Heroine’s Journey brings an end to Sarah Kuhn’s delightful Asian American superheroine trilogy. In the first of the series, Heroine Complex, we meet Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. In the second, Heroine Worship, we explore Aveda Jupiter aka Annie Chang’s inner self. And here in the last, we traverse between worlds with Bea Tanaka, Evie’s younger sister, as she tries to, well, what else, save the world from demon destruction. Bea’s superpower is that she can project emotions, controlling how others are feeling.
This final installment reminds me why I loved the original Heroine Complex so much. It’s got tons of great Asian American female characters, a stubborn but relatable title character, some sizzling hot romance scenes, and giant demonic unicorns. It’s got mother-daughter stuff, repressed emotions, katsu, and lots of rule breaking.
Incredibly fun to read and engaging, this book is in the “missed my subway stop while reading” category, so you know it’s a good one.
Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
Sony Classical, 2018
And cello to you, too
Yo-Yo Ma’s latest album dropped August 17, and it would have been great to review it then, but you know. Crazy Rich Asians. And then Mitski.
The master cellist writes on his website:
Bach’s Cello Suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times? Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.
Rather than list the tracks, I’ll quickly explain what this is, in case it’s confusing. I just learned some of this stuff this past week in preparation to write this review, so please, if I get any of it wrong, let me know in the comments!
There are six Bach cello suites:
Suite no. 1 in G Major
Suite no. 2 in D Minor
Suite no. 3 in C Major
Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major
Suite no. 5 in C Minor
Suite no. 6 in D Major.
The tracklists include the Bach catalogue number for each suite, abbreviated BWV 107 through BWV 112. BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or “Bach works catalogue.”
Each suite is made of six movements: a prelude, and then five movements based on types of baroque dances. So all six suites go prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, gigue.
This all makes for suuuuuuper long and confusing track titles. Track 5, for example, is “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuets I & II.” For some reason the tracks on Amazon music are nearly twice as long, repeating the “Unaccomanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007” part! Still despite this crazy nomenclature, with the info here, everything makes a lot more sense!
I’m not smart enough about this music to say much more than that it’s just beautiful. My record library includes music featuring a lot of cello, including the neo-bluegrass group Crooked Still, the Scottish dance music of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and the heavy metal of Apocalyptica. But as much as that music makes my heart swoon, none of it makes it want to leap up and explode like the playing of Yo-Yo Ma. I cannot tell you why. His Japanese Melodies album was in constant rotation in my red pickup truck when I was in college, and his Hushalbum with Bobby McFerrin can sometimes make me cry.
This album is better than those. No, I can’t explain it. And I can’t recognize any of the individual movements without looking at the tracklist. And I can’t tell you anything about why these are masterworks other than they are Bach compositions. I can just say it’s beautiful.
Here’s Yo-Yo Ma on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1994. The first part of this is the gigue from Bach Cello Suite No. 3 (track 18 on disc one of this album!). I had this on VHS and watched it like a million times. This video is my upload.
Mitzki (Miyawaki)’s new album dropped August 17 and I planned to review it last week, but you know. Crazy Rich Asians. This one got a ton of advance buzz, partly because of a couple of advance singles but also because it feels like it’s time for everyone who doesn’t know Mitski to get on.
That pretty friend is finally yours
Why Didn’t You Stop Me? (2:21)
Old Friend (1:52)
A Pearl (2:36)
Lonesome Love (1:50)
Remember My Name (2:15)
Me and My Husband (2:17)
Come into the Water (1:32)
Pink in the Night (2:16)
A Horse Named Cold Air (2:03)
Washing Machine Heart (2:08)
Blue Light (1:43)
Two Slow Dancers (3:59)
Someone who loves me now
The songs are short: at 3:59, “Two Slow Dancers” is the longest by far, and most songs stay around the two-minute mark. This makes the album move quickly, almost frantically, yet they’re varied enough that each song sticks out in a way I wouldn’t have predicted. I want to drive around the entire island of Oahu with the top down and this album on repeat.
Be the Cowboy‘s sound is indie as heck. It’s going to remind you a bit of the Duke Spirit, a bit of the Raveonettes, and in the less rocking songs, a lot of Zooey Deschanel in She & Him. There’s a lot of great retro rock organ with distant, singing in a shower, reverberating vocal production with a lot of muted drumming on what sounds sometimes like a three-piece kit.
I imagine many will disagree with me, but Mitski’s at her best when she’s rocking out. “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “A Pearl” stand out this way.
Although it’s probably not for everyone, this is some good stuff, and it would be a shame to let it fly under the radar, which it could easily do.
I’ll take anything you want to give me
Best song: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” Second-best song: “Remember My Name” Fourteenth-best song: “Two Slow Dancers” Best moment: Oh man, I love the electric guitar on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which has a really cool downward bend that sounds like a spaceship giving up. This is tied with the sigh Mitski opens “Me and My Husband” with. Best lyric: It seems like too easy a choice, but I keep going back to “Nobody butters me up like you / and nobody f*cks me like me,” in “Lonesome Love,” one of the Zooey-sounding songs. The repeated “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” to end the song may be in a twelve-way tie for second. Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” Song to make you write song lyrics out of something you put in your Xanga when you were 16 (do it!): “Lonesome Love.”
“After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.”
If the history of American immigration policy, and particularly Chinese exclusion, is new to you, this might not be the best place to start. But for those who are, Lew-Williams adds nuance to our understanding of 1882 and 1888 Chinese exclusion laws and how they shaped and shaped in turn violent expulsions of Chinese in places like Wyoming and Washington. The latter chapters and epilogue delve into how Chinese immigration policy shaped the American conception of aliens as a category.
It’s a dense, yet highly informative read and is notable for drawing the connections between the history of Chinese exclusion and racial violence, and the larger trajectory of citizenship and rights.
Almost nobody discusses Crazy Rich Asians (the film) without mentioning the movie’s soundtrack, which is pretty cool, because how often does this happen anymore? Soundtrack albums used to be huge marketing tools for films, but unless the film is a musical, nowadays you seldom hear people talk about soundtracks. I suspect the persistent conversation means the soundtrack in CRA is especially effective. Its first few spins took me immediately to specific places they appear in the movie, which may also be a sign of its effectiveness.
I wrote a song for you
Waiting for Your Return (Jasmine Chen) (2:58)
Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K) (3:12)
Wo Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love — I Want You to Be My Baby) (Grace Chang) (2:41)
My New Swag (VaVa featuring Ty and Nina Wang) (4:05)
Give Me a Kiss (Jasmine Chen) (3:01)
Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi (Yao Lee) (3:02)
Ni Dong Bu Dong (Do You Understand) (Lilian Chen) (2:32)
Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian (Grace Chang) (3:17)
Material Girl (200 Du) (4:25)
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Kina Grannis) (3:21)
Wo Yao Ne De Ai (I Want Y our Love — I Want You to Be My Baby (Jasmine Chen) (2:04)
Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K featuring Awkwafina) (3:12)
Turn into something beautiful
I’m pretty sensitive to the way music is used in film, and I dislike most soundtracks and most movie scores. This one impressed me beginning with the opening swing of “Waiting for Your Return,” then it surprised me with interesting Chinese-language covers of familiar songs. I didn’t know anything about the soundtrack before going in, so covers of “Material Girl,” and “Yellow” caught me off guard and really work with the moods of their scenes and the context of the film’s plot.
I had one moment where the song choice took me out of the movie for about nine seconds, when I recognized Kina Grannis’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and couldn’t understand how it existed in the film right when it did, but then it all made sense. You’ll see what I mean either when you see the movie or when you look at the acting credits.
That’s really about the movie, not about this album, and this is what I’m talking about. Listening to the soundtrack is remembering the movie, which perhaps makes it a great soundtrack, but I wonder if it makes it not as good an album. Because Crazy Rich Asians is a good movie, I’m going to dismiss this possibility; yet if it had been a terrible movie, and if the soundtrack album kept reminding you of scenes in this terrible movie, would it be a terrible soundtrack, no matter how good the songs?
A moot consideration in this case.
It seems a sequel film is in the works, and I have to say I’m here for it and really interested in what’ll be on the soundtrack.
Your skin and bones
Best song: Yeah, I’m going with the crowd on this. “Yellow.”
Second best song: The closing credits version of “Money,” the one with Awkwafina’s raps.
Surprise: “Vote” by Miguel. It’s the first interesting thing I’ve ever heard from him. I really like this.
Song to make you want to call your mom (do it!): “Yellow.”
Song to make you want to text your ex (don’t do it!): “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Song to make you go “Wha?”: “Material Girl.”
Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko
Atlantic Records, 2018
Breathe her in
Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album dropped March 30. I’ve been vaguely aware of her for a long time, knew she was an actress but haven’t seen her work, knew she was a singer but haven’t heard her music. It’s mostly because my tastes just don’t lean this way, so please keep this in mind here.
She said on Facebook:
MY DEBUT ALBUM. OUT NOW EVERYWHERE.
Promise me you will listen to it in order, from beginning to end, like it was intended. I set the setting and tone, but this is your personal journey to take what you will.
BUY IT. DOWNLOAD IT. STREAM IT. SHARE IT. I couldn’t be prouder of this album….BLAST THAT BABY 😭😭😭😭😭😭💿💿💿💿💿💿💿
If you’re ’round come get it
Expectations (Overture) (1:52)
What I Need (featuring Kehlani) (3:39)
Mercy / Gatekeeper (5:44)
Under the Blue / Take Me In (5:37)
Wanna Be Missed (3:15)
He’ll Never Love You (HNLY) (3:51)
Palm Dreams (5:14)
Let It Be (3:41)
Never felt nothing like that
I gave Expectations a few spins because her Wikipedia article tags her as dream pop and synth pop, and I do enjoy some pretty dream pop. The album’s opening got me excited: “Expectations (Overture)” does have a nice dream-poppy vibe. However, it becomes clear very quickly that this is a much dancier album, heavily synth pop with a hundred dance and R&B intentions. Honestly, it’s the same music I mostly steer clear of, not because it isn’t any good but because it doesn’t engage me.
I wanted to be engaged because Hayley makes it clear that this is a very personal album, and a flight through the lyrics attests to it. I appreciate that a gay songwriter is singing intimately about the longing these personae feel for the the women they’re missing. I just can’t connect to the music, and I really tried.
Every style can’t be for every listener, and this style’s not for me. I share my thoughts here because I suspect that the album is rather well done for its format. The production is very clean, almost shimmery in its presentation, and Hayley does have a pretty voice. The lyrics are interesting (I especially like “Sleepover,” about a woman who can’t be with the person she desires, so she’s left with only her imagining of this person). The beats feel standard at best, which might be okay with me if they just didn’t dominate the entire sound.
If your pop sensibilities lean toward good club vibes and heavy beats, you may find this an outstanding album. My barbaric ears find it to be very, very long. I give it a one-point bump for interesting lyrics, but that still puts it around 5/10 for me: not bad but not good.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the movie Crazy Rich Asians is coming out today, August 15th, nationally. I was able to see a pre-screening a week early that the filmmakers promoted on the auspicious lucky date of 8/8/2018.
The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life.
As it turns out, there were questions about casting even before the book hit stores. Mr. Kwan said a producer who wanted to option the book had suggested that he make Rachel white. Mr. Kwan refused. “It didn’t surprise me,” said Constance Wu, the Chinese-American actress who ultimately secured the role and who has been a vocal critic of Hollywood whitewashing. “I’m just glad that Kevin stuck to his guns. It takes a lot of courage to say no to something, especially if you’re scared that everything might slip away if you don’t say yes.”
There’s been a big movement called #GoldOpen (which I am a part of, organizing a theater buyout for the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, other Ivy League Asian American alumni associations, and the Duke Alumni Association):
Digital media entrepreneur Bing Chen has seized on director Jon Chu’s comment that “Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a movie, it’s a movement” and is promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag in the hopes of drawing a record box office.
So there are high expectations for the film, and I, like many, was worried that the movie would not live up to the hype. But it does, at least for me—the themes of the romantic comedy genre are pretty universal, even if the characters are Asian and Asian American and the film is set in Singapore and many of the characters are in the 1 percent, the movie should have a broad appeal. As Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy:
In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited.
And Crazy Rich Asians fits the mold very well, though I wouldn’t say that the movie is completely formulaic. If you like romantic comedies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, or Love Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not as original as, say, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Princess Bride.
I have to say I knew I was going to like the film when in an early scene, Nick tries to convince Rachel to visit Singapore, and I heard the word “ahma” (grandmother). Just the word “ahma” was an “aha” moment, making me think, “Wow, I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard that word in an American movie.”
Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick are great together, and Golding makes a great leading man—quite handsome and physically fit, definitely no Long Duk Dong. Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Nick’s mom Eleanor and the family matriarch, playing reserved and stern for maximum intimidation, almost in a The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly kind of way.
But the breakout star and comedic relief is actress and rapper Awkwafina who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s close friend from college. As a Duke MBA, I’m a big fan of Ken Jeong (Duke ’90)—and although he doesn’t have a huge part, he plays Peik Lin’s father, and he’s funny (as expected) when he’s on screen. Nico Santos also does a terrific job as Oliver T’sien, Nick’s gay, sassy, and well-styled second cousin.
I was captivated by the stunning and exquisitely poised Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Teo, Nick’s cousin. Chan is absolutely gorgeous in this film and I really liked her portrayal of her character (which, I read in one tweet, was quite faithful to her character described in the book). I was aware of Chan before, since I had seen her in the AMC television series Humans, where she played an anthropomorphic robot (called “synths” in the series).
There are also a host of other actors and actresses I could go on about, but this is supposed to be a mini-review.
Overall, the movie is very entertaining and very funny. You get to see what the 1 percent in Singapore and Asia live like (maybe somewhat exaggerated). The movie is gorgeously shot. Lots of food and fashion porn, and as one review put it, affluence porn.
What Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, Crazy Rich Asians might do for Singapore. I’ve visited Singapore twice, and in the movie, Singapore never looked better (though the last time I visited was in January 1999).
There are the twists and turns like in any romantic comedy, but the audience hopes and usually gets the happy ending it wants. I read The Joy Luck Club before seeing the movie over 25 years ago, but I have not read Crazy Rich Asians. I kind of want to now, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their backgrounds. With so many characters, it’s hard to have all the characters developed within a time span of two hours. Additionally, author Kevin Kwan followed up his bestseller with two more00—China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
Before the movie started, I read tweets about #crazyrichasians to see what the reaction to the movie was—some wrote that they laughed and cried, and I thought that maybe the crying was a bit melodramatic. But to be honest, I did tear up a little (I’m kind of a closet romantic—then again, I also tear up whenever I see the end of Armageddon with this line, “Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”)
For some reason, these songs in Chinese really reinforced that Crazy Rich Asians is a special film. Although I was born and raised in the United States, as a Taiwanese American, I did go to Chinese school and did speak a little Mandarin with my parents. Most Asian Americans (due to a lot of immigration in the past 20 to 30 years), were born overseas, and still have a very strong connection to Asia. However, from reading public tweets and YouTube review comments, a lot of non-Chinese speaking people seem to like the soundtrack as well. There’s a certain familiarity yet uniqueness with these songs that were a very thoughtful magical touch by director Jon M. Chu.
Speaking of whom, I haven’t seen any of Chu’s previous movies, which included the Step Up series of movies, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In fact, I’m not even sure I had really heard of Chu, and was really surprised to learn that he grew up in Los Altos Hills, not too far from where I live. But what was a complete shock to me was to learn that Chu is the son of owner and chef of popular Chinese restaurants in Silicon Valley (and among the oldest—opened in 1970) in Los Altos, Chef Chu’s. This restaurant is literally like a 10-to-15 minute walk from where I live.
Steve Aoki’s new EP 5OKI dropped April 27. I’m only getting to it now because I’m pretty clueless about EDM.
Anthem (featuring Kriss Kiss); Hardwell and Steve Aoki (2:43)
Mayhem; Steve Aoki & Quintino (2:37)
It’s Time (featuring Bruce Buffer); Steve Aoki & Laidback Luke (3:18)
Pika Pika; Steve Aoki & LOOPERS (2:24)
Moshi Moshi (featuring Mama Aoki); Steve Aoki & Vini Vici (4:17)
If my look-back at the Jets last week didn’t convict me as being too old to talk about current music, this confession probably will: I don’t get electronic dance music. It pains me to say it, too, because I taught high-schoolers for sixteen years, and could usually find some musical connection with my students, some common ground on which we could establish good, casual communication. Even if I didn’t like what they liked, I got it well enough to talk about it with them. I remember what it was like to be fifteen and to be obsessed with the music in my Walkman earbuds.
I don’t dislike most of the EDM I’ve listened to. As a tech-head (and tech teacher), the computer aspects of the music’s creation intrigue me, but beyond cool beats and interesting mixes, I don’t find much to latch onto. Which is weird because I once listened to a lengthy radio interview with Aoki on a sports talk radio show and he was engaging and funny and fascinating.
I’ve spun 5OKI seven times and I like it. I can even identify each track by its opening beats without looking at the tracklist. The opening track, “Anthem,” sounds like the music they play when they introduce the starting lineups at NBA games: “Aaaaaaaaand now, yooooooooooooooour Miami Heeeeeeeeeeeeat!” There’s a nice little bit of dubstep wobble in this track too.
“It’s Time” has a similar feel; it even has voice samples (or vocal tracks; I can’t tell!) clearly meant to mimic the hype music before a boxing match or basketball game.
“Pika Pika” is my favorite because it has interesting sounds I don’t often hear in dance music, including something sounding like bamboo being hit with other bamboo, then run through a couple of effects. It also has a moment where the groove reminds me of 80s Genesis (the band).
I’m utterly unequipped to give this any kind of rating, but I like it even if I don’t think I get it. Check out the “Pika Pika” video here and let me know what you think.
“With more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube now, and 500 million-plus views, Wong Fu Productions — created by college friends Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu — has ambitious credits to their name that includes multiple web series (including a YouTube Red series starring “Glee” alum Harry Shum, Jr.), music videos, and two feature-length films (their most recent one hit Netflix in 2016).”
“”Yappie” is a single-camera comedy that explores the social and racial issues related to the contemporary Asian American experience from the perspective of Andrew and his bubble of friends who are all “yappies”[a slang word to describe a “young Asian professional who acts like a yuppie.”].
Asian Americans are an often overlooked minority in the US for a variety of reasons, and we’re creating a show to examine and share these causes and their effects on an entire generation.”
I watched all five episodes as the episodes were released and really enjoyed the series. I think Yappie does try to explore, often in a humorous way, the typical arguments around the whole Asian American dating dynamics and inter-racial issues around that have been around since the beginnings of the Internet (if you remember USENET news and soc.culture.asian.american, then you know what I am talking about …)
Also, the first season does dig into the awkward social stratus of where Asian Americans are found among our multi-cultural society within the United States. We’re definitely not treated like whites, but not like African Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans.
As someone who is way more politically involved than my fellow Asian Americans, I feel as though Yappie also exposes how apathetic Asian Americans can be in living in their own bubble – especially as portrayed in Yappie, which takes place in LA / Southern California. I think Asian Americans have a different kind of experience elsewhere in the U.S., especially in states with not a lot of Asians or other minorities.
Below, after the break, are all five episodes of the first season of Yappie.
Melding by Marika Takeuchi
Bigo and Twigetti, 2018
Marika Takeuchi’s new album Melding dropped July 19. I first discovered her three years ago when she crowdfunded her fourth studio album, Colors in the Diary, while I looked for something interesting on PledgeMusic. I love how that sometimes happens; the crowdfunding platforms are such a great way to get into something new.
“This is a mixture of classical and electronic music, eastern and western influences,” she says in the teaser video for the album, “and everything else that contrasts but coexists. This is really about mixing up everything.
“I was told that my music is good, but I’m not going to be internationally successful because I’m a female and Asian. I wanted to prove them wrong. Music is a universal language, and what you look like, where you are from, and what gender you are don’t affect your abilities and passions to make good music. Music has the power to unite people.”
Night Time (4:06)
Found (Jim Perkins Re-Work) (4:00)
I haven’t received my physical CD yet, so no album credits until later.
If you ever put together a playlist beginning with the X-Files theme and ending with Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” with Clannad’s “Theme from Harry’s Game” somewhere in the middle, you’ve got to get this album. Takeuchi’s neo-classical sensibilities combine for the first time with just a bit of electronica to make Melding both meditative and dramatic. If you prefer your genres unmelded, start with “Found,” a lovely, cascading theme progression that will bring tears to your eyes if you stare into it too closely.
For new additions to the X-Files playlist, jump to “Roots,” a sweeping construction of sounds not going where you think it’s going, or “Night Time,” probably the best example of the east-west thing the artist mentions in her teaser video. The Japanese melody on violin and a pretty, plucked instrument (harp, perhaps) are a nice, new-agey example of Takeuchi’s interest in combining influences. “Evolve” provides a similar experience, probably the most cinematic song on the album.
My favorite thing about this album is Takeuchi’s continued emphasis on building and exploring themes. I don’t know whether this electronic-flavored neo-classical is a diversion or a new path, but I’m along for the ride because she’s still solidly a classical composer. Listen to the build-up in the first two minutes of “Thoughts” and tell me you don’t want to rent a tux or put on your nicest gown and see this musician in live performance with your city’s orchestra.
A gorgeous. layered album. I hear new things with each spin, and I’ve listened all the way through eight or nine times so far.
Best song: “Night Time” Second-best song: It keeps changing, but right now it’s “Evolve.” Best moment: The Enya-like vocals on “Found,” and the weird, almost weapon-sounding clicking in the same track. Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Breeze” Song to make you get on a horse, strap on your sword, and seek adventure: “Breakdown” Song to make you question why we’re here and what it’s all about: “Thoughts”
Until a few weeks ago, the only thing I knew about Amy Vachal was that she was a contestant on The Voice, a show I hate. Don’t be mad. I just think these singer contest shows on network television seek musicians who appeal to very large audiences, and if something appeals to the masses, it is most likely bland, unoriginal, boring, or crap. Am I wrong? It’s always struck me as ironic that judges on The Voice, like Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, and Cee-Lo Green, would probably have bombed on shows like this. They made their splash by being different from everyone else.
Geez. What an idiot I am. Vachal’s first full-length album, Strawberry Moon, dropped January 31, and it’s freaking terrific.
Putting down pictures when we were together
Golden Boy (3:49)
Strawberry Moon (3:14)
Darling You (3:35)
You Can Have Me (3:48)
Below My Feet (4:06)
I’m falling like seasons
While Strawberry Moon is pop-flavored, this is no mainstream pop album. From the light, airy, lilting notes of opening track “Golden Boy,” you’re reminded of that girl who sat in the back row of your 11th grade history class, drawing all over her binder, her forearm, the desk, and her Chuck Taylors. You thought she was pretty in a trying-hard-not-to-look-pretty way that didn’t fool anyone, and you admired her but were afraid to talk to her because she seemed like she Knew Things.
My idiotic anti-The Voice bias had me expecting completely the wrong thing. It’s like when Lisa Germano, John Mellencamp’s violin player and always the most intriguing musician in his band, released her first solo album and it was creative, angsty, whispery, and potentially psycho and you were like holy cow where did that come from?
That was a long time ago. I’m old.
I am not too old, however, to be really taken by this album, mostly a blend of folk, alterna-pop, gospel, and something like clove cigarettes or lapsang souchong. The tunes are unique, not only in a gigantic field of solo singer-songwriters, but each among the ten others on the album.
Vachal apparently writes her own lyrics (it’s impossible anymore to find album credits if you don’t buy the physical CD, which I have done but it’s not here yet), and they’re the best thing about an album with no weaknesses.
Best album of the year so far.
Words in my skin and lips on a letter
Best song: “Taken” Second-best songs: “Stones” and “Golden Boy” Best lyric: “September took a turn on a highway west / whiskey and pie / held up a telephone to our lips / we’d kiss we’d fight / I was taken.” (“Taken”) Second-best lyric: “I have seen gold / I have seen silver / I’ve been in love / I felt its fever / but give me the words / the ones that matter / I’m tearing out pages / I’m saying goodbye.” (“Stones”) Best moment: Whatever that plucked string instrument is in the intro to “Honey” and throughout the song. Second-best moment: The sound of a door, suitcase, or guitar case closing at the very end of “Stones.” Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Strawberry Moon”