8 Asians

Image courtesy of NBC News.

Back in 2015, I had watched on 60 Minutes and also read with dismay Chinese American Sherry Chen’s story:

“On Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, Sherry Chen drove, as usual, to her office at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, where she forecast flood threats along the Ohio River. She was a bit jet-lagged, having returned a few days earlier from a visit to China. But as she headed to her desk, she says, she had no reason to think it was anything other than an ordinary day. Then her boss summoned her.

Once inside his office, a back door opened and in walked six agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The agents accused Mrs. Chen, a hydrologist born in China and now a naturalized American citizen, of using a stolen password to download information about the nation’s dams and of lying about meeting with a high-ranking Chinese official.

Mrs. Chen, 59, an adoptive Midwesterner who had received awards for her government service, was now suspected of being a Chinese spy. She was arrested and led in handcuffs past her co-workers to a federal courthouse 40 miles away in Dayton, where she was told she faced 25 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

“Why,” Mr. Zeidenberg said he asked, “if she’s a spy, is she coming back from China and telling her colleagues that ‘I met this guy in China and this is what he wants to know’? Why is she telling the guy in China, ‘Here’s my boss’s phone number’? Why is she asking for a password over email? Why would you do that?”

Mr. Zeidenberg says the prosecutors listened. On March 10, the day after their meeting, they dismissed the charges.”

I actually got to meet Chen in Palo Alto where she was a guest for a talk on “A Seminar on Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: Legal Risks in Advancing Technology between the U.S. and China.” Although I’m an American-born Taiwanese American, I have worked for two Chinese companies, so I am acutely aware of the possible discrimination against Asian Americans. In fact, I remember finding out that one of my Mom’s church friend’s siblings was Taiwanese American scientist and falsely accused spy Wen Ho Lee.

So it was with great pleasure that I had read about Chen getting back her old job that she had cherished so much:

“Yet the National Weather Service terminated her from employment doing the job she loved at its offices near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Determined to stand up and speak out, Sherry challenged the termination decision through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative system meant to protect hard-working public employees such as her. On April 23, the decision was issued that ordered she be returned to her work on behalf of the public and be given backpay.

In the 118-page opinion, the judge also found:

Ms. Chen asserts that she is the “victim of a gross injustice.” After reviewing the evidence and testimony in this matter I believe Ms. Chen’s assertion is correct . . . It was, however, extremely evident by their demeanor, that both [decision-makers] were simply digging their heels in when it came time to support the decision they had made. . . . In short, [they] seemed more concerned about being right than doing the right thing. Based on the unyielding nature of their testimony, I would not have been surprised if they rejected that 2 + 2 = 4.”

The Commerce Department has planned to appeal the ruling, so she still does not have her job back.  Several Asian American organizations released this joint communique condemning the appeal.

There are legitimate cases to prosecute when it comes to Asian Americans and espionage for national or commercial means, but with the increasingly mostly economic rivalries between the United States and China, the U.S. must ensure that the proper due diligence is applied before more innocent Americans are wrongfully charged and terminated.

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Young Fina: slanty-eyed dreama

This is the summer of Awkwafina.  The New York rapper’s new movie Ocean’s 8 is a hit, and her next film Crazy Rich Asians is expected to blow up in August.  With all the “Who’s Awkwafina?” buzz I’ve been hearing in film reviews, I didn’t notice until the other day that she released a new EP right when Ocean’s 8 hit the screen.  This is what she says on her website.

To whom it may conce:

I made this album for my Day 1s — the fans who believed in me and were for me from the jump…I came to terms years ago that my music isn’t for everyone — and I like it that way.

So that’s why I cherish the small group that “gets it.”  My first album, Yellow Ranger, was recorded/produced/mixed&mastered on my bed.  It encapsulated a raw-ness and a memory of myself as an unsure musician, trying to find her place.  With your help, I finally found it.

I.F.W.T. is for my fans, my city, my hometown, and for all the young girls who it might inspire to follow their dreams in a world that often tells them they can’t.

I owe my career to you guys.

I will be eternally grateful for you, and will never stop making music for you.

With love and gratitude,
Awkafina

I’ve been an admirer since someone sent me links to her “My Vag” and “NYC Bitche$” videos about four years ago, and while I’m not much of a Snapchatter, for a while I couldn’t get enough of Awkwafina’s snaps, which featured a lot of hanging out, riding in Ubers, and harassing her beloved grandmother.  If she’s still actively snapping and you’re into it, check her out there.

I been writin’ these rhymes on the 7 train

  1. The Fish (Intro) (1:47)
  2. Cakewalk (1:55)
  3. Inner Voices (2:42)
  4. Pockiez (2:01)
  5. Ghost (2:01)
  6. Testify (2:38)
  7. The Fish (Outro) (0:39)

Let me testify this

Awkwafina’s right: her music is not for everyone, but if you’re at least casually into hip-hop, you’ll probably find something here to enjoy.  On this five-song EP, I have to say I don’t care much for “Cakewalk” and “Inner Voices,” but things really warm up with “Pockiez.” “I got good genes and I’m aging well / Is the bitch 13? They can never tell!” she boasts in typical hip-hop fashion, but if you know Awkwafina, you know self-deprecation is always right around the corner from any boast. In fact, her intro and outro tracks are a dramatized encounter on a train where someone mistakes her first for Bingbing Fan, then Kimiko Glenn, Constance Wu, George Takei, and Randall Park. When she IDs herself, the response is “Who the **** is Awkwafina?”

The highlight is easily “Ghost,” in which she talks about ghosting a couple of guys.  The track has a stuttering high-hat sounding rhythm with twangy, bouncy instrumentation and a catchy chorus.  The next track, “Testify” sounds like Awkwafina’s getting sincere about struggling to create her art and get people to connect with it.  Even here, when she says “I’mma make the city so proud,” and “ain’t gotta justify ****,” she adds, “not a happy camper when I’m stepping off the weight scale.”  There’s a sense of longing here that feels disarming.

They don’t need to know the details

Best track: “Ghost”
Second-best track: “Testify”
Meh: “Inner Voices”
Song to make you rethink your personal brand: “Ghost”
Song to make you want to take off her glasses and call her Nora: “Testify”
Best lyric: “I’m yellow as a egg-yolk / So I’m gettin’ side-eye by these alt-right white folk”
Best moment: The chorus in “Ghost”

Rating: 7/10.

I didn’t hit the game ’til 2008

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And you’ve probably already seen her video for “Green Tea” with Margaret Cho, but in case you haven’t.  Don’t click play if you’ve delicate sensibilities.

 

Number One Son has a “nephew” who is also a college student in Boston. When I mentioned this to my brother, he couldn’t understand how Number One Son could be the “uncle” of someone who is the same age and who is neither his son nor the son of The Wife’s siblings.  I told him “uncle” is the English translation of a Filipino term for a male who is one less generation away from a common ancestor than the other person being referenced.  My explanation, while totally correct, totally failed to make him understand.   If you are curious how my son can be an “uncle” or are wondering why Filipinos sometimes call each other by weird names like “kuya,” “manong,” or “ading” instead of their regular names, this article by Myles Garcia can explain.

Continue Reading »

If you followed my blog posts, you know I am a fan of Din Tai Fung (DTF) and note every new opening of the restaurant in the U.S. (the latest announced restaurant will be in Portland, Oregon). Many say that DTF is “overrated,” but I don’t care. Din Tai Fung has created a Taiwanese brand that is beloved and known to those in the know for Xiaolongbao (XLB) and quality Chinese food.  So it’s not surprise that I was excited to see a Tasty video on Facebook about how Din Tai Fung makes its Xiaolongbao, or how it’s known in the West as “soup dumplings.” You get to see how DTF’s Xiaolongbao are meticulously made by hand.

What’s also interesting in the video is that the grandsons of the original founder of Din Tai Fung, Albert and Aaron Yang. I also read about the brothers recently in an industry publication (who according to the video, manage the U.S. operations of the restaurants):

“… In 1972, the store was transformed into a restaurant specializing in soup dumplings and noodles. The elegant, best-in-class dining venues have since expanded to Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, mainland China, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Dubai.

[Albert] Yang and his brother Aaron, both graduates of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, run day-to-day operations in the U.S., where they have established the company’s dominance.

When Din Tai Fung opens restaurants, diners descend on each location with wait times reaching up to two hours. In the dining room, customers are treated to a show, as dumpling masters fold hundreds of the juicy wonders in an exhibition kitchen. The hand-folded, thin-skinned dough is filled with meat, often ground pork, and gelatinized stock. The stock liquefies upon steaming, creating a juicy burst with every bite.”

 

Continue Reading »

by Chris Sedayao

While a little less than 1 in 7 of all Americans smoke, around 1 in 4 Vietnamese American men smoke, according to the Center for Disease Control.  The use of cigarettes has decreased significantly in the United States since the days of the Marlboro Man, with young adults smoking 18-24 less than the average.  Still, cigarette companies have found ways to sell into this younger demographic.

Asian American youth have found an alternative to cigarettes, but like their predecessors, use highly addictive products such as vapes, Juuls, Suorins, and countless other e-cigarettes products. According to a study posted by the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, use of these products was high among Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Chinese Americans in that order. Filipino American use was higher than the overall US average.  Being a young adult and growing in an Asian American community, I have been exposed to all these products. I have seen the effects vary from person to person, but in general, most people who use these products become addicted. These companies have become successful in targeting the youth with their products over the last few years.

Despite that, there is still hope in changing the way kids look at e-cigarette products as the government did with cigarettes throughout many years of stigmatizing advertising. Starting with FlavorsHookKids.org, one can share the downsides of using these products and help limit the use of e-cigarettes for current users and future generations of youth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Chris Sedayao grew up in Northern California and is currently a student at Northeastern University.

(Disclaimerflavorshookkids.org is an advertiser on this site.)

A Short Review: Bao

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Accompanying the Pixar movie The Incredibles 2 is a short called Bao.  It starts, as you can see from the trailer above, when a woman who has just cooked some bao is shocked when one of them comes to life.  While we have talked about Russell from Up being Asian American, this short was striking in that in deals directly with issues that Asian Americans and Asian Canadians face.

Bao was created by Domee Shi, who moved from China to Canada when she was two.  She joined Pixar as an intern, and eventually pitched the Bao concept and got it made.  The mom in Bao was inspired by her own mom and other Chinese women in her life.

I really liked Bao.  While I am not of Chinese origin, it spoke to me of my own experiences with food and family.   A bao becomes more than just a bun – it becomes a metaphor for many things.   I am also around the same age as the mom, making her not just Asian American/Canadian but universal concerns very meaningful to me.  So if you go to see The Incredibles 2 (also recommended) and are thinking about getting popcorn when you see Bao come up on the screen, don’t.  It will be worth your time, whether you are Asian American, American Canadian, or not.

Elemental by Taimane
independent, 2018

What’s your label?

Taimane Gardner’s new album dropped last week.  Elemental is a mostly instrumental blending of many styles, as one would expect from this ukulele virtuoso.  Her FB bio says,

Taimane translates to “diamond” from Samoan and perfectly reflects the different facets of her nature. Whether delicately finger-picking through Bach or radically ripping through Led Zeppelin, Taimane has the ability to morph genres – from classical to rock to flamenco – and stretch her instrument far beyond the familiar melodies of Hawaii, where she grew up.

She learned to play at age 5, first attending Roy Sakuma’s ukulele school, then taking lessons from Jake Shimabukuro.  Busking on the streets in Waikiki led to her discovery by Don Ho, who made her a regular in his Waikiki show when she was still in high school.  A nice feature in Ukulele Magazine about her then-recent We Are Made of Stars album, explains how her sound and performance style evolved next:

A close friend took her to Ong King Art Center, an underground art gallery in Honolulu’s Chinatown. “It was the complete opposite of Waikiki,” she says. “Improvising and creating on the spot was the hot thing. I was introduced to artists and musicians who looked at music and art differently. It was the moonlight compared to day.”

Prounounce it “ty-MAH-neh.”  And “oo-koo-LEH-leh,” not “yoo-kuh-LAY-lee.”

Only open eyes and ears and minds can hear

  1. Water (5:13)
  2. Fire (4:07)
  3. Air (4:40)
  4. Mother (Earth) (4:27)
  5. Hades (Pluto) (3:53)
  6. Ether (3:55)
  7. Atlantis (4:09)

Taimane Gardner: ukulele, vocals
Jazzy Jazz: guitar
Jonathan Heraux: cajon

Come on and listen

While Taimane delivers these seven element-themed songs with her usual cross-genre style, the dominating mood is atmospheric.  She’s at her best when she’s playing alone, without accompaniment, but there aren’t any bad or boring moments on the album.  Listen to “Air” and you’ll get a sense of the ukulele’s range of sounds in the hands of a competent musician.  The instrument has very little sustain without electronic help, but you hear how a mostly strummed style can provide a nice droning staccato and even some sweet harmonics for kind of an illusory sustenance.

I love how she occasionally, without overdoing it, will slide up or down the neck in a manner unusual for ukulele-playing.  There’s an approach here that some traditionalists criticize, attacking the instrument like a guitar to be shredded, rather than gently coaxing the music from the strings and fretboard, but I say there’s a time and place for good, musical shredding, and musicians like Jake Shimabukuro, Troy Fernandez, and Taimane Gardner carve out that time and place.

I never get tired of her playing.  Put this in your earbuds and lie down somewhere cool or warm, somewhere you can feel the ground you’re on and whatever breeze you can find.  People always associate ukulele-playing with the beach, but here’s an ukulele album that should work in any outdoorsy setting.  I’m serious!

She is here

Best song: “Ether,” a new-agey piece with some pretty accompaniment.
Second-best song: “Air.”
Meh: I really like the playing and vocals on “Mother (Earth),” but the lyrics are super uneven, sometimes distracting.
Song to make you wanna book that vacation to Hawaii (do it!) (and bring all your money!): “Fire.”
Song to make you wanna book a midnight Nightmarchers hike while there: “Atlantis.”
Best moment: I really like the strumming that picks up right after the short pause at about 2:44 in “Air” and goes to the end of the track.  Makes me want to break out my senior yearbook for some reason.
Rating: 7/10

Where are you?

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see Taimane play her kinda famous surf medley at halftime at a Clippers game at the Staples Center.  Ignore the announcer’s bad pronunciation of her name.  It’s not his fault.

Noise Floor by Spock’s Beard
2018, InsideOut Music

It’s always good to see your face my friend

I guess I’ll get the 8A angle out of the way first and say that Spock’s Beard is a four-person progressive rock band from California with a Japanese keyboard player named Ryo Okumoto.

Spock’s Beard released its thirteenth studio album on May 25, the same day Meiko dropped her beautiful covers album.  It’s the first of the band’s albums without an official drummer — the drummer on the previous two albums, Jimmy Keegan, left to pursue other interests, so original timekeeper Nick D’Virgilio returned to play on this recording as a guest, ‘though he’s not an official member of the band.

Following the grand design

Disc 1: Noise Floor

  1. To Breathe Another Day (5:38)
  2. What Becomes of Me (6:11)
  3. Somebody’s Home (6:32)
  4. Have We All Gone Crazy (8:06)
  5. So This Is Life (5:35)
  6. One So Wise (6:37)
  7. Box of Spiders (5:28)
  8. Beginnings (7:25)

Disc 2: Cutting Room Floor

  1. Days We’ll Remember (4:14)
  2. Bulletproof (4:41)
  3. Vault (4:49)
  4. Armageddon Nervous (3:32)

I’ve been unable to find album credits!  I’m especially annoyed by this because I pre-ordered the double CD from Amazon, and I think there was a problem with the discs because although the album is streamable and downloadable, the disc mailout was pushed back to June 15.  I am freaking irritated by this.

Vocals: Ted Leonard
Guitar: Alan Morse
Keyboards: Ryo Okumoto
Bass: Dave Meros
Drums: Nick D’Virgilio
And probably lots of other cool musicians I don’t know about, including (I suspect) founding lead singer Neil Morse.

I’m alive to breathe another day

Last week, I said I think the new Meiko album is my second-favorite album of the year.  I said second-favorite because I’d already listened to this one.  As much as I love this band (and I reeeeeally love this band), I thought the last couple of albums were pretty forgettable.  It pains me to say that although I purchased them as soon as they were available, I pretty much never listen to them.

I’ve listened to Noise Floor at least ten times through already.  Honestly, I can’t get enough of it.  It has an incredibly warm, sunny, joyful spirit, as if the guys had been forbidden to play their instruments for ten years and finally picked them up again just for this recording.  Lyrically, there’s definitely a thread running through the album about surviving and thriving, and I’m totally here for it.  Solos on pretty much every instrument are sweeping and grand, technically as interesting as they’ve always been, but this time they sound like they’re playing for the clouds to open up and the sun to shine down on only them.

There isn’t an uninteresting moment on the actual album (disc 1).  The bonus EP (disc 2) is pretty flat and really adds nothing to the overall feel of the album, except “Bulletproof” which is quite good.  I can’t figure out why this one’s not on the full album; it fits right in.  Give the “To Breathe Another Day” video a chance, and if you find it intriguing, spin the whole album.  It’s music to make your brain and heart feel great.

No need to seek redemption

Best song: “To Breathe Another Day”
2nd best song: “Somebody’s Home”
Song that’ll make you say “wuh?”: “Have We All Gone Crazy”
Song to listen to with headphones while riding Space Mountain: “One So Wise”
Song for the second ride on Space Mountain: “Box of Spiders,” the only instrumental.
Best lyrics: I’ll have to get back to this when I finally get my CDs in the mail.
Best moment: Oh man, the bass playing behind the guitar and keyboard solos in “To Breathe Another Day” beginning at 3:33 is sweet.  Meros is ferocious on this album.

Rating: 8/10.  A high 8/10.

All the planets

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also this pretty cool song, “Godzilla vs. King Ghidarah” from one of Okumoto’s solo albums.

 

Playing Favorites (2018) by Meiko
Chesky Records

Everything I do depends on you

Yes, I know I just reviewed a Meiko single six weeks ago. I didn’t know back then that Meiko’s album would be out this early in the summer. But I am neither complaining nor apologizing, because people: this album is really good.

Meiko says:

I’m really proud of how it came out. It’s an album full of cover songs that I grew up listening to from artists like Sade, Blind Melon, Duran Duran, Mazzy Star, Portishead, Erykah Badu and a bunch of others!

My band and I recorded it live in an abandoned church in Brooklyn – the acoustics were AMAZING – this is definitely a record to listen to on headphones! 🙂

Anyway, I hope you like the album, and I hope you think we did these songs justice!

The album was recorded using the Chesky Binaural+ technique, which (if I understand it) records live in an attempt to capture the 3D sound we experience when we hear musicians play in person. Two mics are placed in the ear holes of a dummy to simulate what a human’s ears pick up, and as Meiko says, you really do want to listen to this with headphones.

Let it be what it’ll be

  1. Zombie — The Cranberries (3:09)
  2. Stand by Me — Ben E. King (3:16)
  3. Crush — Jennifer Paige (3:41)
  4. No Rain — Blind Melon (2:54)
  5. Fade Into You — Mazzy Star (5:02)
  6. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay — Otis Redding (2:50)
  7. Wandering Star (featuring Casey Abrams) — Portishead (3:37)
  8. Come Undone — Duran Duran (3:56)
  9. No Ordinary Love — Sade (4:21)
  10. Super Freak — Rick James (4:02)
  11. Show Me Love — Robin S. (3:14)
  12. Bag Lady — Erykah Badu (3:44)

It’s just a little crush

I noticed the sound quality right off, before I knew anything about this technique. I thought it was just really, really, really well mixed, with Meiko’s vocals way up front and the accompaniment pleasantly, happily, and clearly in the back, almost like the background sound of the ocean from that long weekend at the beach when you know you had a great time but can’t recall the specifics. Because all you remember is the way the girl two beach houses over sounded when she sang you that Amy Grant song on the beach that one night.

It should be like that, anyway. Meiko’s singing is the reason to listen to any Meiko song. Her voice is at turns whispery, purry, pensive, sultry, and yearning, and boy does she do a number on these numbers.

I’ll get the lows out of the way first. A covers album is always a personal thing by any artist, so I get that, but honestly, if I never hear another cover of “Stand by Me,” it’ll be perfectly okay. It’s a great, wonderful song loaded with wonderful memories for many of us, but it’s so overdone now that I think we’ve had enough. This doesn’t mean Meiko’s cover isn’t good; it is. It’s the best I’ve heard, anyway. I just, you know, wish that track had been something else.

I was planning to say the same thing about “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” too, but dang! When Meiko sings the low note on “dock of the” and then this shimmying “ooh oooh ooooh oooh” after “watching the tide roll away,” I swear she’s singing it just to me, like that girl on the beach I totally made up.

Songs I didn’t know before hearing this album: “Fade Into You,” “Wandering Star,” “Show Me Love,” “Come Undone,” and “No Ordinary Love.” I like them all! “No Ordinary Love” is the best of them, and it’s my second favorite on the album after “Crush.” Is it me, or does the melody for “Fade Into You” sound a bit like the verses in “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door?” And doesn’t “Come Undone” sound a little like “Hot in Herre” beginning at the :33 mark?

There really isn’t a meh moment on the album.  I’ve had it on repeat since this past weekend and I’m still grooving on it.  I want more.  Surely these are just the songs that made the cut.  When Meiko was brainstorming possible songs to include, she must have had forty to start with.  Let’s get a volume two.

I think this is my second favorite album of the year so far.

Let’s not overanalyze

Best song: “Crush”
2nd best song: “No Ordinary Love”
Most singable: “Zombie”
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “No Ordinary Love”
Song most likely to be in a CW show this year: “Fade Into You”
Flick your Bic for: “No Rain”
Best lyric: “Might take a little crime to come undone” (“Come Undone”)
Best moment:  I don’t want to be boring and give the same answers for all of these, but the whole first verse and first chorus of “Crush” are just heavenly.

$9.49 on Amazon. Go get it.

Rating: 8/10

Everything I do

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Rise to glory

In 1985, right in hair metal’s best years, Loudness released its first album on an American label, it’s fifth album overall.  Until then, the band from Osaka was really known only in Japan.  I was sixteen, fascinated by the genre, and frustrated by my awareness of artists I had no way of checking out.  There were all these bands in metal mags and in the bins at Tower Records, but there was no way for me to hear them without gambling on stuff I didn’t know anything about.

It was a lonely passion in those days before the web.

Then suddenly there was Loudness, one of those bands in the imports rack, releasing an awesomely titled album in America, Thunder in the East, and featuring the Rising Sun as its cover art.  I bought it on cassette, sound unheard.  I mostly liked it, sorta, and tried to convert my friends.

“C’mon guys.  It rocks.  And these guys are Japanese.”  I got an acknowledgment from them that the lead guitarist, Akira Takasaki, was a total shredder, but at my little private school in Honolulu, I was the only person wearing a Loudness tee.  Man, I had to skip lunches for a week to save up for that.

It’s thirty-three years later, and the band is still at it.  Loudness has been through multiple lineup changes, but since 2001 or so has recorded with the original group, which continues today minus original drummer Munetaka Higuchi, who died ten years ago.

Rise to Glory is the group’s twenty-eighth or thirtieth studio album, depending on how you count them (two of their albums have separate, Japanese-sung and English-sung versions), and it’s a pretty good return to the sound that thundered in the east all those years ago.*

I’m still alive

Masayoshi Yamashita: bass
Akira Takasaki: guitar, keyboards, synthesizers
Minoru Niihara: vocals
Masayuki Suzuki: drums

Tracks:

  1. 8118 (instrumental) (1:49)
  2. Soul on Fire (5:50)
  3. I’m Still Alive (3:18)
  4. Go for Broke (4:55)
  5. Until I See the Light (4:43)
  6. The Voice (4:31)
  7. Massive Tornado (4:56)
  8. Kama Sutra (instrumental) (3:19)
  9. Rise to Glory (4:17)
  10. Why and For Whom (6:00)
  11. No Limits (5:09)
  12. Rain (6:19)
  13. Let’s All Rock (6:00)

Released January 26, 2018 on earMUSIC
Produced by Loudness

Why and for whom

Rise to Glory is accessible the way all pop metal is, but its appeal is mostly to middle-aged fans like me who still pay attention to Ratt and Def Leppard all these years later.  It’s heavily riff-driven, melodic, catchy, and mostly a showcase for shredmaster Akira Takasaki’s guitar chops, which are considerable and almost always interesting.  The album reminds me most of early-80s Scorpions with a little bit of Ratt thrown in.  It’s mostly riff riff riff riff, but with occasional slow grooves and some thoughtful composition.

Listeners inclined to give it more than five spins will appreciate some of the musically mature flavor the band throws into the mix, something completely absent the efforts of their twenty-something selves nearly forty years ago, which tended to skim the ocean’s surface.  Bass lines go dark and heavy.  Brief acoustic guitar fills, often mixed way back, are little treats for the attentive listener.  And always there are Takasaki’s varied, mostly classical-influenced solos and fills with dashes of funk, pop, and Japanese folk, the heart and soul of the Loudness experience.

The vocals are an acquired taste.  There’s nothing wrong with the quality of singer Minoru Niihara’s singing; there’s just a Japanese-accented English that non-Japanese listeners have to find some way to deal with, combined with the band’s writing lyrics in its second language.  Niihara is kind of a dork on stage, and it comes through more than a little in his singing.  But this is true of a lot of great metal bands from Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia.  My advice is to get used to the voice, tolerate the weird lyrics, and enjoy the whole picture, because Rise to Glory is mostly a fun, interesting ride.

No Limits

Best song: “Kama Sutra,” an instrumental.  Sorry, Minoru.
Second-best song: “Until I See the Light.”
Most singable: “Go for Broke,” although what it’s about I have no idea.
Headbang to: “Massive Tornado” and “Why and for Whom.”
Meh: “Rise to Glory.”
Song to make you wanna get the band back together (don’t do it!): “The Voice.”
Best lyric: “Reach the sky / You’re a brave samurai / There ain’t nothing than can stand in your way” (“Until I See the Light”)
Best moment: The spacy guitar fills beginning at about 2:30 in “Kama Sutra.”

Go for broke

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“We’re gonna do our best!”

This is video from one of the 2016 Monsters of Rock cruises.  It’s a nice example of how the band still rocks live, despite Minoru Niihara being kind of a doofus.  Sure, it’s weird seeing men pushing 60 dressing and playing like this, but the music is still great!  “Crazy Nights” is the first track off Thunder in the East, and therefore my very first exposure to this band (and many others’ first exposure), who will always have a special place in my heart.  Akira still shreds!


* The band explained in an interview in Hit Parader in the 80s that when you’re a Japanese band, the whole album-tour-rest cycle is really short.  An album takes the same amount of time to write and record, but touring the country only takes a month or so, and this is why the group is so prolific.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi is such a delightful YA novel, I can’t even tell you. Penny is starting college in Austin, TX hoping to be a writer. Sam works at a cafe and sleeps there too, stuck on his ex and having put aside his dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Sam and Penny meet (surprise). Through a funny turn of events, they start texting, but don’t interact IRL again for awhile. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, as do honesty, hilarity, and drama.

The novel switches between Sam and Penny chapters, each getting a distinct and truly enjoyable voice. There is so much spunk and so much snark, I loved every bit of it. (I mean, in the first ten pages, there’s a list of things one can do in response to some racist BS that includes: “Slap the ever-living shit out of her with the other half of a pistachio donut.” I was hooked.)

And Choi’s not afraid to deal with big issues too. How technology affects our relationships. #momstuff. Things not told to other people. It’s not just about their friendship, but also about each growing up, growing into themselves.

Emergency Contact is smart, refreshing, honest, and most importantly, fun to read.

 

I think about you so so so so much I forget to eat

Chhom Nimol and Senon Williams. 10-30-10.

“California psychedelic surf rock with lyrics sung in Khmer?  Sure!  Why not?”  I downloaded Dengue Fever’s third full-length album, Venus on Earth, and by the end of the first spin, I was repeating aloud, “Where has this been all my life?”

Once upon a time eMusic was the online digital music store unlike the others.  Because it didn’t have deals with the major labels, it pushed indie and fringe artists, some on the fringe because that’s where their music was, some because they hadn’t yet been discovered by the masses who would someday embrace them.  For a monthly subscription, music lovers received download credits for an impressive range of excellent music.

Because so much of the music I love is right in that wheelhouse, eMusic was one of my favorite things ever.  I had long lists of artists I wanted to check out each month and my “save for later” queue was maxed at 100 albums.  The number of credits I received was generous; my plan meant that mp3s were about $.49 each, or half the price for the same tracks on iTunes.  The low price meant that many of eMusic’s faithful were willing to be adventurous.  We’d look at the “most downloaded” lists, the staff picks, and the year-end highest-rated albums by eMusic subscribers lists, and say, “Sure!  Why not?”

This is how I first heard about Dengue Fever, on one of these “subscribers’ favorites” lists.  Venus on Earth was my third-favorite album of 2008 (it was a very competitive year!)* and Dengue Fever has remained a favorite.

I’m too geared to fall asleep

Because it was Halloween eve.

As gimmicky as the premise may sound, the biggest reason for Dengue Fever’s rabid fanbase is its excellent musicianship.  This band rocks, and seeing them live, you kind of wish you could slow everything down so you don’t miss anything.  Lead guitarist (and sometime lead singer) Zac Holtzman is strangely charismatic even in a band laden with charisma.  His brother Ethan Holtzman on keys, saxophonist David Ralicke, drummer Paul Dreux Smith, and bassist Senon Williams are all more than the backing band.  One of the things I love about this group is that it’s not afraid of lots of soloing, and everyone gets his chance.  Repeatedly.

Senon Williams took this photo of Nimol and a lumpy me. I’m all crooked because I fell in love that night.

The biggest reason to fall utterly in love with Dengue Fever, however, is lead singer Chhom Nimol.  If you’ve seen or heard anything like her in American rock music, I need to know where you hang out on Friday nights, because I need me some of that.

The band’s sound has grown more inclusive over the years, adding other styles to the Cambodian-Californian pop-rock origins.  Senon Williams says on the Dengue Fever website, “Before it was partly Cambodian and partly indie rock.  Now it’s one hundred percent both.”

I saw them in concert on Halloween eve in 2010, and they were amazing.  It was a street fair, and through their set the street was packed with the celebrants you would expect, but right after the show, a small mob of middle-aged Cambodian women waited for their turn to chat in (I’m assuming) Khmer with Nimol.  She seemed thrilled to speak with them and I wondered if this happens at every Dengue Fever show.

Just go see them.

The first thing that I do is throw my arms around you

Start with “Tiger Phone Card,” probably the band’s most accessible track.  It’s sung in English, and it’s about a long distance relationship (Phnom Penh and New York City).  It’s got that psycho-surf sound in all the instruments, but Nimol’s vocals slide around on that exotic Cambodian scale.  I’m embedding the album version, but if you kind of dig this, check out the many live recordings of this song on YouTube.

And never let go

Then you’ll want to hear “Sni Bong,” from the band’s self-titled debut album.  It’s probably Dengue Fever’s most popular song sung in Khmer.

Open up to me and tell me that you love me

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A couple of months ago, the South Coast Repertory staged an original play by Lauren YeeCambodian Rock Band inspired by and featuring the music of Dengue Fever.  This promo video is pretty great.  Did any of our readers see this?  Was it as awesome as it sounds?

* The best was the Gaslight Anthem’s The ‘59 Sound, and the second best was Crooked Still’s Still Crooked.