The Slants: Pacific Rock for Everyone

When hearing the main chorus of a song is playing on loop in my head as it penetrates my dreams and follows me to my morning shower as I imagine driving around in a Delorean at eighty-eight miles per hour, it’s a safe conclusion that I’m enjoying what I’m listening to. Multiply that enjoyment by thirteen, and you have that many tracks from The Yellow Album, the newest release from Portland, Oregon’s Asian American indie rock band, The Slants.

Portland, known to many as one of the hipster capitals of America (though my heart still roots for my hometown in Northampton, Massachusetts), usually spawns the alt-folk rock, shoegaze and indie pop variety of music, with a predominantly white demographic. In the case of The Slants, they are an Asian American band who blend the 1980s synth-pop sound and blend it together in an orgy of modern dance rock audio aesthetics.

Their new release, The Yellow Album, is an energetic product of love from a band that stays true to its roots while branching out to experiment, likely influenced by the intensity from their frequent touring worldwide. Considered by the band to be a natural progression from their previous albums, with the synthesizer-driven palette of their debut album Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts, and the hard rock sound of their second release, Pageantry.

The nostalgic-yet-fresh sound and unorthodox topics and themes define The Slants best, which is notable because it leads to a wider appeal, as opposed to other Asian American artists who seem to mainly target and reach only a small niche crowd: the YouTube-addicted youths from the Asian American community. Themes such as abandonment are explored in the song Adopted, where frontman Aron Moxley, who was born in Saigon during the Vietnam War, discusses how he’ll “never know [his] real birthday, let alone find out who [his] mother is or know if she’s still alive” and confronts those feelings that have plagued him for a long time.

Parallels in song topics and themes can be drawn to Gypsy Punk band, Gogol Bordello, where its own frontman Eugene Hutz sings about his experiences growing up fleeing The Soviet Union after the Chernobyl incident and ended up in Vermont through a political refugee resettlement program in 1992 after seven years on the road through Eastern European refugee camps. It’s precisely through the medium of rock music that the spirit of rebellion and the youthful energy that creates change which influenced Hutz, and likewise, can describe Moxley and his crew.

“I like to write songs that are deeply personal, that mean something to me”, Moxley says. “I think they’re more real and they’re things that other people can relate to as well. Things got as bad as I thought they could ever get, I hit rock bottom. But I kept moving on.”

Hearing the struggles and stories in the lyrics and melodies are like entering a miniature galaxy, captured in three minutes and forty-seven seconds, which is the exact time for one of their songs off of The Yellow Album, “Con Kids.” The nostalgic sound of an MTV-generation youth loitering on the street street corner rebelling through apathy, tempered with an “I don’t know what I want but I know how to get it, don’t fuck with me even if I look like a slacker” attitude echoes throughout the entire album. It’s that grunge kid leaning against the wall with one hand in his pocket, the other holding a Slurpee as he bobs his head to the rebellion in his headphones, a big contrast to the “I’m so hip because I was listening to this before they sold out and let philistines like you hear them”  sound hipsters refer to when posting pictures on Instagram of themselves wearing raincoats in the bathtub.

Their [the band’s] fighting attitude isn’t just from the struggle with their personal demons individually and trying to keep themselves together. They’ve balanced rigorous international touring schedules, a line-up change, fundraising for the tsunami relief effort in Japan, and fighting with the United States Patent and Trademark Office because of the perceived government attorney’s claim that the band name was disparaging to Asians.

“It’s like banging our head against the wall, trying to convince someone that we were not offensive to ourselves, that the community was in overwhelming support of our band.” Band founder and bassist Simon Young used the opportunity of this struggle to overcome and defeat the laws that were affecting numerous minority groups, and is reflected in title track “Yellow,” which portrays the restraints experienced by the band.

Explaining the album title, the band describes it as being more of a playful reference to ethnic pride. “The Beatles had The White Album, Metallica and Jay Z [each] had [their own] The Black Album, so we wanted to have The Yellow Album,” says Moxley. In spite of the ethnic pride reference, the mark of good music is that regardless of a band’s ethnic background and its personal story, that the songs are enjoyable alone without an explanation. This description fits The Slants, but thankfully, they love their ethnic roots as much as they stick to their musical ones.

The Yellow Album will be released on 6 November 2012. To hear a free sample of their song Adopted, click here.

The Slants will be touring heavily in the spring and summer of 2013. To see if they are coming to a town near you, check out their tour dates here:

9/22/12 – Melody Ballroom (private event for Jefferson Smith) – Portland, OR
10/20/12 – Columbia City Theater (21+) – Seattle, WA
10/27/12 – Crystal Ballroom (Portland Erotic Ball, 21+) – Portland, OR
11/02/12 – NekoCon – Hampton Roads, VA
11/03/12 – NekoCon – Hampton Roads, VA
11/04/12 – NekoCon – Hampton Roads, VA
11/09/12 – The Someday Lounge (CD RELEASE SHOW, 21+) – Portland, OR
12/01/12 – Ash St. Saloon (Heather’s going away party, 21+) – Portland, OR
1/04/12 – Destination Anime at Emerald Coast Convention Center – Destin, FL
1/05/12 – Destination Anime at Emerald Coast Convention Center – Destin, FL
3/22/13 – Zenkaikon at Lancaster County Convention Center – Lancaster, PA
3/23/13 – Zenkaikon at Lancaster County Convention Center – Lancaster, PA
3/24/13 – Zenkaikon at Lancaster County Convention Center – Lancaster, PA
3/25/13 – Zenkaikon at Lancaster County Convention Center – Lancaster, PA
5/24/13 – Ultimacon at Sheraton New Orleans – New Orleans, LA
5/25/13 – Ultimacon at Sheraton New Orleans – New Orleans, LA
5/26/13 – Ultimacon at Sheraton New Orleans – New Orleans, LA

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About JohnnyC

Johnny C is a self-described Accidental Asian American: born in California and raised in Hong Kong and Manila, he spends his days traveling as a freelancer for various NGOs in development and human rights. An idealist and adventurer, his travels are both for work and fun, while sharing stories through his pictures, videos, and writing. When he's not dance-walking to indie rock songs on his iPod in cities around the world, he's usually got himself engrossed in a science fiction novel traversing the portals of reality.
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