Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quick Music Review

BENI - Covers (2012, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Ti Amo, LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG, Suddenly -ラブ・ストーリーは突然に-

This was a request from a reader and I hope I do a good job of reviewing this album. Also, a small note, I haven't heard majority of the originals covered. "Ti Amo" was one of the promotional tracks for this cover album. Despite what people say, I think this cover is beautifully done. Beni's voice is just perfection and the music has this Latin and R&B mixture to it that makes it endearing and a bit sensual in the right places. "LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG" is sweet, upbeat track of infatuation. It has a nice melody and, of course, Beni's delivery is effortless. "瞳をとじて" falls into the usual ballad sound that Beni goes for, so this wasn't a stretch or anything super new for her or listeners. It's a pretty song, but nothing I would listen to often. "奏(かなで)" falls into the same category of piano ballad, love track, but has a little more punch to the melody. "One more time, One more chance" takes a step back to a softer tone that reminds me of something that would be in a music box. "ロビンソン" brings the tempo up with a slightly vintage feel in the composition and vocals. It's sweet and a bit uplifting. "Suddenly -ラブ・ストーリーは突然に-" has a hint of dancy elements to it, but tries to keep it under control musically. The music and vocals are very balanced with each other and creates a nice poppy song. "もう恋なんてしない" gives a lounge R&B sound and pushes the piano in the background to emphasis Beni's sweet vocals to charm listeners. "桜坂" is another piano ballad track with some added strings and heartfelt vocal delivery. "ここにしか咲かない花" keeps the tempo slow and I kinda wish that Beni took a little more risk with her vocals in this one. "今のキミを忘れない" finally brings the tempo back up to Beni's other safety net of pretty pop. "いとしのエリー" has more of an R&B flair to it that I enjoy a little more with her voice. It has an interesting melody that I'm not sure if I find weird or creative. "TRUE LOVE" closes out the album softly with piano and emotion filled vocals.

Jay Park - New Breed (2012, South Korea) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Know Your Name, Up and Down, Star, 너 없이 안돼 (Acoustic Ver.)

"New Breed (Intro)" sets up the tone for this album...kinda. The beat is repetitive and the beeping or whatever is is a little annoying. The rap delivery is a little weak for most parts, but there are little shining places here and there. "Know Your Name" was one of the promotional tracks for this album and combines Jay's vocals with Dok2's effortless delivery. Hearing it now, I don't think this is the best of Dok2, but it works for the song. It's pretty catchy, confident, and a good club tune. "Girl Friend" pretty much recycles "Nothin' On You" melody with a seemingly freestyle deliver during the verses. Not the best of Jay Park's work, but I like the singing parts. Those moments are a little charming. Otherwise, the song is kinda annoying due to the recycled melody and cheesy due to the chorus. "Up and Down" is a little better collaboration between Jay Park and Dok2. The song is pretty catchy and fun. I can see this as a good dance track for breakdancers and holds the same confidence and charm as "Know Your Name". "I Love You" takes what we have in the States that borders between R&B and pop. It has a quirky, but kinda cool melody that highlights Jay Park's vocals better than the previous tracks. Also, Dynamic Duo's contribution is quite good. "Go" is a couple steps down from the previous track. It tries to carry the same mood as "I Love You" with an opposing message, but the rap is kinda awkward and the double layers of singing vocals is too much. "I Got Your Back" is a little more upbeat with some piano and charming vocals, but nothing stands out that much, especially since the chorus is the same as "Girl Friend". "Star" was another promotional track and I think there might've been a split among the fans with this one. I actually prefer Jay's singing over his rapping most times and this song is one example. It's vulnerable, controlled, and the vocal layers are utilized better than "Go". It's a sweet track. "Come On Over" is a softer track that has remnants from 90s R&B. It's kinda bland and the vocals feel awkward. "Turn Off Your Phone" carries the same vintage R&B sound and includes a speaking introduction too. It's a little less bland than the previous track. There's a lot of potential and, depending on the mood, I could learn to like this song more. "너 없이 안돼 (Acoustic Ver.)" was a refreshing take of the original and surprisingly, I like this version way more. The lack of music and acoustic work goes very well with Jay's sincere vocal delivery. I honestly should automatically love "Aom&1llionaire" because it features The Quiett and Dok2, but not really. It's a very freestyle track with freestyle-ish beat and booming bass. It's too cocky and unfitting to follow such a beautiful track. Since the previous tracks set us up for more cocky rapping, "Enjoy the Show" continues on those lines with The Quiett and Dok2. It's a little less annoying, but I think I enjoyed this when the album first came out. Listening to it now, I just can't deal. "Wasted" continues with the hip-hop sound, but gets a little gritty with the help of Bizzy's confident delivery. Between the three tracks, this one seems more successful and sounds a little more on the professional side. "Clap" closes out the album with khip-hop royalty Tiger JK and Tasha. It's very much a hype track and has a refreshing beat to it while still staying in Jay's comfort zone, so his delivery seems less strained compared to the previous hip-hop tracks.

D - Dying Message (2012, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Dying message, God bless you, 灰の雪

Finally found a D release that I can talk about and I'll try to put my grievances aside. "Dying message" seems like a borrowed sound from another band and stray away from their usual sound overall. There's still some D buried in there in the deep guitar and bass and vocal areas, but this upbeat tune isn't that bad...just different. "Eve(エバ)の系譜" mixes operatic vocals and this heavy sound that the band has adapted into their later material. It's a quick song that tries too many types of vocal elements. Echos, whispers, speaking inserts, vibrato, and slight growls. "God bless you" has a good start with electronics and a nice bass line. This sounds a little more like D, but Asagi's voice seems strained in a couple places and removing the screams or group vocals would make this song better. I really love the musical arrangement though. "灰の雪" brings in everything I enjoy about old and new D together in a nice little package. It gives me hope that the band can delivery something beautiful and fresh. It has a sprinkle of orchestral elements and piano, rock, and a good steady drum and bass composition that highlights Asagi's vocals.

SiM - Evils (2013, Japan) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Blah Blah Blah, Same Sky

"Blah Blah Blah" starts off this single strong with some fast attacking drums and guitar work with slightly playful vocals. It definitely sounds like some sort of speed run, but the chorus almost counters its slight upbeat sound. "Same Sky" has a nice build up with the drums and strategically placed guitar, then softens up during the verses to show the vulnerability in the vocals. It's soothing, charming, and alluring. It shows that the band can handle softer material naturally. "F.A.I.T.H" is a short track of aggression that completely throws off the mood created by the previous tracks. It's okay, but I would've just left this one off or choose something else to close this nearly perfect single.

Big Bang - Still Alive (2012, South Korea) Rating: 2/5

This is probably a pointless review, but here it goes. "STILL ALIVE" received some attention and thus it was expanded to a full track than just a short intro track. It is a pretty good song and I'm glad they expanded it. It has a steady beat and gives each member some vocal equally distributed to some extent vocal time. "MONSTER" is probably the main reason I even bothered with reviewing this recycled album. I loved the music video and the song, but together they do not work at all. It's a beautiful song with softened up electro-pop, piano, strings, and an impressive vocal arrangement. It has dynamic musical elements in it that doesn't sound like they're trying too hard. The lyrics are pure from the heart too. The only flaw I could hear is that damn auto-tune. Get it away! "Feeling" is from the Japanese version of the ALIVE album, but in Korean. I did mention that I really like this song, but ugh, I like it in Japanese more surprisingly. It doesn't sound that awkward to the ears, but I just like the chorus better in Japanese. I'm going to skip these supposed "Special Edition Ver." songs because I honestly don't hear any differences from the originals. "빙글빙글" is another new track and I honestly forgot this track existed until I had to review this album. That's saying something. I guess they were trying out the whole pop/rock thing, but meh. It's not a complete dud, but it's cheesy as hell in places. Once again, "EGO" is my favorite song from ALIVE and having it remade in Korean is just cringing to my mind. It just doesn't flow or something to me. Maybe if I came into with pure ears, but seems awkward.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

V-log: Block B, Prophet Kyo, & Gentleman

I think I found the problem with uploading on YouTube. Maybe I'll be able to test my theory while I'm still in my apartment. If not, it's no big deal because I'll be home. Yipee! Sorry for the delay once again.

Review: The Loved Ones

Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 84 minutes

I've had quite the struggle watching this. It seems like my apartment's wireless and I will be battling each other for a couple more weeks. Anyway, I've been wanting to watch this for a while. I think a YouTuber I'm subscribed to recommended this movie and I streamed this a couple weekends ago.

The story opens with Brent Mitchell and his father taking a drive in town. They laugh and bond with each other, until they see a man walking in the middle of the road. Brent quickly swerves away and crashes the car into a tree, ultimately killing his father. Six months later, Brent's school is having an end of the year dance. Brent's jovial, pothead friend, Jamie, is excited after obtaining a date with Mia. Shortly after, Brent gets asked to the dance by a seemingly shy or awkward girl named Lola Stone. Brent declines and says he's going with his girlfriend Holly. After sharing a moment with Holly, we see Brent's strained relationship with his mother and how he's been coping with his father's death with cutting and marijuana. Brent goes off alone with his dog and has some alone time, then suddenly his dog gets stabbed and Brent is subdued by a stranger. Brent wakes up to find himself tied to a chair and sees a familiar face...Lola.

From watching a certain trailer, you have no clear story of Brent. You might even believe that Lola is our main character and our victim deserves to be tortured. It's interesting that the story has been flipped and makes Lola the villain. I suppose I will tie in some commentary I've read from others with my own thoughts.

The most common movies I see this movie compared to are Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Misery, Pretty in Pink, and Wolf Creek. I've only seen half of those movies. I can guess they are spot on by mixing elements from Pretty in Pink and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There is a strange and uncomfortable family bond present and ties in the common situation of wanting to go to the prom with someone you like. As for the Wolf Creek comparison, which I totally forgot I even saw, is a bit bogus as well as lumping it with Eli Roth's Hostel. I don't even know how or why I saw Wolf Creek. It might feed into the supposed "torture porn" trend people keep talking about, but I see it differently. The Loved Ones falls more in the category of the earlier Saw movies. It contains a main character you feel sympathy for and you feel his pain while he is captured in the Stone household. As for movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel, we have very unlikable characters that carry no value or substance from the audience to feel anything but joy when the character is killed off. The torture in this movie and the way it is shot and executed makes every moment intense, disturbing, and sometimes unbearable. Yes, I admit I looked away at least three times during the movie and that's pretty rare.

One criticism I strongly disagreed with is that the movie is misogynistic. I didn't read the whole article as it seemed very repetitive and felt like they saw a different movie than I did. The author mentions that the characters, especially our two main characters, as lacking development, relatability, emotion, and stability. They mention that there is no explanation for Lola's mindset and Brent doesn't show the effects of his father's death enough. Lastly, it is stated that the female characters are portrayed as weak and that the movie shows that women go crazy over men. After cooling off and reevaluating my thoughts on the characters, here's what I think and let me remind you that I didn't finish the whole article, so I'm sure there's other problems I had with it.

Even though there's no spoken exposition about why the characters function the way they do, you can piece together ideas by visual cues. In Lola's case, you can guess her ideals of how she views herself and relationships with men by listening to the song that constantly plays throughout the movie and the images found in her bedroom as well as the magazine clippings in her scrapbook. Also taking note of how her father acts and looks at Lola helps piece together her character. As for Brent's supposed lack of emotion, I think he expressed his feelings toward his father's death enough without the director going overboard with his coping mechanisms of loud rock music, cutting, pot, and borderline suicidal tendencies. I was happy they didn't exaggerate that like most movies. Lastly, I don't believe there are any weak female characters. Brent's mother displayed concern and tried to reach out to her son. She comforted Holly as well while they figure out where he is. Holly is confident and secure with herself. She is smart and proactive with the search as well. Mia may be quiet and dependent on drugs, alcohol, sex, and Jamie's company, but she is also coping with her own loss. Lola is also her own person. She's not overly dependent on her father, he's more of a partner in crime and father figure trying to keep his little "princess" happy.

The situation may be extreme, but most of us can relate to rejection and the anger we gain from it, especially during our vulnerable years as teenagers and trying to be with that special someone. Even though there could be more character development, there is enough to get the gist of who they are and how they function.

This is more than just a torture movie and even if it is labelled guilty of contributing to the silly "torture porn" sub-genre, I believe this movie brings more to the table than satisfying our subconscious sadist. You'll feel sympathy for Brent as opposed to the hoards of annoying, unlikable horror characters we can't wait to see die off. This is no Wolf Creek. Saying that they're similar because they're from Australian directors is just like Psycho is like Friday the 13th because they're both American. This isn't for the weak at heart either. If you need a refreshing horror flick that'll make you cringe a little, then I recommend this movie.

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quick Movie Reviews

Playing for Keeps (2012)/Rating: 2.5/5
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid
For a romantic comedy, Playing for Keeps hits most of the right notes. You have a divorced couple, George and Stacie (played by Butler and Biel), who are trying to move on with their lives. The only thing keeping them tied together is their son. Stacie is getting remarried while George is a womanizer. Over time through coaching his son's soccer team, George realizes what is most important in his life. There are some cute moments, but the all-star cast can't save it from getting dull in parts.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)/Rating: 3/5
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman
This is a cute movie for the most part. Ralph's plight of being seen as only a bad guy is something that we can all relate to. I'm sure we've each been stereotyped by what we do for a living or some other factor. Sarah Silverman's voice for Vanellope was rather grating. I expected a much sweeter voice for her considering her origins. Jane Lynch as Calhoun was perfect. She easily embodies the tough chick persona even in animated form. My favorite part really had no effect on the main plot though. It was the support group for video-game antagonists! That's something to look out for if you're a fan of classic games.

Red Dawn (2012)/Rating: 2/5
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffery Dean Morgan
Chris Hemsworth is hot. I'll admit that. In the midst of the very real threats from North Korea, this movie was one I'd approached with caution. It's very likely that some teenagers have seen this and decided, should an invasion happen, that they'll make the same choice to fight back. That's more frightening to me than the threat of a North Korean attack simply because this movie is rather bad. It's the fault of a poor script and some bad acting. However you look at it, this remake can't stand up to the 1984 original despite having upgraded effects.

A Haunted House (2013)/Rating: 1/5
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Cedric the Entertainer, Essence Atkins
Between you and me, this is better than Paranormal Activity simply because it is what it is. It's the entirely same setup, but with crude comedy rather than the 'serious' tone that the movies it parodies have. Crude comedy is what it is. You have drug, sex, and bodily function jokes. You're going to enjoy this, if you want a mindless laugh and you're okay with crude. 

Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013)/Rating: 3.5/5
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
Miko has already reviewed this movie far better than I could. I just wanted to touch on one part. There is a beautiful transition from the black and white of Kansas to the vivid color of Oz. The changes in aspect ratio and audio brought out my inner geek. These transitions greatly amplify and enhance the differences between the two worlds. Go read her review if you haven't!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Miko 101: Top 5 Favorite Anime Series

I got tagged by a friend of mine to list my favorite anime series. In return, I tagged her with another anime challenge. I really enjoyed doing this little list, so maybe I will do more of them. Unfortunately, I'm having issues with uploading again, so I have a v-log just sitting around until I can find a decent connection. Depending on certain things, I might have another "The Duckie and Miko Show" episode up as well. We'll see~ Enjoy, my lovely Cult followers!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

"World In Flames" by Rin -the end of corruption world-
This is one of my absolute favorite songs from this band and I was shocked that they made a PV for it. It is simply a masterpiece just listening to the instrumentation and Riku's echoing vocals flow through the acoustics and occasional bass additions. Having the fansubs and the visuals makes this all the more beautiful. I'm really going to miss this band and the new elements they brought to visual kei.

"Taidou" by DIAURA
I don't think I fully appreciated this song until I listened to REBORN and had to repeat it a billion times. It has so many awesome elements to it. The music and delivery is very haunting and commanding. I really need to invest in a hat like Yo-ka's. The song kinda reminded me of something Dio - distraught overlord would've done, which is an awesome thing. The visuals are intriguing and I hope they follow Dir en grey's lead and release an uncensored version to reveal more of the graphic, truthful message.

"Same Sky" by SiM
If you're a casual fan of this band, you've probably never experienced this mellow side. It's refreshing and feels very intimate. It has a simplistic melody, strong bass, and some soft vocals that makes you want to sway along with ease. I like that they catered to their international and Japanese fans with the bilingual subtitles. The narrative is intriguing and has a good balance between the story and the band pouring out their emotions in their own way.

"Babay" by Zion.T feat. Gaeko
You have no idea how happy I am that this man finally has a full length album out. I believe this is his second promotional song for this album, if you don't count the too short "Click Me" MV. Anyway, this has that smooth, classy, and fun sound that Zion.T is known for. From the beat and lyrically delivery, this song is just amazing, especially with the guest appearance of Gaeko to provide a good rap. The visuals are very unique and just as playful. It takes a lot of risks, but definitely fits Zion.T's style.

"Nod along!" by M.I.B
I'm so glad that these guys haven't dropped off the face of the earth or got lost in the shuffle of rookie groups from last year. Under the guidance of one of the best Korean rap labels, Jungle Entertainment, their talent is shining even more than before. It caters to both kpop fans by having a section of beautiful vocals and an interesting story while throwing in some actual rapping with a mix of electronic elements. It reminds me of MFBTY's style, which is fine by me. I hope they continue coming out with more new material, because I really love this new direction there going in.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quick Music Review

Neon Hitch – Happy Neon (2013, USA) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Midnight Sun, Jailhouse, The Wizard Believes, Born To Be Remembered

I’ve been waiting for a full length something from this underrated artist and I’m going to take whatever I can get. Skipping the first track, “The Bus”, since there’s really nothing to comment about, I’ll start with the first real track, “Pink Fields”. I believe this was the promotional track for this mini-album. It’s a soft piece that highlights Neon Hitch’s unique vocal talents and airy lyrics that resonates in listeners’ ears. The music is quite minimal and purely focuses on the vocal aspect. “Midnight Sun” took a couple listens for me to fully appreciate its beauty. There’s some talking at the beginning, then it quiets down for the music to seep into your ears. Similar to “Pink Fields”, this track really focuses on vocals and has a simple melody that somehow haunts the back of your mind with the poetic lyrics. “The Wizard Believes” takes an audio snippet from, I’m guessing, a movie with some soft guitar, then Neon Hitch’s voice kicks in with the first verse. It has a pleading tone to it and something about it immediately hooked me into loving this song. “Jailhouse” is an unusual track. It has a somewhat serious tone musically and Neon Hitch’s voice echoes at the beginning with a definite pleading tone. The vocal delivery is more forceful and the music has more punch than the previous tracks. Something about this track’s attitude just easily pulled me in. “Born To Be Remembered” also took me some time to get into. It retreats back to the softer sound of vocal echoes and acoustic guitar. It’s a simple track that just sticks effortlessly. I think this whole mini-album displays Neon Hitch’s talents a lot more than her previous efforts of in your face sexuality and sweet pop melodies. I urge you to give this lovely lady a chance.

The Birthday Massacre – Hide and Seek (2012, USA) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Leaving Tonight, Down, Play With Fire, The Long Way Home

After seeing them live and hearing previews of their new material last year, I was looking forward to another amazing album from this band. “Leaving Tonight” has an upbeat, somber tone to it. An interesting start for an album, but it works to some extent. I suppose it eases into the band’s style without smacking you in the face with the band’s full force. Highlight of the song is the guitar and keyboard break down, but Chibi’s soft vocals are also a nice touch to bringing the lyrics to life as well. “Down” is probably my favorite track off the whole album and, no, this doesn’t mean you can skip the rest of the review either. I love this band’s hard hitting side. It’s different than most bands I listen to. It has a fun edge to it and balances softness and aggression in both the vocals and the music. Chibi threateningly growls the lyrics effortlessly after singing with such an angelic voice. Lastly, the chorus is simply addicting for those familiar with the band or the genre. “Play With Fire” brings the tempo down, but still holds the fuel from the previous song. It sounds like the music is ticking by with the time as Chibi’s voice haunts you quietly. It’s quite chilling and strangely beautiful. “Need” lifts the tempo back up a little and has a somewhat retro electronic feel. Chibi brings more attitude into her delivery and the chorus just flows out naturally after she attacks her victim, then the music follows with no lyrics is just brilliant. “Calling” is full of fun and charm that the band is known for, especially in person, and ties in the old with the new elements. “Alibis” steps back to a more haunting feel, but also mixes old and new elements from the band. It focuses more on Chibi than the music majority of the time, but they do highlight it when it’s appropriate. “One Promise” is another upbeat tune that took me some time to warm up to. Chibi’s vocals are more chipper, which counters the content of the lyrics which is always amusing. This is a good dance tune…an unconventional one, but if you’re familiar with this band’s material, you know what I mean. “In This Moment” has a bit of an ambient synth sound to it. The music seems like the main focus of the track this time. At times it seems like it overpowers the vocals that it could be distracting, but you can still understand everything. “Cover My Eyes” returns the softness from the first track, maybe even softer. It’s a really beautiful song and the lyrics are a bit haunting, especially with Chibi’s whispering delivery and keyboard in the background. I like that they highlighted the keyboard so much in this track too. “The Long Way Home” keeps the pace the same and may sound a little like the previous track, but it adds a little more flair in the chorus. It has an odd structure to it, but somehow it works. Nonetheless, this album does not disappoint and I’ve probably abused the repeat button with this album when it was first released.

Usher – Looking 4 Myself (2012, USA) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Scream, Climax, Lemme See, Euphoria

After hearing a certain track, it seemed like the real Usher had returned. So, I blindly bought his CD and I haven’t done that in quite a long time. Anyway, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” is a bit of a misstep in some ways. It’s very generic and falls into that “OMG” trap of weird dance elements, stop and start melody, and sub-par lyrics. It’s really bad and obnoxious. “Scream” was one of the promotional tracks for this album and it was a good choice. Sure, I was annoyed that Usher sold out for the dance music trend, but something about this track seemed okay. Maybe it’s the beat or the catchy chorus. The lyrics are a little better, but not by much. It’s still a somewhat improvement from the last album and I’ll accept it for this club banger of lame sexual innuendos and pick up lines. The shining star track that made me believe that Usher was back, “Climax”. My mom loves this track and that’s saying something, especially since she stopped at 8701. This track features everything I love about Usher from back in the 90s. His vocal range is back, the lyrics have meaning to it, and the music mixes both the new and the old together effortlessly. This track is flawless and I kinda hate using that word with music, but it’s just a breath of fresh of air for both Usher and R&B…or just music in general. “I Care For U” kinda takes a step back from the previous track, but it isn’t the worse of the worse from Usher. It combines R&B vocal melody and minimal dubstep musical elements. “Show Me” keeps the same pace and includes a slightly upbeat drum in the background. Pretty standard, nothing too exciting. “Lemme See” is another promotional track and I highly suggests avoiding watching the music video, if you haven’t already seen it. I’ve only seen part of it and I’m still scarred. Anyway, this picks up all the good from “Climax” and mixes the tiny bit annoyances I had with Versus. It’s a good song, but I really wish Rick Ross wasn’t on this track. “Twisted” is a throwback track that fits the latest Justin Timberlake song. This is definitely a Pharrell track sound wise. The lyrics are terrible though. “Dive” is a slower song with that supposed “epic” R&B sound around the chorus. I will admit it does show off Usher’s vocals though. “What Happened To U” goes back on the right path musically and Usher’s voice flows pretty well, even with the silly lyrics sprinkled throughout the song. “Looking 4 Myself” kinda sounds like another throwback tune with drum beats and a little guitar, but it’s more enjoyable to me for some reason. I blame the catchy chorus. “Numb” brings nothing new to the table. I think we’ve heard this sound way too much from his collaboration with David Guetta and even a little bit of Rihanna or Katy Perry on the pop charts. “Lessons For The Lover” is a minimalistic R&B track that relies why too much on sound echoes and tries too hard to be sensual. “Sins Of My Father” mixes dark musical elements and deep bass from the 80s. It’s an interesting mix, but nothing extremely dynamic. It has potential though lyrically. “Euphoria” sounds like an Usher track remix than the sellout dance Usher, so I can appreciate this track a lot more than his dancy stuff in the previous album. “I.F.U” has a hip-hop beat from the 90s with a few upgrades. It works somehow. Maybe it’s the pacing of Usher’s delivery or the simple beat. “Say The Words” is a slower track and Usher sounds a bit winded or something. It’s a boring track both musically and vocally. “2nd Round” tries to mix dance Usher and this new/old Usher in a mesh mash. It sounds really awkward and all the sound effects in the background are obnoxious, which is a shame because deep below the melody isn’t that bad. “Hot Thing” is a pseudo-Usher throwaway track. It’s a try too hard track that tries to mix Usher’s R&B vocals in a sub-par way to a worn out hip-hop beat. It’s not good. Overall, I do not regret my blind purchase at all. It isn’t the best of Usher’s work, but it is a step up from Versus/Raymond v Raymond.

Sirah - C.U.L.T Too Young To Die (2012, USA) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Up & Down, Motel Bible, Blew Your Mind

I love good YouTube discoveries and this artist is one of those good examples. “Up & Down” is the track that introduced me to this artist and directed me to the official free download. This song combines dubstep warping noises, but contains them in the confines of a hip-hop melody. It also mixes rap and softened, gently distorted vocals that could be found in Indian music. Very unique, refreshing, and worth repeated listening, especially lyrically. “My City” abandons the major components of dubstep and goes into a more electro-hop sound. I also have to mention that this whole mixtape has some smooth transitions from track to track which albums hardly do anymore. “Motel Bible” has a slightly awkward beginning with the hint of autotune or some sort of vocal distortion, but it all evens out when Sirah starts rapping over this aggressive beat. “Blew Your Mind” is my favorite track on this mixtape. It balances soft vocals and an in your face rap delivery. It packs a punch of attitude and confidence from the music, delivery, and lyrical content. By the time it ends, you’re craving for more. “Like Me Now” comes in abruptly and has this weird warped sound. This wouldn’t work for a full track, but for a quick minute with such attacking lyrics, it works out well. “Made It” goes in a different musical direction by leaving behind the electronics and using pianos, drums, and clapping sounds as Sirah effortlessly raps over this soft melody. Take notes, Drake. “When I’m Gone” closes the mixtape by bringing back the mix of electro-hop and an aggressive lyrical delivery that leaves a definite impression in your ears. This is a very strong mixtape and leaves listeners begging for more.

Linkin Park – Living Things (2012, USA) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Lost in the Echo, Burn It Down, Powerless

Say what you will about Linkin Park, but I still blindly buy their albums expecting something good from them. “Lost in the Echo” in stills my confidence and opens the album with a confident sound. Sure, it doesn’t have that aggression I love from their older material, but it shows that the band has perfected the balance of soft electronica and rock from their previous two albums. “In My Remains” brings in more rock to the band’s sound and some good atmosphere that flows naturally from the previous track. It really eases you in and lets you settle into the album, especially with Chester’s controlled, passionate vocals. “Burn It Down” was used to promote the album and it was a good choice. It pretty much highlights majority of the album with a little bit of hardness, a little bit of softness, electronic elements, and a steady rock beat. “Lies Greed Misery” relies more on a harder electronic beat and focuses on Mike’s rapping in a new way, while letting Chester scream sings the chorus in between. “I’ll Be Gone” softens things a little by intertwining electronica and rock again and highlighting the good points to Chester’s voice. It has a gradual pace of soft and hard that feels natural for the band and the ears. “Castle of Glass” is another track that proves that they’ve worked out the kinks from their previous albums and gives Mike another chance to sing his heart out. “Victimized” is quick track of aggressive rock and chaos. I’m happy it’s not a full length song as it would’ve come off as annoying around the chorus, but it gives you enough to be satisfied and rock out as Chester screams. “Roads Untraveled” tones down the anger from the previous track and brings us something softer with piano, chimes, and beautiful vocals from both Chester and Mike. “Skin To Bone” is probably an underrated track for me. There’s a lot of good points to this from the cleverly composed gradually ascension of the music and Mike’s imperfect vocals. “Until It Breaks” goes in a more experimental hip-hop sound that could almost be found on a Gorillaz album. “Tinfoil” brings back that element that their first two albums had that highlighted Mr. Hahn’s skills for beats and minimalism. Like “Lost in the Echo”, “Powerless” is the perfect send off for this album and what made me proud to be a fan of this band for so long. It’s beautifully composed, Chester’s voice is so emotional, and it leaves a deep impression to the heart and ears.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Quick Movie Review

Frankenweenie (2012, USA) | Rating: 3/5

I was fortunate enough to see the original short of this in class last semester, so watching a full length version of Tim Burton's vision was interesting. It was nice to go back to Burton's animation roots and not be dazzled or swayed by his newer techniques that have become more or less short of displaying his true talents. It does add a little to the short, but it could also be viewed as slightly unnecessary. Either way, I enjoyed it and the expansion opened more options of the consequences of manipulating death.

Seven Psychopaths (2012, USA) | Rating: 3/5

This movie was recommended by a friend and I heard some mixed reviews about it. I didn't know exactly what this movie was about and while watching it was definitely nothing I could've guessed either. I guess I should be able to relate to the storyline in some way by being an aspiring screenwriter, but I felt little connection. This didn't kill my enjoyment of the movie at all. Since I didn't know what to expect, it made it all the more entertaining and the characters majorly helped with that as well. They were funny, believable, and had good chemistry between each other.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, USA) | Rating: 4/5

It was a shame that I couldn't experience this movie in a theater and an audience. Sometimes I think they like to hoard all the good movies in limited releases. Anyway, I've been really looking forward to watching this movie and it met, and possibly exceed, my expectations. The characters were very relatable, the situations felt real, and everything was just put together extremely well. When the movie was over, I wondered what the time period was because of the music selections made by the characters and there is no definite era from what I could find, which I think is a very good thing. No matter what year it is, teenagers can relate to the situations happening and connections made throughout the film.

The Croods (2013, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

Originally, I wasn't planning on seeing this in theaters, but I heard a lot of good reviews and praise for it, so I went ahead and saw it with a friend today. We saw it in 3D due to limited time selections, but the 3D was quite good. The story is pretty simple, but it caters to both kid and adult humor. It was a fun little adventure with this caveman family and a breath of fresh air from school stress. I really enjoyed the realistic textures of the environments and textiles and the counter of slightly cartoonish design of the characters. Also, I have to add, I don't see how this is relevant to Avatar at all, but whatever.

ParaNorman (2012, USA) | Rating: 3/5

I wasn't super interested in seeing this movie either, but I heard some fairly good things about it as well. I traded with a friend one weekend and watched it. I thought this movie was a bit mature for a PG rating, maybe they should've considered a PG-13, but I think some of the more mature humor would've went over kids' heads. Anyway, I thought the movie was entertaining and I always enjoy this type of animation to the oversaturation of CGI movies. Nothing wrong with them or anything, but it tends to stand out a little more. The characters were bold and unique to not just children's films, but film in general. It's no Coraline, but it's worth checking out.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: Delicious Gakuin

Title: Delicious Gakuin [Delicious Academy]
Starring: Nishijima Takahiro, Aiba Hiroki, Miura Ryosuke
Language: Japanese
Genre: Comedy
Episodes: 13

I guess I have a thing for pretty boys in school dramas, but I must admit that it has to have an interesting plot for me to check it out. Shounen ai (boy love) isn't required either. Purely optional. I think fans should be more like that.

Kitasaka Rouma, Takasugi Rin, and Matthew Perrier have been kidnapped from their surroundings to an isolated, prestigious cooking academy. Each boy has their own specialty and cooking tool. Rin's specialty is beauty and uses his sparkling chopsticks, Twin Rainbow, to add beauty to his dishes. Matthew expertly mixes flavors by using his sparkling spoon Amour. Rouma is great at choosing the best ingredients and enhancing their flavors with his frying pan Tekkamaru passed down by his mother. These three boys plot together to escape the school. Ultimately, they band together with two other students in an epic cooking showdown with the teachers and the mysterious principal.

At the time when I began this series, it was refreshing and different than anything I've seen. I don't know if there's a series like this, but I haven't heard or seen any as of yet and I hope that there isn't any in the future. I've described this series as a cross between Iron Chef and a little bit of Dragon Ball Z. It is a cooking academy drama that focuses on the main characters' bond with each other.

The only familiar face from the main cast I could pick out was Aiba Hiroki. There is also a brief appearance in one battle episode with Saitoh Takumi. Most times I come into watching dramas, and even movies, I don't base my watching plans on known actors, but it's nice to see familiar actors and their range in different scenarios. Anyway, the characters made this comical drama very enjoyable and the chemistry was believable. Even though certain actions or scenes could be considered a bit cartoonish, it didn't pull me out of the story. As for the story, I thought it was very original and after each episode, I wanted to watch more. Even if at some points were cliche and predictable, there were points that I couldn't predict completely. Most importantly, the ending reveal of the principal and gradually learning the backgrounds of both the students and teachers were very effective.

Delicious Gakuin could easily be in my top ten favorite Japanese dramas. I had so much fun watching these characters develop, grow, connect, and react in this insane situation. It does a great job of balancing a little bit of drama and comedy throughout each episode. The eye candy is also a plus. If you're interested in a comically intense cooking battle and a bond between a diverse set of boys with a common goal, I highly recommend you to check out this series.

Rating: 4.5/5