Monday, December 18, 2006

Are you new here?

Some recent finds that have put me in a good mood.

This is "All Over This Town" by The Upper Room. They're a bit of a throwback to the days of jangly guitars, sway-inducing bass lines and asexual lead singers. Yeah -- they conjure up memories of The Smiths and Morrissey. If you happen to remember The Railway Children, then you can use them as a referent as well. I'm getting all nostalgic now. So nostalgic that I'm listening to The Sundays. And I'm swaying. With a smile.

This is "Back to the 101" by Albert Hammond, Jr. He's one of the guitarists for The Strokes. A while back, I read an article in New York that described him as not knowing where he fit in with the band. At the time, I assumed that the writer was commenting on Albert's insecurity with respect to his musical talents. But that can't be right, because he sings and plays quite well. His album won't be released stateside until March.

This is "Burning Benches" by Morning Runner. I discovered them on London Live, which is a wonderful live music show from the U.K. that's broadcast on INHD. It showcases some big-name acts ("big-name" in a European sense). More interestingly, it also features many up-and-coming acts (also in a European sense, which means acts that are several months removed from U.S. shores). I don't think that Morning Runner's album has been released stateside yet. Quite a shame, because it's very good. They sound a bit like Coldplay, but often louder and angrier. (Coldplay gets loud every now and then, but they never get angry. Forlorn maybe, but never angry. Gwyneth must have quite the effect on Chris.)

This is "Out of the Question" by Mumm-Ra. I also discovered them on London Live. They look to be barely out of high school, but they sound plenty mature. At times, their songs get to be a bit spastic, perhaps because their lead singer is a bit spastic. But "Out of the Question" is damn catchy.

Of Sand and Snow

I was reminded in a conversation yesterday about an unusual sight that I'm still very anxious to see: snow on the beach.

There's something strangely appealing about such an incongruous mix of particles. I've mentioned this to a few people, and some of them have insisted that it doesn't snow on the beach. Sure, I've never seen it happen, but I'm pretty sure that they're wrong. What's so magical about the air above a beach that would prevent snow from falling? (I may be an atypical Asian in that my science skills are virtually nonexistent, but I did pay some attention during earth science class.) Besides, haven't you see
n Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? (One of my favorite movies, by the way. Meshes well with my notion that every experience is a good experience simply by virtue of being an experience.)

Yet another reason to prefer East Coast beaches over those on the other coast.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tears on Bleecker

A few years ago, while a couple of friends and I were driving along Bleecker to go to Magnolia, we saw a rather overgrown kid crying as he held on to a topping-less pizza. We're not talking "weh-weh, I'm hungry" crying. We're talking "firetrucks screaming to a five-alarm fire" crying. I mean, he was crying so hard that he looked to be in physical pain.

My friends laughed, and then I laughed along. (It sounds mean, I know. But it was much more good-natured than it seems. Really!) And we just kept laughing -- to the point where we were in physical pain.

We picked up our cupcakes and headed across the street to eat in the park. As we ate, we mused about the reasons behind the crying. It was like being asked to come up with a caption for a bizarre still frame from a movie that we couldn't see. Did he get separated from his mom? Was he upset that the toppings had fallen off his pizza?

So that's the set up for this bit. A few days ago, I sent this link to one of those friends because I knew he'd appreciate the humor. (It's an article titled "So This Manatee Walks Into the Internet," and it's about the Horny Manatee sketch on Conan.) The following is the e-mail thread that ensued.

Friend: I finally read this (late night procrastination). It's freaking hilarious. I immediately did a check on and it appears to be available. Opportunity?

Me: Let's get it and encourage people to send in their sightings! Maybe then we can finally track down crying man child and ask him whether it was because his toppings fell off.

Friend: Dude. We should so buy that domain name. [Other friend] can set up a site on his server. I think that we can get [him] to draw a caricature of a crying manchild with some messed up pizza and have that as a placeholder until we figure out something better. I'm in love with this idea.

Me: Man, that must be some hard plowing you're up against at the (home) office. But hey ... I like whimsy! I'll get cracking on a poem.

Friend: It just doesn't get any better than this.

Me: Oh, man child, why do you cry? / Is it mommy, or is it your pizza pie?

Friend: oh my. I'm speechless.

It's amazing how creative you become when you're exhausted and annoyed about being at the office.

Where have you been all my life, Jantzen?

While in Hong Kong, I was finally initiated into the world of custom-made clothing -- and there's no going back. My friend took me to a place called Jantzen Tailor, and I was like a kid at the Pokemon store. There were swatches everywhere, and I couldn't decide what to get. It took me so long to choose that one of the owners of the place began to tease me. (He also teased me about my nationality. When he asked me about it, I told him that I'm Taiwanese. He looked at me befuddled and said, "Are you sure?" Yet another person who thought I was Korean. Eventually, he started calling me "Taiwan-tzi." Funny guy.)

When it was all said and done, I ended up with two suits and seven shirts. I went in there only thinking about getting a couple of shirts. I had absolutely no intention of buying a suit, particularly because I rarely have to wear one these days. But, again -- I was like a kid at the Pokemon store, and I just couldn't control myself. (Pathetic, I know. Maybe this isn't the best time to mention that, after the flight back from Seoul, I've now seen The Devil Wears Prada three times.)

It's amazing how much better clothes look when they fit perfectly. If you're ever in Hong Kong, you definitely shouldn't leave without getting at least one shirt made. It only costs US$40! And you can flip through swatches online to order more when you get home because they keep your measurements on file! It'll be a challenge not to go overboard.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Duck, Duck ... Turkey?

I got to Hong Kong, and the scenery changed dramatically. Going to Hong Kong from Seoul is like having your subscription to Vogue revoked and replaced with Seventeen. The sight of my 40-year-old cabbie with purple hair reinforced that notion (as did the sight of knee-high boots with tights and shorts, which no longer looked so strangely interesting).

The ride from the airport to the hotel was a real pain in the ass. After we passed through the last toll plaza to get onto Hong Kong Island, my cabbie started pressing the "extras" button on the meter and didn't stop until it hit HK$140. I'm not sure what about me gave him the impression that I was a bumpkin. (Maybe he heard that I went looking to buy food before going to the airport lounge.) But I wasn't paying HK$140 in tolls when a sign in the cab clearly stated in English that I was required to pay much less. So I called him out on it, and he pretended that he couldn't understand me. Eventually, he realized that I was reading the rate chart. Right around then, he pulled over to the curb at some random spot in the city. He got out, unloaded my luggage onto the sidewalk and pointed at a nondescript building across the street to suggest that we'd reached my hotel. Again, I'm not sure what about me gave him the impression that I was a bumpkin. I sat in the cab and told him that I wasn't getting out until we were at the entryway of my hotel. After getting honked at relentlessly by the other cars he was blocking on the road, purple-haired cabbie relented and took me to the proper destination. And he also knocked HK$100 off the fare. I had a feeling that I probably wouldn't be as enamored with Hong Kong as I was with Seoul. (BTW -- As I later learned, it's not a very good idea to cab it into the city. Take the Airport Express instead and cab it to your final destination from the train station.)

Fortunately, salvation awaited me at my hotel -- the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Aesthetically pleasing in every way.

See what I mean? That's a pretty good approximation of what I'd like my apartment to look like.

I settled in and then met up with friends for dinner at a sushi place. Yeah, my first meal in Hong Kong was at a sushi place. But that's not such a crazy thing. One of those friends is now an associate at my firm's Hong Kong office, but we started in New York together as summer associates. Back when we were first years, he asked me one day if I wanted to join him for a sushi lunch. Two and a half hours and $85 a person later, I wondered what the hell happened.

The meal was great, and the restaurant provided an appropriate setting for me to present my friends with a nifty gift -- chocolate sushi. Yup. Chocolate. Go here if you want to get some for yourself or your sushi-obsessed friends.

I spent the next couple of days at the office working and getting to know my Hong Kong colleagues. Quite the nice bunch. Thanksgiving was spent at the American Club. Felt strange eating turkey in the land of roast duck.

Wrapped up the trip by going over to my friends' fancy apartment for a barbecue. (Yeah, it was a very hazy day, especially way up on the 67th floor.)

I don't think Hong Kong is my kind of town. It's a lot like New York, but very different in distinct ways. More crowded, less diverse and even more obsessed with the attainment of wealth. But I'd go back, if for no other reason but the next entry.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Cultural Learnings of Korea for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of America

I headed out to Seoul on Friday, November 17. As usual, I had to scramble to get to the airport. Work never cooperates when I'm trying to get out of town. I got home from the office late the night before, and I woke up around 4:00 to wrap up an agreement before packing and making a mad dash for JFK. Turned out that my flight was delayed, so there wasn't any need to rush.

I was flying business class, so I had access to the Korean Air Lounge. Before heading to the lounge, I toured the food court trying to find something good to eat. Fortunately, I didn't see anything appealing. Being the bumpkin that I am -- I'd never flown business class nor accessed an airline lounge -- I didn't know that there was free food in the lounge. Silly me.

I got into Incheon International Airport around 7:00 on Saturday night and took the KAL bus to the Grant Hyatt. (Only US$13. Quite efficient.) My initial plan was to stay at the minimalist Park Hyatt (definitely more my style), but, as a Korean colleague put it: "That Saturday night is precious." He was referring to the fact that the fabled J.J. Mahoney's is situated downstairs at the Grand Hyatt. And, you know, he knew what he was talking about. Saturday night was an entertaining introduction to the aesthetics of Seoul.

The next day, I headed over to Insadong to have lunch at Dolkemaeul Tofu House -- a jigae place recommended by my Lonely Planet travel book. Dee-licious. Then I ventured to the area around Hongik University, which was my favorite spot during the visit. The neighborhood has a distinct Village feel about it.

For dinner, I met up with a junior high acquaintance. He took me to a barbecue place in Apujeong, where I stuffed myself silly with kalbi. Unlike kalbi that I've had elsewhere, which typically comes on the bone or in chunky cubes, the kalbi here was sliced thin as bulgoki. Again, dee-licious. We hit a bar/cafe next, where I was introduced to bek seju. My friend described it as soju, but sweeter and without the aftertaste, which is about right. I'll definitely lobby for bek seju in place of soju the next early morning I find myself in Koreatown.

We had an interesting conversation at dinner. I told him that it felt good to be surrounded by yellow people, and he asked me why. I responded that it gets to be a bit tiring sometimes being Asian in the U.S., and, without hesitation, he said that he knew exactly what I was talking about. As he put it: "Here, if someone doesn't like me, I know that he just doesn't like me."

Monday was rather uneventful. I wandered about the city before heading back to the hotel around 6:30 for a pre-dinner break. But jet lag got the best of me, and I fell asleep involuntarily for a good six hours. I was starving when I awoke, and I remembered a few friends telling me about a couple of markets with food courts that are open all night. So I ventured to one of them -- Doota -- but the food court was closed. I figured that I may as well do some shopping and just wait to eat the next day. The food court was on the 9th floor, and I paced downwards floor by floor until I got to the basement at around 3:00. Lo and behold, there was a KFC there! Fried chicken never tasted so good. (But the guy gave me all white meat. Must've mistaken my command of English for my being essentially white. What true Asian prefers white meat over dark? I sure hope someone's already working on a genetically-engineered chicken that only has thighs and legs. And speaking of the ying and yang of chicken parts ... it was a very sad day for me when McDonald's jubilantly announced that McNuggets would consist only of white meat. As if that were actually something to celebrate. At least they still mold some of the white meat into dark-meat-like blobs. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? There are the round, breast-like blobs; and then there are the squiggly, leg-like blobs. I always savor the squigqly blobs more, as if white meat molded into the semi-likeness of dark meat acquires the taste of dark meat. Wow ... quite the digression here. This is what happens when you edit at 1:27 in the morning while your mind is fighting hard not to drift into oblivion at the office.)

Tuesday rolled around, and it was time to leave for Hong Kong. I'll definitely be back in Seoul soon.

Some random observations:

• Most every guy has long hair; I felt a bit out of place
• Knee-high boots with tights and shorts is a strangely interesting look
• Elderly women can and likely will cut in front of you
• Drive on the right but walk on the left

Friday, December 1, 2006

I've Missed You

Feels good to write again. I've been out of commission for a while because of that annoying thing called work. Actually, work was only part of the problem. I visited my firm's Hong Kong office last week and stopped in Seoul along the way. Tiring, but enjoyable.

It feels great to be anxious to write. I've been looking forward to this since my plane ride out to Seoul. And I would've written a few entries on the plane had the in-flight wireless Internet service been functional. Yup -- Korean Air actually provides in-flight wireless Internet service, but there was a glitch with the system on my outbound flight. (Great airline, by the way. Extremely courteous and responsive flight attendants.)

I spent the whole time in Asia thinking about writing, but I was either too jet lagged or preoccupied with work to be in proper writing mode. Anyhow, it's good to get the fingers clickin' on the keyboard because I want to and not because I have to.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In the Presence of Humble Rodent

Saw Modest Mouse last night at the Nokia Theatre. Very nice venue, albeit a bit on the big side. Wide concourses, clean restrooms, multiple bars that remind you of the Heineken Experience. All that, of course, means that I'm not likely to go back. What self-respecting indie rock fan could put up with such conditions?

Seriously, though ... a place like that attracts a certain kind of band and a certain kind of crowd. Given its size, only bands that have attained at least a modest level of commercial success (e.g., Modest Mouse) will be booked there. And what sort of crowd does commercial success generally entail?

Kiddies, kiddies as far as the eyes can see-ies, I tell you! (This tends to happen when your music gets featured on The O.C.)

Quite annoying. I didn't much like being around 16-year-olds when I was 16, and I like it even less now. They smoked. They drank. They got all giddy at each utterance of "fuck," "bullshit," "asshole" and the like but bored with each stretch of contemplative melody. Pogo bouncing, yes; gentle swaying, no. Subtlety never escapes them.

Funny how my level of annoyance varied in inverse proportion to their level of enjoyment. Makes me wonder what common thread, if any, ties our interest in Modest Mouse. But enough about the kiddies. Let's talk about the music.

An underwhelming show, really. Isaac and the boys seemed rather uninspired, and that was evident from the opening track -- "Ocean Breathes Salty." If I had a playlist called "I Hate the World," that song would be on it. But the rendition of the song last night would've fit more comfortably on the "Let's All Get Along" playlist. That set the mood for the rest of the show.

I wonder if the composition of the audience and the expanse of the space had anything to do with the band's apparent lack of zeal? My guess is yes. I'm sure the shows will be far more stimulating in the intimate environs of Bowery Ballroom on Friday and Saturday. Perhaps I would've enjoyed things better had they played "Gravity Rides Everything" and "Blame It on the Tetons."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because My Voice Is Beautiful

Yay! Leona Naess is releasing another album soon! Can't wait. She has definitely mellowed quite a bit since Comatised, but I still like her lots.

She keeps a blog, where she opens up as much as she does in her songs.

my last post may have made you think that i was being screwed around by some label, thus the long delays. this is not the case. the truth is, i got dropped a long time ago by my label (a month or so after my dad died to be exact) which could have been taken badly on my side but was fairly meaningless in the large scheme of things. nothing like losing someone to put things into perspective. the delay is, that now with this record done, i want to make sure that it is in the right hands and not somewhere where after failing to get a song on the radio, the label will stop taking my phone calls. it happens all the time. there are many options out there now and i have to make sure its the right one.

its actually very liberating. now that i understand how things work, its not scary, just very important.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I Take Money from The Man, and There Ain't Nothin' Wrong with That

I rolled out of bed today and saw this photo of Figurines on The New York Times home page. The caption for the photo read: "The Figurines, in New York as part of a tour partly financed by the Danish government, in front of the United Nations last week." And the story blurb read: "Countries from Sweden to Australia are turning to an unlikely diplomatic tool: scruffy indie rockers."

The article discusses subsidies that various governments give to bands in the hopes that the success of the bands will boost the international profiles of their countries. One of those countries is Canada. I'd read before that bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars take advantage of grants from the Canadian government. I'd just assumed that the Canadian government was supporting art for art's sake. Silly me.

Heather Ostertag, chief executive of Factor, the public-private Canadian agency that oversees music funds, said it controls a budget of roughly $12.4 million and handed out awards to one-third or more of the 3,800 applicants who sought support last year. Broken Social Scene and its label, for example, have been offered more than $140,000, she said. The Arcade Fire and Stars were also beneficiaries.

Why does the government of the world’s second biggest land mass bother? “The government recognizes the importance of a cultural spend for a cultural identity,” Ms. Ostertag said. “I think that we struggle as Canadians for our own Canadian identity. American dominance is so prevalent wherever you go.” Part of maintaining the nation’s place on the cultural map, she added, “is happening through identifying ourselves through the success of other Canadians.”

Hey, if I'm a tool of the Canadian government, they can use me at will, because BSS, Stars and Arcade Fire are damn good. (I should extend a thank you to my Canadian co-worker for randomly lending me her copy of Stars' Set Yourself on Fire a couple of years back. I wonder if she receives grants from the Canadian government, too?)

Anyhow, I say it's money well-spent by those progressive governments. I'm headed to Sweden next year, in part because a good number of my favorite bands are Swedish. (Go here and go wild.) Now that I'm cognizant of the fact that Figurines and Mew are Danish, I'll be sure to swing by Denmark as well. (And maybe visit LEGOLAND.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Fog of International Law

Just read that Errol Morris is making a documentary about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He's got a style that's artistically distinctive, but distinctively inaccessible to the masses. (Then again, aren't most documentaries?) Should be an interesting follow-up to The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. Too bad Rumsfeld didn't watch this. He and McNamara are virtually interchangeable figures.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

What's the Big Secret?

I'm sitting at the office listening to the three albums I received last night and ported onto my iPod. After the last track of one of the albums plays, I hear silence for several seconds. At first, I wonder whether my iPod had crapped out. But a few more seconds of silence later, I realize that IT'S ANOTHER DAMN HIDDEN TRACK! What's with those things?

The ol' hidden track was kind of a nifty gimmick back in the day, when the only thing that would play a CD was the clunky CD player on your stereo system. During those ancient days, it was a bit tricky figuring out that there was a hidden track on a CD, because you didn't have a slider that you could conveniently drag to skip through 3 minutes of dead air. So, if you were patient enough to let the CD play itself out, you could pat yourself on the back for discovering an Easter egg.

But, c'mon. Who listens to CDs on CD players anymore? In an age when most every CD gets transcribed into MP3 form, a hidden track is no Easter egg; it's a rotten egg.

Thanks, silly record producer/marketing guru, for turning 5 lousy minutes worth music into a bloated, 10-meg MP3 file.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

He Don't Read So Good

I just got a call from a friend harassing me about how he's not referenced in any entry. As is customary, he's wrong. In any event ... what the hell?

You don't get calls from me telling you how to write code, do you?

So now you're mentioned with clarity. Happy, ya freak? And don't call at 1:30 in the morning again, unless it's to announce that you're getting married or something mildly interesting like that.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Come in, Memories, but Leave the Past Behind

I had a bit of a eureka moment while riding the subway home. (Isn't that when you get them, too?) I had the ol' iPod on, listening to ... what was I listening to? Doesn't really matter. What matters is that I was quite happy, reflecting on my recent re-immersion in music and its triggering of this gush of words in blog form. The creative synapses in my noggin are firing with rapidity once again. Of course, I couldn't leave it at that. I had to understand how I got here. And that's when it hit me.

I ran into a creative wall when I went to law school and came out to New York because I refused to grow. Before law school, I found comfort in the likes of New Order, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Cocteau Twins, the Smiths and Pale Saints -- the Linus blankets I grew up with. And for those of them who were still making music at the time, I'd fuss about how they didn't sound like they used to. Meanwhile, the natural progression of things led my compatriots into the vibrant world of indie rock as I stood idly by, whining like an old man to his grandchildren: "When I was young, we used to ..." this, that and the other.

I hated law school, and I complained about it incessantly. When I started working at a firm, I hated that as well and complained even more. Much of it was fueled by thoughts of the days of yore, when my main occupation consisted of critiquing all that was less than ideal. (Ever seen High Fidelity?) I was quite miserable, and that misery was of my own creation.

So what's the parallel here? Just as I failed to evolve with the changes in the music world, I failed to evolve with the changes in my life. But now, I've learned to accept my existence as it is and cease lamenting the loss of my existence as it was. And that's what made me smile on the subway.

British Sea Power. That's what I was listening to.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

And the Marathon Ends

Just got back from Hipster Central (a/k/a Williamsburg), where I saw a slew of bands at Northsix. It's a god-awful place to see a show, especially in comparison to Bowery Ballroom. But the bands were nice, except for an obnoxious one called Illinois. (The hazards of showing up too early.)

Oh No! Oh My! started off the night (the part of it worth writing about, at least). They were the band I was most eager to see, but I was rather disappointed by their performance. Quite the jolly, endearingly dorky lot that was obviously tired from playing six or so shows in a matter of days.

The Little Ones were next. Huge surprise. Not just because they sounded impressively polished live, but also because they're a five piece with two Asian guys as the centerpiece. Definitely didn't expect that from listening to their EP. I felt strangely proud seeing my fellow yellow men on stage.

Silversun Pickups closed out the night. I've known about them for a while now, but I've been on the fence about buying their album. Now that I've seen them live, I'm still on the fence, although one foot is on the side of buying. If they were just a bit more melodic, both feet would be firmly planted on the buy side. They sound somewhat like the Smashing Pumpkins, except a tad faster, louder and angrier. (I've never been much of a Pumpkins fan.) Of all the bands I saw tonight, they probably have the best shot at making it big. They've got a sound that's easy for disaffected youth to latch onto. That's a good formula for success these days, no?

So, that leaves The Tyde as the lone band on my CMJ hit list that I didn't get to cross off. Better luck next time, I guess.

I felt quite young and quite old all at the same time at each of the CMJ shows. Young in that I felt re-connected with the me of old -- from the days in high school and college when I was thoroughly engrossed in music. Old in that ... I am, especially standing next to the college kids. I wonder if they'll be in my position ten years from now, or will they have moved on?

Next up: Modest Mouse. And then, it's just a few short months until Coachella 2007! Gotta work on the sales pitch to get the whole gang to go.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Mew Drops on the Bowery

Caught Mew at Bowery Ballroom last night. (Still, hands down, my favorite place to see a show in the City. Just the right size, with the most phenomenal of acoustics.) I paid 30 bucks to see them -- nearly twice face value -- when I could've seen them as a throw-in during the Bloc Party/Secret Machines show at McCarran Park Pool over the summer. I had looked them up briefly before that show and found them to be interesting, but not quite interesting enough to trek out to Brooklyn in the mid-afternoon. So, I missed them.

I didn't come upon them again until a week ago when I was browsing about the Celebrity Playlists on iTunes. That's probably one of the best features of iTunes. It's fascinating what sort of music the famous listen to. Much of it is predictably pedestrian. But, every now and then, you come upon something unexpected, like Samuel L. Jackson listing "Wake Up" by Aracde Fire among his favorites. Or Maria Sharapova being a fan of Imogen Heap and Frou Frou. The best moments are when a Celebrity Playlist helps you discover something good. Like when I clicked on O.K. Go's playlist (of all things) and got re-acquainted with Mew.

So, the show starts, and the drummer emerges alone. He plays with a tight, concussive cadence as the lead guitarist nonchalantly strolls on stage and picks away. Next come the bassist and keyboard player. Then, the cherubic lead signer appears. He has a rather fragile, delicate look about him, which seemed quite fitting given the soaring, soprano-like notes emitted by his vocal chords. (Before I saw them, I was sure that Mew had at least one female vocalist. They have none.)

I've described Mew as reminiscent of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. Last night, as I heard and saw them live, thoughts of Pale Saints and Lush also came to mind. But it's not that Mew sounds like one of those bands during a song and another during the next. It's that Mew sounds like a strange brew of all those bands in a jam session. Airy falsetto vocals; discordant, effects-laden guitar riffs; elongated synthesiser swirls; subdued bass lines; bombastic percussion -- it all sounds gorgeously symphonic, if not operatic. But just as you almost begin to fall into a lull because of the sway-inducing harmonies, Mew delivers one sonic punch after another to remind you that you're not at Lincoln Center.

Oh, and they're Danish, too -- just like Figurines. Such beautiful music those Scandinavians make.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

And the Marathon Begins (No, the Other One)

Woohoo! It's time for the CMJ Music Marathon, and I caught my first show last night -- Figurines at Mercury Lounge.

Got there a little early, so I had to suffer trough a dreadful set by some kids from Michigan who should probably give college another try. But all was well when Figurines took the stage. Crisp, cool and charmingly propulsive. They're Danish, after all.

It's a shame more people don't know about them. (Of course, I say that about most bands I like. But I'd be rather annoyed if any of them were to hit the Billboard charts. A bit of a disconnect, I know. Then again, when I say "more people," I'm really only referring to those with a sympathetic ear for indie rock.)

I'm hoping to catch Oh No! Oh My!, the Little Ones, the Tyde, Silversun Pickups and Mew before the Marathon ends. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Killing The Killers in Sam's Town

I walked over to Times Square after work last night to have some ramen at Sapporo. (Not sure why I go there. It's really not very good.) Afterwards, I figured I'd swing by the Virgin Megastore to pick up the new Killers album. (Actually, I was more excited about the prospect of finding a copy of Kick by White Rose Movement, which hasn't yet been released stateside.) Virgin was asking $13.99 for Sam's Town, but I knew it was available for $9.99 elsewhere. I was feeling lazy, and, besides ... Virgin had Kick, which would've felt lonely in the shopping bag without Sam's Town. So, I coughed up the extra $4 begrudgingly and took both albums home.

Aside from the extra $4 that I had to cough up, my reluctance at buying was also colored by a Times review that trashed the album. You know, The Times knew what it was talking about. Sam's Town is quite bland. Maybe "bland" isn't the right descriptor. "Blah" is more like it.

Had Sam's Town been The Killers' debut album, I probably wouldn't be a Killers fan now. I was a bit queasy about buying Hot Fuss, given the affection for it shown by the masses. But I'm glad that I put my Nietzschean ethos aside and took the plunge. Mass appeal notwithstanding, Hot Fuss is a great album. It has the feel of a band being innovative without trying. Unfortunately, Sam's Town has the feel of a band trying all-too-hard to be innovative.

Popular appeal has perhaps given Brandon Flowers a bit of a messiah complex. (That may explain the church-like choir that bellows in Sam's Town. A preacher needs his background singers, no?) On the album, he's like the person at the dinner table who just keeps talking and talking -- so much that you want to tell him to shut the hell up. And he's not talking in a soft tone, either. His voice is so bombastic at times that I wonder whether the band would do better to replace him with Meat Loaf.

Hot Fuss introduced the unique sound of "Black Celebration" meets "Fascination Street." But that delicate merger is eviscerated in Sam's Town by, among other things, a guitarist whose motto must be: "I've never met a solo I didn't like." Merging Depeche Mode with The Cure is an interesting idea. Merging Depeche Mode with Def Leppard is not.

Oh, what could've been. I fear this may be the last Killers album that I buy.

Monday, September 4, 2006

The Value of Death

Client: Why do people have to die?
Nate: To make life important.

Just saw a promo for Six Feet Under on Bravo. Interesting that they chose to feature that exchange. It struck me hard the first time I heard it, and it struck me hard again this time around. Such a sublime explanation for the value of life.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

They Giveth, and They Taketh Away

Today, we mourn the loss of Pluto as a planet. Or do we? Pluto and I never have been friends, really. But, during the past week, I found myself oddly interested in the debate as to the nature of its cosmic existence. Who knew there was such a controversy? Even those who could care less would likely be amused by this op-ed piece titled "I ♥ Pluto."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Things That Never Were

PBS is again showing the RFK episode of American Experience. I've seen it several times, and it gets to me every time. I'm certainly not the first to say so, but that it's been said often doesn't make it any less worth saying: this would be such a different country had RFK not been assassinated.

Some of my favorite RFK recitations:

Some people see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I dream of things that never were and ask, "Why not?"
-- George Bernard Shaw

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who,
in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.
-- Dante

He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep,
pain, which cannot forget,
falls drop by drop
upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of god.
-- Aeschylus

A favorite RFK anecdote:

During his 1968 presidential campaign, one of his aides asked something along the lines of: "Bobby, I don't understand. You were in favor of the death penalty when you were Attorney General. Now, you're against it. What's changed?"

RFK's response: "I read Camus."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Killing an Arab

Now, before you get all worked up about the title for this entry, keep in mind that it's also the title of a Cure song -- a Cure song, incidentally, inspired by the book that's the subject of this entry.

I read an amusing Maureen Dowd column yesterday titled "Camus Comes to Crawford." (The link won't take you to the column unless you subscribe to TimesSelect.) My interest couldn't help but be piqued when I saw that title, because Camus is my favorite philosopher. (I really think of him more as a writer, though.) I was curious to see what role Camus would play in Dowd's skewering of GW.

For whatever reason, Bush actually read The Stranger (my favorite book, once affectionately referred to as my Bible) while on vacation at his ranch in Crawford. (Yeah, I know it's redundant to say that he was on vacation.) And he claims to have liked it. (He must've heard that Cheney liked it.)

Dowd does a pretty good job of mocking the absurdity of GW reading Camus. But she concludes that perhaps it's not such a crazy thing.

"The Stranger" is about the emotionally detached Meursault, who makes a lot of bad decisions and pre-emptively kills an Arab in the sand. Get it? Camus's protagonist moves through an opaque, obscure and violent world that is indifferent to his beliefs and desires. Get it?

No Violating My Rights, Damn It

I saw a "No Trespassing" sign while walking to work today. I've always thought of that as a rather odd sign. I mean, is there ever a situation where trespassing is allowed? It makes about as much sense as a "No Stealing" sign at a convenience store.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Blue Star

I'm currently making my way, ever-so-slowly, as is customary, through Kenji Yoshino's Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Yoshino is a gay, Japanese-American professor at Yale Law School. I know of him because my firm invited him to deliver a lecture based upon his book. I attended the lecture, and the experience became one of the most inspiring I've had in many years. I hadn't felt so intellectually invigorated since my undergrad days, sitting back and absorbing Professor Solomon's musings on existentialism.

I'll leave the heavy-duty, socio-legal stuff for another day. But here's an excerpt that illustrates Yoshino's ability to awe. It recounts a memory that fluttered through his mind when he attended the wedding of his college girlfriend. After Yoshino came out, he spent some time catching up with her as they re-immersed themselves in their shared love of poetry. At the time, she was about to transition from teaching English to entering medical school. Before making the transition, she decided that she wanted a tattoo of a blue star on her left shoulder blade. "The Blue Star" was the title of one of her favorite poems.

Janet and I fought over the tattoo. I told her that she had misconstrued the nature of time. In thirty years, I said, she would be an entirely different person, but the tattoo would still be there to embarrass her. Who was she, at twenty-four, to bind that future self? Janet responded that I was the one who had misconstrued time. She agreed that over the next years, she would change, that she would have to change. Yet she said if her future self was embarrassed by the star, she wanted it to be embarrassed. She was entering a time in her life when her commitment to poetry would become more endangered than ever, and she wanted to protect that commitment by writing it on her body. If she became a doctor who stopped reading and writing poetry, she wanted to hear the reproach of this younger self. My mistake, she said, was that I assumed people got wiser as they got older.

Reminds me of the days during my second year in college when my Philosophy of Law professor would implore: "Don't become a person ten years from now whom you'd hate right now." (Of course, he was a burnt-out assistant district attorney taking time off to teach.)

Thursday, June 1, 2006

A Straw for My Bud, Please

The other day, I stepped into a deli to buy a drink. (It was pretty freakin' hot out.) I was rather amused when I saw that the woman in front of me at the register was also picking up a drink -- an 18 oz. Budweiser in a can.

At least she classed things up by asking for a straw.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The Desert Is Alive with the Sound of Music

We went, we saw, we survived. Coachella 2006, alas, has come and gone. The experience was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. Above all, it was thoroughly memorable.

Sure, it got off to an inauspicious start when I got stuck on a conference call and missed my flight. But what's an adventure without an adventure? It all worked out anyhow. All I had to do was sit around for a couple of hours at the airport and catch a flight into LAX instead of SNA. Still managed to get in before In-N-Out closed for the night.

We got up the next day at a decent hour, scarfed down some yummy Taiwanese food, and then mozied on down to Indio. The temperature was a non-fatal 95 degrees. The sky was a non-imposing bed of blue. And the music -- ah, yes -- the music.

Awards for the Weekend

"Holy crap, I didn't expect to like that so much"
Franz Ferdinand

"Wow, I'm all happy now"
The Go! Team

"It'd be scary to see her when she's high"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"Man, what a time to be unattached"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, performing Maps

"Damn, we got here too late"

"Buy some new equipment ya cheap bastards"
Wolf Parade

"Money well spent on the band-in-a-box"
Imogen Heap

"I think I hear animals dying"
Animal Collective

"Maybe I'd like this better after inhaling a bit more second-hand pot"

"You lost me at hello"
She Wants Revenge

"You certainly still know how to pander"
Depeche Mode

"Hmm ... you're worth buying after all"

"Am I a closet Skynyrd fan?"
My Morning Jacket

"You should've made songs for Transformers"

"It's all good, but let's work a bit on the legato"
Bloc Party

"Turn it up, please"
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

"Please don't invite her again"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hold the Heineken

Last August, I got really pissed after seeing a Heineken commercial and fired off this e-mail to their directors of sales and marketing.

I am very disappointed with Heineken. Recently, I saw a Heineken commercial that, whether intentionally or not, casts Asian Americans and African Americans in an unfavorable light.

The commercial features two Asian-American "gangster wannabes" at a convenience store preparing to purchase large bottles of malt liquor. The obvious premise was that: (1) Asian Americans are clueless when it comes to gangster style, hence their "wannabe" status; (2) gangster wannabes copy what real gangsters do; (3) real gangsters are often African Americans; (4) African Americans, particularly those who are gangsters, enjoy malt liquor; therefore, (5) Asian-American gangster wannabes want to drink malt liquor.

As the commercial continues, a "hip," "new-school" African American enters the convenience store and grabs a six-pack of Heineken. Upon observing that shrewd purchasing decision, the wannabes set aside their bottles of malt liquor and grab a six-pack of Heineken as well.

I am an Asian American, and I am not fond of Asian-American gangster wannabes. However, I am even less fond of corporations that trade on ethnic stereotypes in crass attempts to promote their products. And if I see that commercial again, I may soon cease to be fond of drinking Heineken. One would hope that a company that encourages responsible drinking would engage in responsible advertising.

This is the "we care" and "we didn't mean no disrespect" response I got several days later.

Dear Mr. Fang,

Thank you for contacting us to express your concerns about our recent Heineken brand television ad. We hope you understand that this commercial was meant in no way to be offensive. The commercial was intended to demonstrate Heineken's long-standing support of the urban culture and music and to connote it's global transcendence. Moreover, we hoped to honor the favorable influence urban culture has had on so many and more importantly, to celebrate the bridging of gaps between seemingly divergent cultures. Heineken takes its commitment to respecting the diversity of our consumers very seriously. We wanted you to be aware that the spot is no longer airing and we have decided to discontinue running the ad effective August 21. We truly appreciate your contacting us with your concerns and we hope that you will continue to support and enjoy Heineken in the future.

Thank you for your interest in Heineken USA.

Mercedes T. Bangari
Corporate Affairs
Heineken USA

Monday, April 10, 2006

When the Wolves Come Marching in

Just got back from the Wolf Parade show at Webster Hall. When they got started, I was a bit disappointed. They played a new, non-album track that I didn't find all-too-endearing. Their live sound seemed a bit thin -- not nearly as textured as it is on the album. But once they got warmed up and launched into the staples, it turned out to be a very enjoyable show. "Shine a Light," "We Built a New World," "Fancy Claps" and all the other fast stuff were definitely the highlights of the show.

I had no idea that they have two lead singers who split time fairly evenly, sometimes even switching in and out during a song. On the album, it all sounds like the same guy. Strange, but entertaining.

I'm a bit worried that their next album may not measure up to Apologies to Queen Mary. There's not one song on the current album that I find unappealing. But the new songs they played, which had a tendency to drone, all left a bit to be desired. We'll see, I guess.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Judas as Facilitator

Just read an interesting article in The New York Times about the discovery and translation of The Gospel of Judas. It seems that, rather than being a traitor, Judas may have carried out Jesus's wishes and facilitated God's plan for the crucifixion.

Do you suppose Judas Priest now needs a new name?

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Going Back to Cali

Woohoo! The last of the crew has finally come to his senses and committed to a return engagement. Coachella, here we come (again)!

There's something quite special about Coachella. Attending the festival last year was a life-altering experience.

I've always been rather obsessive about music, at least since the day in seventh grade when I discovered New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle." Before that, I listened to whatever was played on the radio, along with my sister's crappy Columbia House selections, which included the likes of Air Supply, Kenny Rogers and Bon Jovi. (Yeah, New Order rescued me just in time.)

I can't explain it, really. There was just something about "Bizarre Love Triangle" that sang to me. From there, the natural progression led me to Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and so forth. I quickly amassed quite the stack of CD's and 12" singles. (What your mom and dad call "vinyl.")

But something happened after I got out of law school and moved to New York. Perhaps law school killed my imagination. Who knows. In any event, I fell out of the loop. I used to buy at least a couple of CD's a month -- at least. And I'd scour the web and record shops relentlessly for that obscure new sound. After I got to New York and started working, I fell into a void and just lost touch.

Then I went to Coachella, and all was well again. It was as if I underwent a musical rebirth. I felt reconnected with the me of old.

Can't wait to go back.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Where Are My People?

On Saturday, as I was walking to Chinatown to grab lunch, I came upon a mass demonstration at Foley Square concerning the immigration reform legislation currently under debate in Congress. The majority of the protesters were Hispanic.

As I strolled closer towards Chinatown -- a bastion of immigrants, legal or otherwise -- I couldn't help but wonder: Where are my people? We have just as significant a stake in the debate as other more demonstrative immigrant groups, yet we were, for the most part, ostensibly absent from the demonstration.

All that reminded me of the night I attended the biennial meeting of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance back when I was a junior in high school. I was seated at a table with a man named J.D. Hong (J.D. as in Jefferson Davis), who had grown up in segregation-era Mississippi with a brother named Sherman (Sherman as in General Sherman). J.D. explained that Asian Americans were considered colored folk, and they, too, could not drink from white water fountains, go to white schools or ride at the front of buses. Seemed logical enough. I mean, did I really need him to explain to me that yellow isn't white? Yet, the thought had never crossed my mind. I never even imagined that there were Asian Americans in segregation-era Mississippi, let alone the consequences of their existence. Why? Because I didn't hear anything about that during history class. And I certainly hadn't heard anyone speak of it based upon first-hand knowledge.

Why do we so rarely feel compelled to speak up?

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Let's Make It a Group Effort

So ... I'm walking across the West Side Highway, coming upon a construction site where a new highrise condo is sprouting. I glance to my right, and there's a group of five or so men standing about, each facing a wall. It took a second or two for me to figure things out, but I eventually realized that they were all peeing! What the hell? It's not as if I've never witnessed public urination. But my sense is that it's typically a one-man sport. The sight of synchronized public urination is definitely a first for me. And it was in broad daylight, no less! Ah, the joy of living in NYC.

I See You

Bands that I've seen live. (Those worth mentioning, at least.)

120 Days
Acid House Kings
Ambulance LTD
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Anything Box
The Arcade Fire
Au Revoir Simone
Band of Horses
Bloc Party
Blonde Redhead
Book of Love
British Sea Power
Broken Social Scene
Built to Spill
Camera Obscura
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Cocteau Twins
The Cribs
Crystal Castles
The Cure
Cut Copy
Cut Off Your Hands
Departure Lounge
Depeche Mode
The Drums
Echo & the Bunnymen
Emm Gryner
Fleet Foxes
Franz Ferdinand
Gemma Hayes
Ghostland Observatory
The Go! Team
Grizzly Bear
Imogen Heap
Kate Nash
The Killers
LCD Soundsystem
The Legends
Leona Naess
Lonely, Dear
Los Campesinos!
The Little Ones
Lykke Li
M. Ward
Maria Taylor
Melpo Mene
Mercury Rev
Modest Mouse
My Bloody Valentine
My Morning Jacket
The National
New Order
New Pornographers
Nine Inch Nails
Nitzer Ebb
Oh No! Oh My!
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Paul McCartney
Pet Shop Boys
Peter Bjorn & John
The Radio Dept.
The Raveonettes
Rilo Kiley
Robin Guthrie
The Rosebuds
Saint Etienne
School of Seven Bells
Sebastien Tellier
The Secret Machines
She & Him
She Wants Revenge
Shout Out Louds
Silversun Pickups
Snow Patrol
Tahiti 80
The Teenagers
Tegan and Sara
Thurston Moore
The Ting Tings
TV on the Radio
Violet Indiana
We Are Scientists
White Lies
Wolf Parade
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yo La Tengo

Wish the list were more extensive and less devoid of some of my all-time favorites.

In the Beginning

Well, I've finally gotten around to creating a blog. I don't intend for this to be a venue through which I spill my guts to the world, although it may end up that way sometimes. I really intend for this to be a dialogue with myself. Something to get me writing again. A place at which to store my thoughts.

I used to have an electronic journal ... way back when. But it was rather simplistic, yet cumbersome to deal with. I tried to find a more up-to-date version, but then I realized that it's perhaps more efficient to start a blog. I mean, I've always got a web browser open, so the inertia that needs to be overcome to jot something down in a blog is a bit less than that required to load up a program. (Yeah, there's always the paper and pencil method, but who has paper these days? Besides, that's a pain in the ass to store.)

So ... here I am. And here it is -- a diary in the form of a blog.

BTW -- The title is a reference to Camus's spin on Descartes's de cogito -- I think, therefore, I am. For Camus and other existentialists, what's important isn't how we got here. What's important is that we're here. I originally wanted to title this blog So Here We Are, which also happens to be one of my favorite Bloc Party songs. Figures that it was taken.