Bathing Ape -- the group has caught some nice press and spins on MTV with the recent release of their album. What I like about them is that they have nailed and completely flipped the idea of Japanese hip hop for both their native and international audience. Everything from the name to the promo images feels like a direct comment on Western perceptions of both the East and how the East consumes Western culture. Yes, this is what you think we're about: small silly men in oversized clothes and grills filled with both 14K and a garlic-based sauce that wasn't even popular in Japan until it blew up in the States. Certainly, they are dealing with obvious stereotypes... but it is that obviousness which catches attention. And, fortunately, they have some skills to back it up... along with Def Jam-backing and an A-list production team that even Jeezy couldn't muster: Mark Ronson, Daft Punk, Automater, Cut Chemist, the Neptunes... and those are just the first five cuts.

Now, before American heads catch a bit of the post-Iraqi acid reflux and start hollerin' about why the U.S. doesn't look out for its own first (Just Blaze, Primo, Shadow and Adrock round out the bunch; now, take yer Tums), I'll admit that a lot of these cuts sound like leftovers: DP's "Heartbreaker" is more of that Human After All metallic mouthwash, Ronson's "Takeover" could easily be a To the Five Boroughs ghost prodo and the Neptunes' "超 Large" is just a plain ol' break plus synth... oh, and of course Skatey P on the hook. However, the Boyz drop flourishes like sexy ladies cooing "Teriyaki, baby" against Lick Lips' "Go ahead, baby," or, better, an entire tongue-deeply-in-cheek ode to the loose look [Just Blaze's "今夜はバギーパンツ" (Tonight, it's the Baggy Pants)]. In other words, we have a popular Japanese hip hop group with a clever take on hip hop image. Plus, as a whole, they keep the album consistent, which is more than can be said about the bulk of rent-a-producer albums released over here.

My great concern is that this record will not be heard widely in the West -- Spine got a hold of the Shadow-produced "Kamikaze 108 (酉年 mix)" a while back, but that was the last word I heard -- which is where this record could and should make a difference. However, even the idea of this record being spun alongside the nonsense feels positively subversive.

Ok, I'd love to write more, but my browser has already crashed on me three times and I've lost a lot of content in the process, so time to Wrap This Isht Up:

A quick word about the cut above. Yes, it is indeed a Swishahouse prodo. And, yes, I know I am getting older because when I first heard house prodo Michael Watts' name, I got a lil' mad thinking, "Dude, Mike Watt isn't even dead yet!" By the way, have you heard the Minuteman? That's another name that's gettin' me steamed... Anyway. What I find hilariously good and bad about this bonus track is that it both misses and gets the subtlety of American hip hop. It misses the point because, well, do you really want to drink your drank to this? I mean, I liked the idea of Shadow producing Keak Da Sneak, but I didn't really spill my drink when I first heard that cut. Now, we've got someone trying to chop and screw a "Holy Calamity" (The Lost Sessions) breakstravaganza? No, danks. That said, the TB get the sublety by, well, staying up on what's hot and C&S'g something few Americans have begun to thought about C&S'g. To jack a phrase from The Most Brilliantest Site In The World, is it it a certfied H.A.M.? Maybe not, because it's not all that bad, but it is endlessly fascinating to me...

Monday, December 12, 2005

And It's Deep, Too

King of Comedy

(Image copyright �2004 Indigo, Inc. / Richard Pryor. All Rights Reserved.)

Johnny Cash - "A Boy Named Sue" (mp3)
(purchase here)

It was inevitable. The doc's title -- an encapsulation of his sardonic and self-effacing observations, precisely the sort of thing that would come out of the mouth of this particular senior of comedy, "I Ain't Dead Yet, Motherf*er!" -- had come to roost.

Would he have had it any other way?

Richard Pryor. Not a stand-up comedian. Not a writer-actor. Not even an animal rights activist. After all, he had that quality, that 'star' ability, like Nina, Stevie or Marvin, to transcend chatter. Forget the forgettable '80s films, or the crack tales, or even his inversions of profanity; he walked the line knowing that much of the debate would get mired in muckraking, patiently awaiting the dust to settle and for everyone to wake up: "Hello... what were we thinking?"

Watching Walk the Line, I was reminded of Pryor's redemption tales. His Is It Something I Said? remains a similar testament to life looking forward by laughing backwards; "What was I thinking?? Now, moving on..."

Additionally, I am reminded of their similarity in depravity of humor. Both had a keen sense of their audience's moral standards and subsequently dealt sin (both theirs and those of others) a loving towel-slap to the hiney. Hence, today's music selection, a live rendition of "A Boy Named Sue" from one of Cash's live albums, At San Quentin. The virtual limerick hinges on overdriven male machismo, but takes the boys to the brink before having the last laugh. Peep the media section Pryor's website for the hee-haws he had at both his fans' and his expense.

Of course, both Cash and Pryor are icons to me, sources for objects of sensation that I consume, embrace, analyze... so I can only regard them as such. Both are survived by a number of progeny and friends who have had concrete relationships with the men. Yet both crafted work that managed to touch a far-reaching mass... no, masses. No one population owns either; they belong to so many.

I am obviously saddened by their absence. But, hard-working 'til the very end, I am also relieved that they are finally at rest. Now, when I hear that whistle blowin', I'll always think, "What was I thinking? Those two were crazy..."

On another note, it's my girl's birthday. Hey~oh! Holla at your boy... On to the J-Biz tomorrow...

Friday, December 09, 2005

End to End Freezers

From this... this...

Talib Kweli - "Supreme, Supreme" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Globetrotting dun dada, feeling rebooted, getting set for next week's big update. Got lots of fantastic plastic machines, foreign goodies and miscellania to get yer 1-2 step on. In the meantime, how about some hype hyphey for your pre-Saturday Night Rollerskating Jam? Bitties get the jump off, this one is for all the supreme people livin' out their destinies...

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Darling, just go and cut yer hair

(Image copyright © 2005 Mark Llobrera. All rights reserved.)

No time for a real update, but my column for Popmatters debuted last Friday. I doubt it's still on the front page, so here's the link to the article.