Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sadako's Message to the World: My Ongoing "Ring" Analysis

Ever since it's American release, I've been hooked to the franchise. It was different and fresh, then I learned that it came from Japan. Not only did this kick off the trend of Asian horror remakes, it got me further interested in exploring the genre personally. At the moment, I'm still hooked and find this journey of comparison to be an interesting and long one. It is far from complete, but I wanted to share my findings so far with you and perhaps spread the spark like Sadako/Samara.

Although my journey started in America, the story originated from a novel with the same name by Koji Suzuki. It is a three book series that starts off with a male character. Later, it was adapted into a 5 manga series, a movie, TV series, a remake in the U.S. and Korea, and even a video game. But I'm skipping a few things like the TV series, Korean remake, and the video game. So far, I have read the first novel, four volumes of the manga, have seen both American movies, and 3 out of 4 of the Japanese anthology.

Forgive me if I forget anything as I explain my comparisons. Some of these pieces I haven't seen in a long time, so I'm going from memory mostly.

No matter if the main character is male or female, it all starts the same. Four teenagers watched an unmarked video tape in a cabin and coincidentally they all died a week later. The main character is related to one of the victims and carries the story by investigating the tape. During their investigation, they tell someone close to them about the tape and they end up helping with the investigation (as well as have a deadline of their life tagged onto them with the main character). **spoiler alert** Things heighten when the main character's closest family member(s) view the tape and the search for a resolution on stopping death is quickened. During the investigation, the main character and their partner learn that this is connected to a young girl with extraordinary psychic abilities and her life was very tragic. They retrace their steps to stop the cycle, but unfortunately, one person doesn't make it and the other realizes the solution to the mysterious tape.

From the novel to the American remake, all of these elements are the same in a general sense. In Koji Suzuki's novel, we follow Kazuyuki Asakawa who works as a newspaper reporter in Tokyo. I believe in both movies, the main characters are connected to the newspaper or some sort of news media. Asakawa's partner is a friend by the name of Ryuji Takayama who was a philosophy professor and a self proclaimed rapist. In the Japanese movie, Ryuji is the main character's ex-husband/father of her son. Asakawa is still married and has a daughter and in the movie, the main characters are not married and have a son. Also, the main character in both movies are female.

From the novel to both movies, the curse tape is different. In the novel, it is more detailed and longer. It also has messages in the beginning and end of the tape hinting that there is a solution to stop death after watching the disturbing images. In my opinion, Ringu has a creepier tape than The Ring. There are also different causes of death between the book and movies. One having to deal with shock of a disturbing self reflection on surfaces to heart problems to a new form of the smallpox virus.

The back story of our antagonist Sadako/Samara varies as well. In the novel, she is a hermaphrodite and, in the movie, it is assumed she is fully a woman. Her psychic abilities vary from the novel to the movies. Also, her struggle with her father and relationship with the doctor that was working with him are different between the two. In the movie, her father was responsible for hurting her and tossing her in the well, but in the novel, the doctor raped her and put her in the well. Both forms of media reveal that Sadako/Samara didn't die right away.

As we move onto the sequel of both movies as I haven't gotten around to reading the next novel, the continuation varies. During the hype of Ringu, another director picked up the movie and decided to create a sequel in the same year which ended up not doing as well. Later, the original director went on to make a sequel of his own which had a slightly better reception and totally different direction. In my opinion, Ringu 2 was a slightly better sequel than Rasen. In Ringu 2, we discover that Reiko and her son survived the curse and we follow Ryuji's student Mai as she tries to figure out what happened to Ryuji. Similar events occur and we learn that Reiko's son has picked up Sadako's supernatural powers. This element becomes the focus of the movie. Rasen goes with the virus theory, but is hard to explain how it can be realistically contracted through reading the words of the horrible events or watching the tape. The main character is still Mai and the story remains to make sense as a continuation to the first movie by connecting it with an autopsy of Ryuji. The doctor, Mitsuo, investigating his death and the tapes also has a personal connection to Ryuji. My reasoning for not liking Rasen as much is because it takes a strange twist. Mai and Mitsuo develop a fast relationship which leads to some crazy reincarnation/birth of Sadako and some awkward moments that were way out there. In the end, Ringu 2 followed more of Koji Suzuki's vision from what I've read in my sources. I look forward to finding that out myself.

As for the American sequel, it is nothing like the Japanese sequels. It follows it's own pace, but shares a few similarities to the overall storyline. Rachel (the main character) and Aiden (her son) still survive and remain to battle the mysteries of the ring cycle. They unveil Samara's past a bit more than the first and share a speck of similarity to the original concept. Even though I saw the Japanese sequels after the American, I'm glad they keep the close tie between Aiden and Samara to provoke more of a conflict to the main character, in this case his mother Rachel. The Ring 2 was a decent sequel, but wasn't as strong as the first (most people expect that from sequels anyway). I must confess that I'm not looking forward to The Ring 3D.

I'm assuming the manga series follows closely to the novel as I've gotten further in the manga than the novel series. From my observation, it does match up with a lot of the events that occur in the original movie franchise and continues to intrigue me to delve further in my research. I hope, in the near future, I can add on to my comparison of Sadako's message to the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quick Music Review

Various Arists - Tribute to SEIKIMA-II -Akuma to no Keiyakusho- (2010, Japan) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Rouningyou no Yakata, JACK THE RIPPER, ARCADIA

Around the time this album was released, I was very in engrossed with Seikima-II's music. Now, I haven't fallen off the bandwagon of thinking they're an amazing band, but I haven't been playing them as much as the beginning. With that aside, let's start with "FIRE AFTER FIRE" by the legendary SEX MACHINEGUNS. It begins with a similar and slightly rearranged guitar opening. The cover is pretty decent and follows the original pretty much. I'm not too fond of the vocals, but it's still enjoyable and keeps it's place. The metal female rockers SHOW-YA bring us into a haunting organ introduction of "Rouningyou no Yakata". It still keeps it's original concept, but has that special SHOW-YA twists that proves that these girls definitely hold their own. "EL DORADO" is one my favorite Seikima songs and I didn't know what to expect from Earthshaker. They have an interesting retro introduction, then bring on a solid rock sound with heavy drums. Honestly, I didn't like the cover that much. The music arrangement was okay, but the vocals were too out there for me. I'm not a big fan of Galneryus, but their rendition of "HOLY BLOOD ~Tatakai no kettou~" was very enjoyable. Surprised me for sure! "Adam no Ringo" is another one of my favorite songs and was covered by a band unfamiliar to me by the name of Zigoku Quartet. It's definitely more metal sounding than the original with fast pace drumming and growling vocals. With crying guitars, X.Y.Z.→A's "SAVE YOUR SOUL ~Utsukushiki CLICHE ni se wo mukete~" enters as the next track and manages to keep that inspirational feeling of the song like the original. THE KANMURI brought this freaky rock talk intro and then a familiar melody like the original. There's a pause and BAM! a slightly heavier version of "JACK THE RIPPER". I think I actually like this version better than the original. I'm pretty sure majority of Sadie fans have never heard of Seikima in their life, but I think they did a decent job representing for the new breed of visual kei on this album with "STAINLESS NIGHT". It brought on a softer side of Mao's voice and they easily made the song their own. TRiCK, another young visual kei band on the album, took over "Kaiki Shokubutsu". I'm not familiar with their work, but I believe they tried their best of keeping themselves in the song while maintaining the essence of Seikima. Grand Illusion's "1999 SECRET OBJECT" brings out that nostalgic feeling of 80's rock that we're familiar with in America. RX closes out the tribute with an emotional and passionate cover of "ARCADIA". An amazing way to end a well rounded tribute album of a great visual, iconic band.

BEAST/B2ST - Fiction and Fact (2011, South Korea) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: The Fact, Fiction, On Rainy Days, Lightless (Unplugged Ver.)

The group's first full length album starts off very mellow, complete with acoustic guitar work in "The Fact". A beautiful introduction to the album. Along with the first track as a teaser, "Fiction" was chosen to help promote the album. It has a fusion of electro-pop with R&B vocal harmonization that makes the song enjoyable and beautiful. "Back to You" has a strong opener with piano and slightly intense vocals. It keeps the pace of the previous track and then the tempo picks up to a dance beat. "You" is a very light track to please the fangirls with sweet nothings. "Freeze" delivers (DDR) electronic feel and is very upbeat, instant smile on your face type track. Unfortunately, I didn't like it that much. "Virus" goes back to that electro-pop/R&B fusion, but lacks the power of "Fiction". It's a decent track and has a couple impressive vocal moments. The next track is your typical almost ballad with piano that gives the boys a chance to show off their ranges. I believe the next track is called "On Rainy Days". It's a mellow, guitar song that I surprisingly enjoyed a lot compared to all the slow songs on the album. The grand finale is brought to us through newly arranged versions of "Lightless" and "Fiction". This version of "Lightless" is completely unplugged and the vocal arrangement was genius. It sticks to the original dancey version, but adds a little more complexity to this already great song. I was already crazy about "Fiction", but the orchestral version of this track proves that they deserve the name "BEAST". It has a gorgeous musical arrangement and there's even more of emotional flow within the lyrics. I didn't think B2ST could get any better, but it's wonderful see them grow. For once, I'm looking forward to the limited edition version to be released.

Yankie - Lost In Memories (2011, South Korea) | Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Zombie, 몽유병, Stabilizer, Runaway

During my ongoing journey of being in awe of Korean rap, I found the latest release by Yankie. I'm not a stranger to his name as I enjoyed TBNY alot and some songs he's been featured in. The hard hitting bass beats of "Zombie" immediately attack the speakers with a fierce flow and a memorable chorus. The next track fuses old school and new school elements into a unique flow that can either be hit or miss to listeners. "Love" had a more familiar sound to me that fits right in with what's going in the Korean pop world while still mixing a smooth R&B flavor. "Polar Bear" features a familiar beat that American hip-hop lovers should pick up pretty easily. It's a pretty simple sound and just has lyrical blows from Yankie and Unique One that hypnotizes you around the chorus. The next track fuses Latin hip-hop elements and introduces something slightly new to Korea that kinda reminds me of Leessang (maybe because Red Roc is apart of it). "Happy Birthday (Born-Day)" reminds me of something my brother would've put together. This is not an insult for those not familiar with his work. The beat is easy to get into and the chorus is pretty catchy. The next track following the interlude slows it down and gives a chilled out R&B sound with the beautiful vocals of Mellow to ease our minds. "Stabilizer" definitely steps out of the mold of krap. It features a dub step sound with expertly arranged lyrical flow. The next track reunites Yankie with former partner TopBob (and, of course, Bumkey!) to make a laid back and funky beat that's irresistible. I've been indulging myself in a lot of Dok2, so this next track goes hard! It has a throwback sound and a present time flow that suits both rappers with ease. Yankie closes the album with a smooth, bass driven R&B sound that could easily be used by Jill Scott and delivers his words smoothly in "Runaway".

Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (2010, USA) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: When They Come For Me, Waiting For The End, Wretches and Kings, The Catalyst

After the release of Minutes to Midnight, Linkin Park's work has caused a massive divide within their fandom as well as a massive annoyance for me (and possibly others) with all the useless bickering. The latest album sadly adds fuel to the fire of fan division. "The Requiem" opens this album up quietly with a few piano notes and ambient musical elements to lure you in gradually with lines from "The Catalyst". "Burning In The Skies" is the first "real" track on the album. The vocals aren't that spectacular, but the song does have a nice, mellow dramatic arrangement. I appreciated it a little more live, but it still hasn't stuck to me very well. "When They Come For Me" is one of my absolute favorite tracks from this album. It features electronic elements with tribal drums and a whole lot of hip-hop attitude that I didn't expect from Mike. "Robot Boy" reverts back to piano and a dramatic melody that has a slightly uplifting sound. "Waiting For The End" took a while for me to get used to, but there's something about the chorus that hooked me eventually. It has semi-simple electronic sound bits and the right amount of empty musical space to highlight Chester's soft vocals. "Blackout" combines LP's new experimental sound with their slightly older aggressive vocal arrangement. It's an interesting combination that could be hit or miss with the slightly chaotic arrangement. Is it proper to say that "Wretches and Kings" goes hard? Well, it does! It has intense bass, the right electronic distorts, and Mike and Chester definitely deliver a one-two combo with their voices. "Iridescent" is a beautiful piano rock song that gives both vocalists a chance to sing out a sorrowful emotion. A whole new side to the guys that some may disapprove of. "The Catalyst" was the defining point of what to expect from this album. I thought it was a good choice to promote the album as it features a new side to this experimental phase in LP's musical journey. It has a dramatic sound and still holds onto their electronic rock fusion. Chester's emotional driven vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar closes out the album in "The Messenger". A Thousand Suns is consistent with LP's ever changing sound and keeping fans on their toes on what they're going to do next. This album combined world impacting quotes, emotional lyrics, and a soft electronic rock fusion to the core. It's not one of my favorite albums, but it has grown on me a little more since this year's tour.

Megamasso - Loveless, more Loveless (2011, Japan) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Loveless, more Loveless, Hakugin Shoujo, Hanabira, Until

"Sekai no Owari no Jellyfish" opens up this album on a slightly awkward high electro-guitar note. It's very low energy from the vocals and music and I didn't think it was a good choice to start off the album. "Loveless, more Loveless" picks up things a lot more. Inzargi's voice sounds better and the music shows off what Megamasso is good at: mixing upbeat melody and heavy guitar sounds while keeping a memorable chorus. "Hakugin Shoujo" opens up with a semi-Miyavi-like guitar intro and perhaps an old Ayabie sound. It picks up a very prominent bass guitar and Inzargi hits some decent low notes in this oddly arranged song. "Kagome Kagome in TOKYO Night" softens things off a bit by combining piano, strong bass, acoustic guitar, and traditional Japanese musical elements. "wonder_wall_sunset" shows off a new side of Megamasso while keeping their foundation in tact during the verses. It emphasises the bass and has a great chorus that makes the song a bit fun for the listener. "Tasukete" busts in immediately with a crying guitar and an unexciting presence of mystic sounds and lots of vocal breaks. Although "fate" sounds a bit generic visual kei, I somehow enjoyed the high energy and Inzargi's unique vocals make it stand out from the rest. "Pandemonium, Hakken." opens up dramatically and then a rush of drums and guitar come in with Inzargi's signature vocal wave that can sound a bit off in times, but somehow sounds right. "The Requiem" begins a bit oddly, but then picks up with a cheerful melody until it drops down once the first verse begins. It feels like a bit of a chase, but a fun one. "Shizukana Kuchidzuke de, Asa no Aisatsu wo." features dramatic drums and guitaring with bits of India influences. It has an interesting musical arrangement and dramatic vocals that expertly match the mood of the music. "Twilight Star" picks up the band's signature upbeat sound and manages to keep the song aside, but still familiar to fans. "Hanabira" was another featured promo song for the album that features a strong bassline, melodic guitar, and clever vocal layering and arrangement to make the song catchy and enjoyable. The great vocalist IZAM makes a guest appearance in the band's cover of "Sumire Septemeber Love". I think they did an amazing job putting their own twist to the song while still maintaining the original cheeriness of the song. "Until" concludes the album with a heavy sound that admire from Megamasso (and missed from Ayabie). It has a great arrangement and shows off Inzargi's vocal diversity.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quick Music Review

Aoi from Ayabie - ONE (2011, Japan) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: MI DA RA, Liar, Surrender Love, Guilty

Like Jui's first album, I was feeling nervous about Aoi's. "Liar" starts off with a strong bass and a promising musical opening. When Aoi joined in, I was definitely feeling it. Maybe there was promise to this first big step of a solo album. It has a catchy chorus and a semi-familiar sound to it. The next track brought in the brass band to give us that jazz lounge rock tone. It's easy to listen and is an alright track. "Surrender Love" was the first promotional song that led up to the album and what gave me some hope on Aoi's solo expedition. It's very upbeat and has a good pace. "Guilty" gives off a more mature vibe to Aoi's voice and the musical arrangement with strong drums and a nice acoustic guitar sound. Perhaps a new level of Aoi's vocal (and musical) abilities as an artist. The tempo drops a little in the next track and has a very "magical" anime opening sound to it. "MI DA RA" gives off a familiar visual kei sound and works very well with Aoi's voice without it being bland to listeners. The tempo drops again in "secret whisper" and gives a steady, mellow feel to it with a gentle voice and consistent harmony. "Everlasting Love" sounds like it's going to be another slow song, but transitions a little to an uplifting anime sound. The anime tune sticks, but it's a little more upbeat in the next track. The album ends with an high energy track that's a bit generic, but is an okay listen. Congratulations, Aoi, you didn't disappoint as much as I thought you would~

VersaEmerge - Fixed At Zero (2010, USA) | Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Mind Reader, Stranger, Your Own LoV.E, Fixed At Zero (Acoustic)

Despite people criticizing them for "stealing" Paramore's formula, I still find them amazing and unique from their comparison. "Figure It Out" opens up the album with a dramatic sound that'll give you a feel of how the band functions with a catchy vocal harmony and great guitar moments. "Mind Reader" also has great guitar moments and Sierra's voice is very intriguing throughout the verses. "Fixed At Zero" is obviously the promotional track for the album and it's definitely a powerful one that everyone can remember the chorus and sing along live. "You'll Never Know" gives off an alluring, melancholy vibe that grabs you with the soft music track and Sierra's unique voice. It has a memorable and intense chorus that hits the heart immediately. "Stranger" surprises you with an acoustic intro and simple, but beautiful vocals, until it hits you with this catchy chorus that you can't escape. "Redesign Me" is very mystical vibe and definitely leaves an impression with an interesting musical arrangement that shows diversity to the band. "Fire (Aim Your Arrows High)" also has an intriguing arrangement and we even have the guitarist join in for some vocal time. It's a great high energy song and easy to put your body into. "Your Own LoV.E" keeps the band's original sound and shows off their growth with a powerful chorus and an equally powerful vocal. "Mythology" is a little lighter than the previous tracks and gives you a little break from the intensity. "Lost Tree" shows off both beauty and intensity within 7 minutes. There are a few bonus tracks, if you're lucky. "Father Sky" is a mature sounding song and you can tell the band has come a long way. "Let Down" also accomplishes the maturity level and gives off a beautiful, yet hard rock imprint in the mind. The acoustic version of "Fixed At Zero" is just as amazing and maybe a little better than the original. The album ends with an acoustic version of "You'll Never Know" which maintains the power of the original, but I think I like the previous version a little more. Hopefully, Fixed At Zero breaks the Paramore comparison and they can continue on their journey of being an amazing rock band.

10 years - Feeding the Wolves (2010, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Shoot It Out, Fix Me, Now Is The Time (Ravenous)

I must admit, the first time I listened to this album I wasn't all that impressed like I thought I would be compared to their previous work. After seeing them live again, I liked the album a little more. "Shoot It Out" was the teaser song they performed last year and ended up being the promo song when the time for the album release came closer. It's a powerful opener with a memorable chorus that fans can easily follow. "The Wicked Ones" goes back to their signature musical style that I don't think any modern rock band can imitate. It's dramatic and maintains a quick pace. "Now Is The Time (Ravenous)" has a smooth melody and I like the musical transition throughout the song. "One More Day" takes away the angry intensity to a more emotional punch with acoustic guitar and strong pleading words that hit the heart like a freshly sharpened arrow. "Fix Me" features there signature guitar echos and more dramatic sound. The vocals follow steadily on a personal level that are easy to take in. "Chasing the Rapture" picks up the pace a little and literally goes along with a musical "chase" without losing a great vocal arrangement. "Dead in the Water" takes a more mainstream approach, but still maintains an interesting vocal and backing vocal arrangement that makes a bit fresher. "Don't Fight It" retreats back to a more emotional tone with acoustic guitars and sorrowful vocals. "Waking Up the Ghost" brings the tempo up more, especially around the chorus area. "Fade Into (The Ocean)" closes the album with distant guitars and an emphasis on the vocals to keep you in this intense and theatrical piece. I'm really happy this band is still standing strong and not giving into what's popular.

Tae Yang - SOLAR (2010, South Korea) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: I Need A Girl, Connection, Break Down, After You Fall Asleep

All bias aside, I really liked this album, in the beginning. Unfortunately, it has been abused with overplay by the time I owned a physical copy and became bored with a few tracks. This factor isn't going to affect my review. I promise. "Solar (Intro)" has a very generic, unimpressive R&B sound, but it does show off Taeyang's voice in a good light. "Superstar" kicks off the album with positive sound and a very simplistic tune. "I Need a Girl" was used as one of the promotional songs for the album. It's smooth and I can still play this track repetitively without scowling at the computer/radio. It's cute and probably one of the best tracks on the whole CD. G-Dragon's part was a good add as well. [10 points for anyone who caught a Jay-Z line 8D] "Just a Feeling" has a different smoothness than the previous track. Sometimes it can be a bit of a hit or miss, depending on my mood, like the chorus. It's a slightly clever song and has bits of electro-pop wrapped in R&B. "You're My" is extremely cheesy heart melting song. Perfect song to make fangirls faint...but not me. Track immediately lost points when I first heard in the beginning of one version of a "I Need a Girl" video and I kept thinking D'Angelo wannabe. Simple words: not my cup of tea. "Move" can be a head nod of a song or an annoying track tainted by unnecessary Teddy innuendo rap lines. Even then, the chorus isn't that powerful either. Strangely, "Break Down" is a little more my style and I can still listen to it without groaning. It's fun, simple, energetic, and a bit danceable. "After You Fall Asleep" is still a good R&B track and probably has the best vocal arrangement. It's slow, but upbeat and keeps your attention with a smile throughout the whole song. If you didn't know...Swings (and his laugh) is awesome! "Where U At" was one of the first promotional songs for the album and I used to really love this song, but...victim of overplay. It has a great hip-hop beat and smooth vocals that portray maturity and charm. Could've omitted Teddy's sound bit from it though. "Wedding Dress" was the other promotional song. It's a beautiful R&B piece that has sweet, pure vocals and the piano was a perfect touch. "Take It Slow" closes out this album with the usual Korean R&B sound that escapes me easily. Taeyang's voice is nice, but the music lacks substance for me. If you pick up the international version, you get to see this new level of Taeyang in "I'll Be There" in English and Korean. The song is interesting and his pronunciation is not bad. It takes a little adjusting for myself, since I'm used to the Korean version. The song is memorable and the lyrics, I suppose, could be considered sweet (but it sounds stalkerish to me ^^;). There's also an English version of "Wedding Dress". Lastly, we have "Connection" which is a fun R&B love song. It's charming and somewhat touches back on that innocent Taeyang everyone used to know.

Clover - Classic Over (2011, South Korea) | Rating: 5/5
Favorite Tracks: Better Day, ICE트림, La Vida Loca

A friend informed me that Gilme teamed up with two other talented Korean rappers to form Clover. Their first mini-album opens with "Clover Style" which gives us a strong, confident attitude and a great introduction to everyone's skill set as well as how well they blend together into a new amazing sound I'm sure South Korea has never experienced yet. "La Vida Loca" is the song chosen to promote their mini visually and I believe it was the perfect choice. It has Latin flavor that America has experienced briefly in the hip-hop scene and Clover has proven that it doesn't matter what language you spit, it can still be smooth and fresh. The transition is smooth from the previous track to "ICE트림". It maintains that Latin rap and ol' skool sound to their music while staying true to their vision of bringing something new to the table. My favorite track and the perfect ending to this new trio is "Better Day". It's smooth, chilled, and shows off a little diversity from the trio with a slightly different vocal arrangement. The mini ends with an instrumental track of "La Vida Loca" and a craving for more from these three.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quick Music Review

VII-Sense - The Reminiscence of War (2011, Japan) | Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Be Sacrificed, Shattered Sky, Proudia

I was already pleased with the direction this band was going and I didn't realize they could get any better. "Be Sacrificed" opens up this mini-album very strongly with aggressive guitars and fast drums. Shaura's voice was a bit hit and miss in places, but I enjoyed it and the ending was very Dio-esque [namely this song]. "Shattered Sky" starts off a funky bass solo, then back into that heavy mode, but a little less dark than the first song. It proceeds to lighten up musically a little more into their usual sound. "Sexual Desire" was a pre-released song that has been added for those who missed out. It has a good melody and a couple layers of pretty good vocals with a catchy bass line. Longest track shall be called "Revelations" which opens up with a dramatic piano intro and leads back to heavy guitars and chaotic drumming, like the first track but less Dio-esque. This song mixes elegance and rock very well. "Proudia" ends this mini on a good note with a powerful bass line and amazing guitars coming from left and right. It's the most light song out of all the tracks and makes the listener smile.

Lycaon - Jouyoku no Porno (2011, Japan) | Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Jesus, Jouyoku no Porno, I love sex. I love drugs. I love rock'n'roll.

Let's proceed to another rockin' j-indies band I enjoy and have been pleased with along their musical journey. "Jouyoku no Porno" opens with dramatic sound effects and purely Yuuki's vocals leading you along further into the song. Once the music kicks in, it sounds like a whole new Lycaon is born and continues to you lure further in, especially with the dual vocal layering. "Jesus" is a more upbeat song that'll keep you bouncing all around the room. It has a bit of a generic visual kei sound, but you can tell that Yuuki still has his signature vocals that make the band stand out from the rest. The next track takes a more jazz rock sound similar to Nightmare in some ways. It still maintains a fun vibe and was a good experimental sound for them, although I wouldn't want them to stick to that forever. Bringing back those seductive tones with whispers and a strong bass line, we have "I love sex. I love drugs. I love rock'n'roll." This track is what makes this mini a winner. It has an amazing bassline, the guitar shines, and the arrangement is genius vocally and musically. A heart beats as it brings in the next track to this mini. I suppose the band hasn't done anything slowish, so this is it. I'm not particularly crazy about it, but it's alright to hear something different from them again on one CD. "Time Enough for Love" ends on a chaotic, high energy note, which is Lycaon's specialty.

Jui - XI (2011, Japan) | Rating: 2/5
Favorite Tracks: Bang girl, -1

Before listening to this album, I was nervous as I was not completely pleased with Jui's debut PV. The good thing is...he'll never be Gackt, style wise, which is good. I like Gackt a lot, but Jui should do his own thing. Unfortunately, I wasn't very impressed with this album. It was very low tempo. Everything sounded like lounge pop, a weak Vidoll ballad, or horribly autotuned. Jui's lovely voice should never be tampered with! Overall, the album was alright, but I wish there was more. Honestly, most of the tracks could've been produced by Vidoll (perhaps Bastard era-ish). Maybe next time, Jui.

Narsha - Narsha (2010, Korea) | Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Fantastic, Bbi ri bba bba, Queen B

I believe this is Narsha's first solo release and the promotional video definitely made me curious. "Fantastic" is a real bass banger with a smooth dance beat that's easier on the ears (and hips). It sounds very familiar, if American listeners give it a try, and still maintains something fresh in some ways with the simple vocal arrangement. "Bbi ri bba bba" definitely has an unusual name, but it has a quirky sound and catchy chorus that you can't help but repeat yourself. This song gives you a good idea of Narsha's diverse vocal talent. "I'm in Love" slows it down with beautiful acoustic work and a gentle voice that kpop lovers are used to when it comes to lovey dovey ballads. "Queen B" bumps it up a notch with a little funk dance sound that really makes this mini eclectic. "Radio Star" has a little Latin pop flavor and sounds a tad bit generic, but still unique with Narsha's lovely voice. The mini-album ends with a preview of "Mamma Mia", which is an amazingly catchy fun song that Narsha/Brown Eyed Girls fans should check out, and also an instrumental of "Bbi ri bba bba".

Vanness Wu - V (2011, Japan) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Break Out!, Why, Soldier, Love Will Come

Vanness's second Japanese album opens with a grand electronic smooth beat that let's you ease into it. Definitely has a suitable title, "Break Out!". It's playful, but still fits his usual style and appeal to the Japanese music trend in some ways. "Mission" keeps the energy high and has a steady electro-pop sound (that's infecting everything lately). "Why" brings out that smooth R&B style that Vanness is good at. It's still fresh and follows both the trend and his original flair. "No More Tears" is a bit more dramatic and shows off Vanness's voice. It fits in very well with the usual upbeat jpop sound that male artists have been producing lately, but maintains his own sound still. "Soldier" has a hint of rock and suppose hip-hop and R&B. It has a catchy chorus, powerful music, and is different from Vanness's usual sound, but still enjoyable to the ears. "Better" slows it down a bit with acoustics and piano as his voice resonates throughout the song with simple, heart melting beauty. "Shine On (Plasmo Electric Mix)" is a transformation to a more club beat from it's original bassy pop sound. It's a decent remix, considering I wasn't a huge fan of the original. "Love Will Come" is very rockish, but upbeat and encouraging. It has some vocal distortion, but it doesn't take away from the effect of the song too much and ends the album on a good note.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shutter: Thailand vs. America

Shutter was another victim of being remade in America. The American version was produced by the same people who did The Grudge and The Ring. If I knew that ahead of time of watching, I would've been unsure on how this would've turned out.

The basic storyline of both movies are pretty much the same, but the start of this crazy roller coaster ride is a little different. Tun and Ben are both photographers and they both have a girlfriend named Jane. In the Thai version, Tun and Jane are coming back from dinner with Tun's friends. When heading back home, they hit a woman in the road and crash into a billboard post. Jane panics and wants to get out and check on the woman, but Tun tells her to just keep driving. In the American version, the couple arrive in Japan, after getting married, and travel down a dark road as well. They hit a woman in the street and crash off road. Once they regain consciousness, Jane wants to check on the woman and they both get out the car to find no trace of a blood or body. The following day or so, both Jane characters are still worried about the woman they hit and both Tun and Ben assure their significant others to forget it and focus on their photography.

Now I must warn you, I'm going to be revealing some spoilers to this movie. Of course, I will refrain from exposing the end, so you can still watch the movie without knowing what's going to happen from reading this post. So, if you don't want to know most of the details that a similar between both movies beforehand, stop here and come back when you're done with the movie.

As we move a little further into the movie, we notice something unusual when our main male characters of photographing something important. Tun is taking pictures at a graduation at his former college and notices a faint figure in the shots, while Ben sees something odd during a professional photoshoot with a few models in Japan at a company building he used to work for. Of course, they don't delve into what it may be, but Jane does. In the remake, Ben's assistant comments by saying that they're spirit photos and suggests that Jane meet her ex-boyfriend who works at a spirit magazine company. In the original, I think a specialist points out it to Jane and she proceeds to a spirit magazine as well. They both witness fake ghost photos being made during their visit and are suggested to use a Polaroid camera for authenticity.

The movie progresses on and Tun and Ben are both experiencing some neck problems. It is pointed out more in the remake than the original. Eventually, the Jane characters persuade her partners to join in this investigation as a few more strange events occur. Of course, Jane goes a little further into the situation than her male counterpart. They both check out the scene of the first spirit photo, the college building and the company building. There is an eerie vibe in this scene and both Jane characters freak out when they realize something unknown is present in the room with them by using the Polaroid camera. They both find out there's a connection between the ghost and their partner when a picture falls off the wall.

The story gets more and more interesting when both Jane characters question their other half about the woman. They both tell a similar story about their past with the woman, but the Thai version is more graphic in the reenactment and the remake seems a little more cruel in some ways. With this revealed, we find out that Tun and Ben's friends are part of the ghost's agenda of revenge. We are better introduced to Ben's set of friends, at least two of them, but we were already introduced to Tun's in the beginning of the movie. We don't get to see the death of any of Tun's friends, except one, but we witness a ghost attack to one of Ben's friends as he does a sleazy photoshoot with a woman and loses an eye. Tun and Ben take the situation a little more seriously as they are being approached and warned by their closest friends Tonn and Bruno. Unfortunately, both of them commit suicide by jumping off the balcony of their home.

Still in disbelief, Tun and Ben finally meet their attacker in the middle of the night which leads to a chase. The remake adds creepiness in the interaction between Ben and the ghost with a disgusting kiss, before he runs away. In the original, the never ending Level 4 in the stairway and paranoia are simply enough. Things continue to fall apart until the end of the movie. Both Jane characters are disgusted with their mates and part ways while still holding onto that feeling of worry. As for our leading male characters, they both handle their situation in the same insane manner, but a different method.

I will admit that the American version was pretty decent and had its moments of eeriness, but the Thai version truly creeped me out and kept me on edge even though I knew what was going to happen. For once, I watched the remake before the original as I always caught the original at a bad time on TV. Both Tun and Ben were douches, but Ben seemed a bit more cold and it probably had to deal with Joshua Jackson's lack of facial expressions and a bit of a wall he had up toward the viewers. In the end, the original is still (so far) better, but the remake is worth giving a glance or two.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick Music Review

MUCC - Yakusoku (2010, Japan) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Yakusoku, Isora

Hi! I'm not a big MUCC fan, but I love them live [and I wanna learn one of their songs on guitar]. I believe things were a little quiet before the release of this single. "Yakusoku" is a fairly slowish song, but anime opening upbeat. It's an alright track on a good day. Let me gush about how much I love and abused "Isora". For a person who isn't super into MUCC, I occasionally find songs by them that just blow my mind and this is one of them. Tatsurou's voice is flawless, the composition with the piano is beautiful, and together it is a harmonious paradise. The next track steps into their rock side, but it's nothing super special to my ears. I think it depends on what type you buy, but the single ends up with "Freesia Electro Mix" which was kinda annoying and unimpressive.

SE7EN - Digital Bounce (2010, South Korea) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Better Together, Digital Bounce, Drip

After the hype of Rain's comeback, SE7EN had to get in on the action with his own little mini-album. "Intro-Reset" goes with the electro-pop trend that kinda reminds me of something touched, but it's not that bad. Kinda wish it was a full length song. Nonetheless, we transition to more of this electro-pop that matches the title of the mini with "Digital Bounce". It's very catchy, unique, and danceable tune to an extent. T.O.P's contribution wasn't that bad either. "Better Together" was the debut song for the comeback and it was a nice pick. It's a lot smoother, sticks with the trend, and still somewhat keeps SE7EN's original R&B style. "I'm Going Crazy" goes back to those simplistic pop/R&B tie most listeners are used to from SE7EN. It's sweet and has a nice arrangement, but not my type of song. "Money Can't Buy Me Love" also sticks to those roots, but a little more uptempo. It's a decent song, but nothing I would listen to repeatedly in a row. "Drips" goes back on the electro-train with a little more "umph"! It sticks pretty easily for me and shows off his voice the best compared to the previous electro-pop songs. "Roller Coaster" is very full on autotune and dance trackness. It's alright for what it is, but I would've preferred something else to end this comeback CD.

Jay Park - Take A Deeper Look (2011, South Korea) | Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Level 1000, Touch The Sky, Abandoned

So, I'm not a huge fan of Jay Park's (and I loathe 2pm), but I do enjoy his music...what little there was before this mini. Luckily, I'm delving into more Korean rap lately, so I recognize a couple artists he collaborated with. "Touch The Sky" starts this mini off with a smooth R&B and hip-hop flavor. Jay and The Quiett's voices blend and balance each other very well and gives off a mellow tone that transitions very smoothly to the next track. I suppose "Abandoned" is the promo song for this mini and I was in awe upon seeing the video. Sorry, I'm gonna agree with the comments that it does give off a Tae Yang vibe. Nice, smooth, and "swoon" worthy song that isn't too cheesy and is very much him. Jay Park and Dok2 are like NassuN and G.O....winning combo! Next track is very mainstream on the lines of those fail new Big Bang songs that's suppose to make you dance. Then we have a very slow tempo R&B track that's very bass heavy and whiny/nasally. Next is another repetitive, blasé R&B ballad I'm not too fond of either. But guess who's back? Dok2! "Level 1000" picks my interest back up for this mini and surprises me how hard it goes on a hip-hop level. Didn't know Jay Park had this in him. Got my swag on at the desk 83 The mini album ends with a previously released track, "Bestie". It's pretty basic, easy to enjoy, and shows off both sides of Jay Park: rap and singing.

VAMPS - BEAST (2010, Japan) | Rating: 3/5

I have a bit of a personal grudge toward Hyde and how he works, but I can't deny that I do enjoy VAMPS and I was looking forward to their first album. "PLUG IN" is a basic sound effect opening track to lead us along to "DEVIL SIDE". It's very bass driven song and very rock'n'roll. A good song to try out if you're not used to all that jrock stuff. "ANGEL TRIP" brings up to a lighter side rock to balance out all that grime from the previous track. "MEMORIES" is even more light hearted and a bit reminiscent of L'Arc~en~Ciel's music. "EUPHORIA" is a little heavier and shows that side of VAMPS that I enjoy the most: the wild, chaotic side. I enjoyed the transitions throughout the whole song. "VAMP ADDICTION" has a fun melody to bounce around to, but still holds onto that sly "vampuric" side of the band. "REVOLUTION" is very much a joke to me and the PV for it is even more of a joke. Hyde's yelling is just laughable, but if you need that silly, bouncy song for the bedroom with your girlfriends (or boyfriends) this is a good one. "THE PAST" has a lovely deep bass sound and a great follow up with guitar that my ears have been craving from these two. "PIANO DUET" is a beautiful, but a powerful rock tune that should easily reach the listener's heart by providing comfort, softness, and the right amount of rock lovin'. "RUMBLE" has a hint of jazz and rock, but the vocals are not as impressive to me. "GET UP" picks it back up to that semi-generic Hyde rock sound everyone is used to, but it's still fun for everyone. "SAMSARA" seems like a dark interlude piece that brings ambiance and a haunting feeling to the ears. It transitions easily to "MY FIRST LAST" which shares about the same retro ambient rock feeling...with Engrish!! A very interesting way to end a first album for sure.

Touch - Touch (2010, South Korea) | Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: I/Me, Killin' Me

What is this? An actual talented rookie kpop group that Miko likes!? "I/Me" was the debut song for the boys and what lured me to prod further into their music. It's very typical dancy kpop stuff, but they have their own flair and great harmonies. Perhaps they'll join the underdogs Infinite. "Touch" slows the tempo down a little, but still has a melody that sticks easily to the mind. The song points out a few small things the boys can improve upon, but still shows off their potential to be something. Most overplayed track on the single is "Killin' Me". I can't get enough of this song! The bass is powerful, the chorus is memorable, and the boys' voices are arranged very uniquely. Because of this song, I counted down the days until their comeback and it came! As for the remaining 3 tracks of the single, they're purely instrumentals.

D - Vampire Saga (2010, Japan) | Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Muku naru bara no inori, Underground road, Taiko no kiba, Desert Warrior

I was a little nervous when I started listening to D's latest album, but I braced myself for whatever was coming out my speakers. It starts off very grand, beautiful, and a little heavy...the right amount of heavy for D in "Muku naru bara no inori". Then we enter some dark territory with "In the name of justice", one of the promo songs for this album. I'm still trying to get used to this harder side of D with Asagi's vocals, but it's growing on me steadily. "Underground road" sounded a little more familiar to me music wise and it was easily enjoyable with the mixture of their new sound and old. "DAY WALKER" has an interesting musical arrangement and I enjoyed the guitar sections, but I could've lived without all the grunting or whatever. Doesn't suit D very well and I wish they would leave things like that out in their music. "Midori no tsubasa" sticks with that semi-light hearted D sound that's easy on the ears and flows without effort, but still seems fresh! "Tsuki to umi no seiyaku" also follows this pattern of mixing old and new elements of the band's growth into the track. Unlike the previous tracks, "Ai wa hitsugi no naka ni" is a little softer, but still maintains that strong rock feeling with emphasized basslines and great dual guitar harmonies. "Akaki hitsuji ni yoru bansankai" was another promo song. I must admit it took me awhile to accept this song and the members' costume choices. It's a fun song (and PV) and keeps that great D sound fans recognize easily. "Taiko no kiba" is purely instrumental. A song that focuses on Hiroki's amazing drum skills that I was surprised and pleased with hearing on an album. "Desert Warrior" combines Indian sounds and D rock together in a zesty, hard tune that intrigues the mind into a wonderful delusion. "Quartet ~mayonaka no shijuusou~" opens up with a great instrumental intro showing off the other members' musical talents before Asagi joins in. "Black Swan" delves into that dark side that I'm a little iffy about with D. It still weaves in elements of their style with heavier jrock elements like growling and harder notes. "Der König der Dunkelheit" is the longest track on the album and actually sticks to that old D the most. It mixes theatrics, opera, and rock. The elements that made "Yami Yori Kurai Doukoku No A Cappella To Bara Yori Akai Jounetsu No Aria" amazing. If you purchase type C, you get to enter the crazy circus sounds of "Silver acorn bullet". An interesting song title with an interesting sound that makes me grin like a nut (no pun intended).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quick Movie Review

Aquarian Age (2008, Japan) | Rating: 2/5

I believe there was a lot of hype surrounding this movie, mostly on certain LiveJournal communities. Usually, what I have noticed over time, that when there's hype, disappointment is close by to follow. Some examples of this are The Blair Witch Project and The Hulk. Aquarian Age sadly falls into this category of disappointing, full of hype movies. The plot had promise, but the only positive things I noticed about the movie was the pretty boy actors, musical artist cameos by SuG's Takeru and Alice Nine., and the settings for each scene. The acting was decent, the execution of the story was kinda boring, and the special effects were a bit iffy. To top it all off, the ending contributed to the disappointment.

Madea's Big Happy Family (2011, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

Your typical Tyler Perry "everyone in the family has issues" movie, but it has a slightly different twist. Instead of no good men, we have these annoying women. It's still enjoyable and funny like the rest of his filmography. It has memorable characters and also puts perspective to not take advantage of a good man, because they're hard to find.

Little Fockers (2010, USA) | Rating: 3/5

The third chapter of the battle between Stiller and De Niro. It's not as funny as the previous two movies, but it's still entertaining and comical. Owen Wilson's character seems extra annoying in this one and Jessica Alba's character adds some interesting twists and turns. If you want something light and a little laughter to your day, this is a good movie to watch.

Black Swan (2010, USA) | Rating: 4.5/5

There was a lot of hype about this movie and normally I tend to avoid those types of movies, but this was on my list of things I wanted to see last year and failed to do so. We received it here at my job and I was excited to get on it. It kinda hurt my head trying to follow everything, but it's pretty simple. It has the same structure as Strange Circus with the whole parallel stories intertwining at the end. It was dark, intriguing, and dramatic. It definitely kept my interest and it pushed boundaries. It definitely deserved the praise that it received.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Promo: Natalia Kills

|Official Site|

Natalia Kills is the new face of innovative dark pop in Cherrytree Records. She started off acting at the age of 7 and moved onto writing music for various soundtracks. She had a couple other aliases before becoming Natalia Kills and signing onto the Cherrytree label. Her most recognized debut was her single, Mirrors. Although, she did have two other promotional videos for "Zombie" and "Activate My Heart" uploaded on her YouTube account.

I believe I was introduced to her through a recommendation on Some things played on My Recommended Radio and I checked out her stuff on YouTube. I was easily hooked and sadly was one of those people who felt her sound was a little similar to Lady Gaga. I believe they have a little connection with each other aside from the label, but their sound and style are very much their own. Natalia has the potential to become something in the U.S. as long as dance music is trending and she keeps her face in the music scene. She's doing a pretty decent job by touring with Robyn and Kelis as well as a collaboration song with the rising Asian talent Far East Movement. She also has a short mini film on her account that shows off her acting and directing abilities as well as keep you in suspense of what's going to happen next and the release of future material. She's recently released the single and music video for "Wonderland" to promote her debut album, Perfectionist. It is currently available in the UK and hopefully will be sold in the U.S. soon.

Check out the Director's Cut of "Wonderland"!