Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Bangkok Assassins [Bangkok Kung Fu]

Starring: Arak Amornsupasiri, Mario Maurer, Athikit Pringprom, Visava Thaiyanont
Directed by: Yuthlert Sippapak
Language: Thai
Rating: R
Running Time: 104 minutes

When you don't have cable, what do you do you? Rent movies! Well, a lot of the movies I've been reviewing recently have been rentals from my local Blockbuster. Ah, I could feel the nostalgia every time I walk in. Anyway, I've never heard of this movie before, but it sounded and looked interesting.

Four boys are kidnapped from their homes and try to escape their abusive captors. During one attempt of rebellion, the boys are punished and have to deal with some disabilities that they have to live with for the rest of their lives. One day, their captors take the boys out and form a disabled kid band, but the boys make a mistake during their outing and talk to a stranger. When they return to their hideout, the captors scold and began to punish the boys for breaking the rule, until the stranger, a Shaolin Master, and a young girl show up before another severe punishment is executed. The Shaolin Master fights the captors and takes in the boys, teaching them the art of kung-fu. A few years later, the boys have grown into handsome young men and they face an unfortunate moment when their Master is killed.

Going into this movie, I had little expectations. I didn't know what direction it would go or how the conflict would be executed in such a repetitive genre. All in my mind was an entertainment quality of martial arts as opposed to a more stylistic martial arts like House of Flying Daggers or Curse of the Golden Flower, handsome young men, and revenge fueling the action.

The whole story was pretty typical. There are plenty of martial arts movies revolving around the motive of revenge, so the challenge is to make a typical motive different and entertaining. I think having the minor, minor issue of children being kidnapped kept it different. The boys having to deal with their physical and mental disabilities also kept things interesting. It forced the boys to reunite and use each other's sensory strengths to complete their goals: revenge on their captors and their Master's killer.

The main cast was entertaining to watch. They all had distinct personalities to keep things interesting and add development to each other, progressing the story. The supporting casts did their job successfully. Although, I did have a few issues with some characters. The supposed main villain was extremely weak. He felt out of place and brought the quality of the movie down. Perhaps if you watch the movie in English it would be a tiny bit more bearable, but the acting was too cheesy by the serious tone set in whatever the previous scene was. Their henchmen, the Monkeys, matched that cheesiness of laughable, stereotypical martial arts. I couldn't get over them flipping out of rooms all the time. The other set of bad guys, the captors, seemed more threatening even though they seemed a little bit unbelievable, but they fit the tone of the movie more. Lastly, I think the Master could've been more prominent to the audience, so his death could've impacted me more as opposed to only being sad about the matter because the characters are sad. Also I would like to add that the romance is minimal, a little silly or even childish, but doesn't detract from the main story.

The martial arts are more for entertainment than style. It's kinda over the top, sometimes ridiculous, and sometimes cool. There are some good fight scenes and there's some silly ones. Unfortunately, the final fight with the Master's killer falls in the silly category. It's a little underwhelming. But I feel that their revenge on their captors and even Pong's search for his mother was more important and compelling. Perhaps if the main villain presented more of a threat and maybe was Thai, it would have more urgency and sympathy toward the boys. Or if the captors were responsible for the Master's death, it would provide more satisfaction, motivation, and it would make more sense.

Bangkok Assassins was an entertaining movie with enjoyable and diverse main characters. It's unfortunate that the main villain and a couple fight scenes were a bit on the cheesy/cheap side. I think if you're looking for a simple and fun martial arts movie, I would give this movie a shot. I advise when you watch it, not to judge it too harshly or on the same level as movies like House of Flying Daggers.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quick Movie Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, USA) | Rating: 2/5

I honestly didn’t want to see this movie. When it was announced to be remade, I felt like I jinxed myself because I was so happy that no one was touching the iconic 80’s franchise. Similar to Scream 4, an online review convinced me to check it out and I was expecting the worst from it. I’ve seen friends destroy the case and disc, but surprisingly I had no immediate rage over it. I’m proud to say that I can calmly criticize this remake. Also like Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street is another favorite horror movie franchises. The movie tried its best to “reimagine” the original, but a lot of it fell flat due to lackluster execution and dull characters. It recycled scenes from the first movie but unfortunately removed the impact it had back then. There was also a lot of annoying jump scares that were ineffective. I don’t know about other iconic remakes, but Freddy got the same treatment as Michael Myers as being humanized and sympathetic in their personal backgrounds. They’re both terrible characters, but knowing so much about them takes away from the fear of the killer…or perhaps monster. As for the new Freddy, I understand the serious take they wanted to make with the character, since over the years he started to become “too sarcastic” or joking and less threatening. The portrayal mostly was decent, but lacked something I can’t put my finger on. It reminds me of Christian Bale as Batman. Not terrible, but ugh that voice kinda ruins things a little. Also, the make-up bothered me a lot. At times, his mouth would barely move when he spoke and I didn’t like the “realistic” approach of the look. Maybe in the future, I’ll do a more in depth comparison between the two. Also, upon request I’ll do it as well.

Martyrs (2008, France) | Rating: 1.5/5

Normally, I wouldn’t have watched this, but a friend turned me onto it as something that was unwatchable due to the subject matter and graphic imagery. For me, that sounds like a challenge for my mind, eyes, and stomach. Yes, there are movies that are hard for me to watch and I’ve mentioned some of them here, but this movie isn’t one of them. Upon watching this, I was expecting a straight up revenge movie, but it ended up being something else. Revenge is only relevant for part of the movie. I had problems connecting with the story and its characters and I have no idea if it was because I watched this movie dubbed, but it honestly shouldn’t form a disconnect. The premise seemed interesting, but the presentation was oddly paced in places and a bit confusing. The ending was unsatisfying and I guess it would be nice to have something typical. Lastly, one thing I did like was the main characters’ bond to each other. Other than that, I don’t think I’ll be joining the hype wagon for this movie.

American Beauty (1999, USA) | Rating: 4/5

I know this movie has received tons of praise and I can understand why. I didn’t have any expectations going into it and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, other than the few little elements that has been parodied in Family Guy and Not Another Teen Movie. The story felt original to some extent. It takes the typical suburban family that appears perfect on the outside, but full of flaws on the inside and adding forbidden desire, power, and a nostalgic longing to the mix. I enjoyed the diverse characters and the slight exaggerated conflicts each character had to face. The conclusion was unexpected, thought provoking, and cleverly executed. Although I don’t have overwhelming praise for this movie, I really did enjoy it and what it had to offer through its storytelling, fleshed out characters, and beautiful cinematography.

A Comapny Man (2012, South Korea) | Rating: 4/5

So, I was trying not to fall for the whole “judging a book by its cover” theory and I did read the synopsis on the back like I normally do. I’ve never heard of this movie, but it’s in the category of secret life of a hitman/mafia man. The theme could easily be screwed up and misleading, but this stayed on track. Even though this movie has basic clichés when it comes to Asian hidden organizations, it was still entertaining. It was everything I wanted I.R.I.S to be and I have no idea if they fixed the flaws in the second season. Yes, there was romance, but it didn’t overshadow the action or serious demeanor of the main character. It gave enough light to the relationships without it feeling misleading as an action, crime film. The action was smooth and engaging and the characters made me feel something, whether negative or positive. I having a feeling this movie is or is going to be underrated and I believe it should get some exposure because I truly enjoyed this film.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008, USA) | Rating: 4/5

I feel like I’m late to the party by watching this cult movie now for the first time. I’ve been wanting to see it for a couple years, but the opportunity has been quite slim until recently. After seeing Pawdugan’s review, I felt a little more determined to see this movie and I am happy that I did, although I didn’t expect so much singing. I knew it was a musical horror, but the amount of spoken dialogue is near non-existent. I’m not complaining or anything, just stating an observation. So, the premise of this movie was bizarre and unique. The execution matched the tone of the story and the presentation was quite entertaining. The relationships seemed realistic in a musical or opera sense, but in reality, it would be a stretch. I really enjoyed Blind Mag and the Graverobber the most as I’m sure a lot of people did. Everyone else was good too, but I wish they had someone else for Paris Hilton, more so in the singing than the acting. Her voice either couldn’t reach the tone or level of vocal expertise as the other characters or she sounded like a breathy porn star. It didn’t ruin the movie though. The visuals were great and didn’t go overboard with graphic imagery, so the integrity of the musical genre was kept intact while bringing something a little different to the genre.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

"Applause" by Lady Gaga
One morning, I woke up and saw this video on my TV. Normally, I would've gone back to sleep because it was pretty early, but since I've been waiting to see new Gaga, I stayed awake. I did not regret what I saw or heard. Everything that she promoted for Born This Way felt overproduced, but this reeled in the craziness to her Fame Monster time. It still has some theatrics from her last album, but they are more restrained visually. The song is absolutely catchy! I can't get enough of it. I'm still going into Artpop cautiously, but this was a good start.

"INCOMPLETE" by girugamesh
It feels like forever since I found a PV and song I enjoy from this band. I was cautious going into this new PV, but I was very satisfied. It might not sound like 13's Reborn or Girugamesh, but it has all the good elements of Music, which I actually enjoyed despite some fan disagreement. It mixes electronic and rock sounds together just like the album I mentioned and Girugamesh is good at that. It's not too poppy or reminiscent of an anime opening, it's rock and that's what I missed about them. Maybe the split versions of the band reflect that in the PV.

"THE SWAN" by 12012
Despite the changes the band's music has gone, I still love this band and now they have a new member. I was happy to see this PV and expected a certain direction it was gonna take. I pleased that I was proven wrong in the arrangement. Omg! This song is so beautifully done and reminds me of "Just the Way You Are..." to some extent and I really like that song. It does still have some aggression in there, but it is very brief. I enjoy and miss Wataru's lovely, unique vocals and the music is just as pleasing to the ears. The PV is simplistic and artistic. It focuses on the band, gives Wataru a little spotlight as the black swan, and some sketches. I'm looking forward to listening to the new material.

"Picasso" by Yeti
I was very happy to see a new PV from Emiru's new band Yeti. It's a fun, little simple tune and visual concept. It still reminds me a little of Radwimps, but this time with a mix of Plastic Tree with the sound. Sometimes band centric videos can be quite interesting. I would post more PVs that are band centric, but I want to prove that music videos are not dead...even when you do it this way. I'm looking forward to more music by this band and I hope they keep their momentum. It's still a little weird seeing this normal appearance of Emiru compared to his aicle. days.

"Attraction" by BUMKEY feat. Dynamic Duo
As much as I miss 2wins, it is nice to hear Bumkey's voice and see him being active in the music scene. Visually, I think this video takes an old American approach. Warm tones, loose, but sweet love story, and focus on the artist. It's fun, relaxed R&B track with some fresh artistic approaches to the editing to keep it interesting for the modern time. The song is flawless. It does have a sprinkle of 90's R&B cliches, but we haven't heard them in decades so it's easily forgivable...especially since I miss that nostalgic sound. I hope he doesn't keep me waiting like Zion.T and puts something out soon.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Quick Movie Reviews

Title: Oblivion (2013)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Synopsis: A veteran assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
Rating: 2.5/5

Oblivion gets points for being an original story with beautiful visuals. The originalities of the story can't stand up to all of the usual science fiction tropes that have been done much better in the past. The plot flounders mid-way through the film and never quite recovers. Tom Cruise tries hard in this one, but fails to deliver anything stunning.

Title: G.I. Joe: Retaliation 
Starring: Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, Byung-hun Lee
Synopsis: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
Rating: 2.5/5

The sequel to G.I. Joe is clearly better than the first movie. Less Channing Tatum helped things along as well as the addition of seasoned action stars like Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson. Let's face it; Channing Tatum is dull as a brick unless he's taking his clothes off. However, the changes couldn't help the overall result. Look into this one for some explosions and martial arts.

Title: Immortals (2011)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans, Stephen Dorff
Synopsis: Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.
Rating: 2.5/5

If you enjoyed the style and look of 300, you'll like Immortals. Director Tarsem Singh is known for his visual style. You may remember those from The Cell (2000). The stunning visuals and toned bodies can't help the plot. There are some big plot holes that could have been filled in by simply reading the mythology that this film was based on. There was one big thing that annoyed me. Why were there only 5 instead of 12 Olympians?

Title: Epic (2013)
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Beyoncé Knowles, Colin Farrell
Synopsis: A teenager finds herself transported to a deep forest setting where a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil is taking place. She bands together with a rag-tag group characters in order to save their world -- and ours.
Rating: 2.5/5

Epic wasn't bad. It had cute moments. The voice actors are all big celebrities with easily recognizable voices. I feel this always hurts animated productions. Suspending belief and imagining that the voice is truly the character suffers when you see said actor or actress everywhere. Ultimately, the battle between good and evil to either protect or destroy the natural world left me with a bit of deja vu. Haven't I already seen this before? Back then, it was Ferngully: The Last Rainforest...and it was a human slacker who was shrunken down to save things with a faerie. The funny sidekick was a bat instead of two slugs.

Title: Despicable Me 2
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand
Synopsis: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.
Rating: 3.5/5

Once again, the Minions steal every scene they were in. I found myself wanting more of the interactions between the minions and the girls, Agnes and Edith especially. Gru has always annoyed me to an extent, but I think he was meant to be that way. Overall, the movie was a decent followup to the first film. I don't think they could have added anything else without going over the top. I will be looking forward to the Minions getting their own film in December 2014.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Quick Music Review

MADEMOISELLE YULIA - MADEMOWORLD (2011, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5

“GIMME GIMME” is what interested me in checking out this album. It has a Sleigh Bells sound to it, from what little I know about the group. It has a simple beat with little clashing noises in the background, but it fits the atmosphere of Harajuku. “BAM ME” has a cutesy, vintage sound that differs a little from the first track. The chorus is a little annoying to me, but I can admit the song is okay for such a short track. “LUXURY OF YOU” has an electro-pop sound that could be found in lesser known European artists. It’s a good, simple club song and I really like. “WAO” is another simplistic track, but more electronic than poppy. This also works very well with YULIA’s vocals and VERBAL’s input isn’t too out of place either. “DOWN DOWN” steps out of the club and into the lounge setting with snapping, piano, and trombone, I believe. It’s a good toe tapping song that showcases a different side from the DJ. “ZODIAC GOLD” smoothly keeps the slight touches of vintage and lounge with some heavy drums and a soft touch of electronics. “REPLAY” returns the modern club sound for a fun little dance track. Nothing new, but not bad. “YOU CAN’T HAVE ME THAT WAY” breaks out of the standard sounds of electro-pop just a bit. At least, this track sounds more interesting and has some dimension from the up and down musical progressions. “CHRONIC” is partially stripped down to some vulnerable vocal layering and piano which is surprisingly very beautiful. I can admit that YULIA doesn’t have this perfectly trained vocals or anything, but with such a vulnerable track, it still gets its emotion across successfully. “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” brings us back to a catchy electro-pop song that I can see Lady Gaga using. That’s a compliment, btw. “DON’T STOP THE MUSIC” is a standard Europop dance track. Usual beats, vocal stutters, and noises, but still enjoyable for a typical dance song. “TOUCH ME” concludes the album with some orchestral sounds mixed with a familiar, steady R&B beat. It’s pretty smooth and suits YULIA’s voice, surprisingly. It makes for a good dance track too without being overwhelming electro-pop dance.

JASMINE - Best Partner (2012, Japan) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Best Partner, B*TCH*S

“Best Partner” starts off with some beautiful violins, piano, and a simple R&B beat, then JASMINE’s passionate vocals kick for the verse. This title is nothing less than I expected from the vocalist. It’s not overly complicated and gets its point across with the lyrics and the simplistic musical arrangement. “B*TCH*S” takes a different tone than the title and gives off a more confident sound with booming bass and underlying R&B elements as JASMINE taunts with her vocal delivery while maintaining her beauty. “Touch me on the beach” is obviously a summer song. It’s a fun little track that sounds like something Christina Aguilera would pull out. It has some soft sexual aggression while still being pure and catchy with a slight reggae sound and powerful vocals.

the GazettE - TOXIC (2011, Japan) Rating: 3/5

“INFUSE INTO” starts off with light bits of dubstep and a simple starter beat for this introduction. “VENOMOUS SPIDER'S WEB” continues that electronic sound and speech pattern from the introduction, then leads off to some heavy bass and distant, distorted vocal. It surprisingly sounds like something from NIL in its musical arrangement and high energy. “SLUDGY CULT” has a very speedy drum and continues on that old sound. I can’t help but think of “Muddy Cult” though with the name. The vocals still sound a little distorted like it’s coming from a megaphone and there’s band member participation too that works better in Gazette’s music than BORN’s. “RED” brings us to the present sound of the band of that seemingly recycled musical and vocal arrangement with tiny changes. Not a bad song, but nothing fresh. “THE SUICIDE CIRCUS” was used for initial promotion. The video was kinda boring, but I really did like the song. Although the sound has been used before by the band, it was still enjoyable. I like the quiet moments and how it gradually built up to the bridge and chorus, which reminds me of the dramatics from “The Invisible Wall”. “SHIVER” sounds very generic…like “I’ve heard this song before…on Stacked Rubbish.” It’s just very standard. “MY DEVIL ON THE BED” begins with some odd noises, then the drums and bass kick in with megaphone vocals, which is a little annoying now. The music is something different though and reminds me of a couple songs from J. “UNTITLED” was the most talked about track when this album was released and I was skeptical, until it started. This is a very good track and I wish I heard this level of greatness more often from the GazettE. I probably should like “PLEDGE”, but for some reason it reminds me too much of “Cassis”…and I really dislike that song. I do like this a little more though for chorus part mostly, but there’s better slow songs by them. “RUTHLESS DEED” satisfies the heaviness I crave from time to time. It kinda awakens that old comparison to Dir en grey, but I consider that a compliment. I love the straying guitar in the background, the deep bass, and the heart pounding drums while Ruki’s vocals goes from soft to rough with ease. “PSYCHOPATH” continues on that heavy path and leads onto something somewhat chaotic like “DISCHARGE”, but a little more mature in some ways. It incorporates the chaos of “DISCHARGE” and the new elements that the band has picked up. “VORTEX” is slightly heavy like the previous tracks, but it brings back those electronic elements and auto-tune, distorted vocals. The arrangement is a little lost in places and the vocal distortions are a little annoying. They should just leave Ruki’s vocals alone. “TOMORROW NEVER DIES” tries to bring a little bit of Disorder back into their sound while keeping those silly auto-tune vocals. The song isn’t that bad, but maybe they should stay away from the vocal effects. “OMEGA” is simply an outro track to this album, which is surprisingly a slight step up from the previous albums since NIL.

12012 - DEICIDA OF SILENCE (2013, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: 身千切りの莟、奇しくも恍惚の桜, DEICIDA OF SILENCE

The band has changed since they moved to different labels and lost a member. Not sure if that was off putting for the fans, but here’s their follow up to 12012 album. “身千切りの莟、奇しくも恍惚の桜” starts off pretty dramatic with piano, a steady drum beat, somewhat quick guitar, and Wataru’s voice just leading the melody along with his soft vocals. It kinda reminds me of Dir en grey’s “Dozing Green” and “VINUSHKA” mixed together. “DEICIDA OF SILENCE” continues the growling vocals and heaviness introduced to us from the previous album, but this has a little more singing in it. I’m still not used to this Dir en grey-esque sound coming from the band and please hold onto your rocks with that comparison. It’s not a negative, simply an adjustment. “CHABOO-CHABOO” has a weird title, but it’s an…interesting track. It really doesn’t sound like anything the band has done in any aspect of the song. It’s probably the heaviest song on the mini-album, so a good track to headbang and just thrash to. “夢喰い” is a little softer than the previous two tracks, but still has a heaviness to it. There’s a little less screaming and more singing. “DOOR TO THE SKY” doesn’t let go of the heavy, pounding sounds, but it does have a nice melodic moment between the guitar and the vocals. I have a feeling that 12012 are still trying to find themselves, but I have faith in them still.

exist†trace - Virgin (2012, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: あなた, Daybreak ~13月の色彩~, 契約, シグナル

Here with another old request! “WONDERLAND” begins with some haunting organs then bursts through with some powerful guitar melodies and drums. Definitely a different and slightly subdued version of the band, but a good introduction to the album without being overwhelmingly heavy. “Daybreak ~13月の色彩~” was one of the promotional tracks and I really love this song. It’s catchy, has a good melody, and a great dual guitar solo. Also the PV’s pretty cool too. “HONEY” comes in with hard driving guitars and a determined drum beat. It’s a little more restrained than the previous track and has a lighter, upbeat sound. “GINGER” is a track that made me nervous about this album. It was used for promotion and has a jazz sound to it that works better with Nightmare and Acid Black Cherry. This was the introduction to what we now know as the dual vocals with guitarist Miko. This sound really doesn’t suit the band at all and Miko’s voice isn’t the best. It’s too high and doesn’t mesh well with Jyou’s on the forefront. “契約” steadily moves along with a set drum and bass beat with guitar chords come in and out as Jyou’s voice orchestrates the tone of the song. It’s an experimental track that works with the softer, tamer tone of Jyou’s vocals. “リトル・メアリーと美しき憎しみのドナウ” starts off with a cutesy singing voice and circus-like sound. I’m not sure if it’s some kid singing, but I’m gonna bet that it’s actually Miko. It’s a little irritating in this minimalistic song with only drums, accordion, and a few other small instruments. “シグナル” brings back the heavy rock that the girls are known for. There’s a good fast pace and tons of attitude in Jyou’s delivery. “TRUE” was another promotional track and brings in a faster musical pace with enough aggression to leave a nice impression in your ears. The vocals have a subtle gentleness while maintaining the usual confidence Jyou brings to songs like this. “二つの声” brings something different from the band. It has a nice arrangement of being in your face with hard hitting dreams and loud guitars, then reels it in enough to highlight Jyou’s vocals in the verses and chorus. “あなた” comes in slowly with soft drums, careful vocals, and a deep bass line. It’s almost haunting, but beautifully enough that it lingers in the air. It has some experimental vocal choices that remind me a little Dir en grey’s “ZAN” and “Obscure”. “KISS IN THE DARK” is a return to the unfitting jazzy lounge sound, but it works a little better than “GINGER”. The sound still doesn’t quite suit the band, but it’s less forced in this track. “I feel you” is a speedy rock track with strong emphasis on the guitars, but doesn’t drown out Jyou’s vocals. “SORA” slows down the rush of the previous track to a pretty basic rock song. Jyou’s voice is pretty in it and the music is quite constrained compared to the previous material. This was new, experimental direction for the band and it feels like they’re trying to figure out what to do with it.

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Promo: Mao Denda

Artist: Mao Denda
Real Name: Denda Mao (傳田真央)
Former stage name: MAO/d
Genre: Jpop, J-Urban
Country: Japan
Years Active: 2000-2013
Status: Active
Notable traits: Clear, confident feminine voice
Recommended Songs: Imasara Aenakute; My Style; Love with Chu; Nakitaku Naru Kedo; Sukitte Iwanai

Mao Denda emerged on the music scene over a decade ago. She released four singles and one album in 2000. Things seemed very promising when 2001 brought two more singles, a remix album, a dvd and a cover album. It seemed that Mao was making a name for herself. Despite all the releases the previous two years had brought, Mao stopped releasing music in 2002 with her only release being one song on a compilation album.

From 2002 until 2006, she only appeared as a featured artist on the work of others and a few live appearances. In late 2006, she reappeared on the music scene with a name change. MAO/d released two singles and a mini album between 2006 and 2007. The following year brought only one release with her appearing on another compilation album.

Mao's next appearance saw her changing her name back to it's original form. She's released eleven singles, one mini album and three albums since reemerging in 2009. Her latest release was the album Semi Double which I'll be reviewing soon here. Her music will appeal to fans of female vocalists like Crystal Kay, Thelma Aoyama, AI and Namie Amuro.

If you like what you read, drop us a comment or an email to let us know your thoughts. You can reach me at and Miko at We're both available if you'd like to request a review of music, movies or anime. We're also open to answer any questions you may have!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quick Movie Review

Rise of the Guardians (2012, USA) | Rating: 4/5

I know a bunch of friends of mine praised this movie up and down and I am happy to say that I understand the hype. This should've won something, but I feel like this was a bit underrated by the masses or whoever runs those silly award shows. The characters were charming and funny. The story was entertaining and inspiring. It was simple, beautifully created, and I recommend it for those who haven't seen it yet.

The ABC's of Death (2012, USA) | Rating: 4/5

Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this movie and I was ready to groan over the two hour running time, but I must admit that I hardly noticed it. As a collection, it's fairly good, but I didn't enjoy every work. A few were under worked, a few were a little uncomfortable, a few were quite amusing, and a few I really enjoyed and could possible want a little more (mostly L). This isn't completely a horror movie per se. It's a mix of horror, comedy, and sci-fi. I am pleasantly surprised I had a fun ride with this movie. One last thing I must mention is that this movie isn't for everyone. Some subject matters and images may turn some viewers away from the screen.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

Like the first movie, I thought this was a good sequel. Was it necessary? Not really. Did it hurt the movie? Nope. It's a fun little movie, very entertaining. I enjoyed the characters and how they've changed from the first movie. I was a little sad that Kick-Ass' relationship was very short lived. The story was very simple and there were some funny moments. I'm still not super crazy about this movie, but I did enjoy it. I was happy to Donald Faison and Jim Carrey. Although, I wish they could've dialed down the profanity just a little...for my mom's sake.

Scream 4 (2011, USA) | Rating: 3/5

The Scream trilogy is one of my favorite horror movie franchises. The trilogy might not be perfect from beginning to end, but it’s rare for any franchise to be solid completely. When this fourth installment was announced, I was a bit wary about it and perhaps upset. It seemed unnecessary to bring something back that was a decade ago and new audiences wouldn’t remember it unless they go back and check out the previous movies. I wasn’t expecting to see this, but an online review convinced me that it wasn’t that terrible. After watching it, it actually really wasn’t a terrible movie. It does comment on modern day horror movies and the rules they follow. My favorite commentary was the list of remakes that have occurred since the last movie. It was nice to see the original cast mingle with this new set of characters experiencing what happened in first movie. I was surprised that there weren’t any unlikeable characters, which a lot of current horror movies suffer from. Only major flaws I have with this is movie is that a couple or so characters lack development so audiences can feel a little sting when something happens to them and the Ghostface reveal was very underwhelming.

Be Kind Rewind (2008, USA) | Rating: 3/5

I’ve heard quite a lot of negative things about this movie and my first taste of it was in one my film classes. I don’t remember what I saw, but I knew I wanted to give it a chance despite the criticism. I also want to add that I don’t even know why people didn’t like this movie either. Perhaps I’ll look it up after posting this. For me, I didn’t think this was a terrible movie. It was fairly decent if you don’t judge it too harshly. It does definitely have flaws, but the overall theme is kinda endearing. The situation may seem improbable, but it falls in the lines of ridiculous conflicts in comedies that would never happen. Jack Black’s character was a bit annoying, but it had some purpose to it in the comedy formula. Coincidentally, I learned a bit about copyright before watching this, so it was interesting to have a quick lesson on how that works. I enjoyed the sense of community the characters had in their various tough situations: tapes being erased, business about close, and trying to please customers. I also enjoyed the passion the main characters had for cinematic history and movie making.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ophelia's Opinion: The Decline of exist†trace

For me, exist†trace started out as a decent female rock group. They were far from perfect in the beginning. Each woman was talented in her area, but there was a lack of polish to the group as a whole. What else would one expect of a new band? Obviously, they're not going to start off with everything in place for instant success. They're going to struggle and grow with each release instead.

It was Jyou's voice that stood out for me. She had strong, clear vocals even when she wasn't screaming or growling. Most female rock musicians seem to think that they have to sound masculine in order to stand up to their male counterparts. I don't think Jyou ever truly got sucked into that ideal. The band seemed solid with quite a future ahead of them.

I was excited to see more of them when singles like True and The Last Daybreak came out. This was what I wanted to hear from them. They were strong songs that showcased these talented women in the right ways. The growling and screaming had been brought to a minimum which was perfectly fine with me. Jyou's vocals are much better when she's not putting stress on her voice.
Then the band took a break from releasing after The Last Daybreak. Their next release was the album Virgin. I was excited to hear that they were releasing something new. That was...until I saw the pv for Ginger. It was a huge disappointment. The problem wasn't that the band had changed their musical style. It was simply that Miko's voice grates on my nerves. I liked exist†trace for Jyou's strong vocals, not the squeaky sound of Miko's voice. It's vocals like Miko's that prevent me from really getting into the majority of pop music.
I was hoping that this was just a temporary thing. The dual vocals just don't work in my opinion. I used to listen to exist†trace a lot. With the release of Diamond, I simply don't anymore. If I happen to listen to anything by them, it's always pre-Virgin. We all have a point where we simply outgrow bands. This is different though. If they hadn't added Miko on vocals, I'd still be one of the fans waiting for their every release.
I've heard the arguments about this. 'Miko is their lead guitarist. She writes all their music so they have to let her sing.' That's simply not true. Yes, she may be their main writer, but there is no reason in the world that they are required to allow her to do anything. They still have a very capable vocalist. There's absolutely no need for Miko to step up and sing anything at all aside from backing vocals. She's simply not a good singer. Sure, she wants to express herself more as an artist. Why can't she just do a solo project like normal artists? It feels like to me, Miko has gotten a swollen ego. She's even standing in front of Jyou in the promo photos for the band. From the interview with the band where they talk about this, it seemed as if Jyou wasn't consulted on Miko's decision to a vocalist for the group. She stated that she was a little confused when she heard the news. That doesn't scream that it was a mutual decision for the whole group.
Whatever happened, exist†trace has lost something important for me with the addition of Miko on vocals. I'd much rather she step back, close her mouth and play her guitar. Her vocals are terrible on recording and terrible live. I could barely get through one minute of Kuchibiru from their new single. What's happening to this band? I can't be the only former fan who's disappointed by the way things have gone with their new direction. What are your thoughts?

If you like what you read, drop us a comment or an email to let us know your thoughts. You can reach me at and Miko at We're both available if you'd like to request a review of music, movies or anime.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quick Music Review

Childish Gambino - Camp (2011, USA) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Bonfire, Fire fly, L.E.S, All the Shine

This is a very old request, but better late than never, right? Anyway, I can’t get too into detail with this album and that’s not a bad thing. I didn’t know what to expect from Childish Gambino, since I’ve never listened to him before. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this album enough to check out his other material. From what I’ve heard, I like this album the most. It’s a mixture of indie rap that could made by anyone and mainstream rap elements. So, I can see this catering to both audiences musically and possibly lyrically. There’s some amusing lines throughout the album and created a fun experience for my ears. I like the experimental sounds from track to track and the playful to serious delivery by Gambino. Definitely a solid album.

Cinema Bizarre - Toyz (2009, Germany) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Touching and Kissing, My Obsession, Heaven is Wrapped in Chains, Hypnotized by Jane

I believe I mentioned that I wasn’t too fond of this band, but I got curious some time ago when used to have song previews on their site. So, I checked out the new album at the time and I was surprised that what I heard was better. “La Generique” is just a simple introduction song to the album that could be pulled out of the Tim Burton collection circa Edward Scissorhands. “Touching and Kissing” has a silly title and the lyrics are super cheesy, but the music isn’t that bad. It’s catchy and has that 90’s/early 2000’s synth-rock thing going on. “I Came 2 Party” was part of the promotion and it was definitely different than their first album material. It reminded me of what Adam Lambert was doing at the time, so I had some mixed feelings on these wannabes this song. Once I could separate the two, I kinda enjoyed this cheesy dance track, but the censoring is a little annoying. “Deeper and Deeper” sounds like something from their competition Tokio Hotel, but I find that to be a somewhat good thing. It sounds like a more mature version of their old selves from Final Attraction and improvement is always encouraged. “Erase and Replace” is a little softer synth-rock song. It has an easy melody and the chorus is quite simple, but works minus the weird vocal modifications. The lyrics are surprisingly better in this track too. “My Obsession” is a pseudo-power ballad…I think. It has lots of dramatics both vocally and musically. It’s pretty with the soft vocals and piano accompanying it. “Je Ne Regrette Rien” has a slightly confusing opening with distant Latin sounds, electronics, and then the usual rock sound from the band. It almost has too many layers to it. The music transitions just seem sudden between the verse, bridge, and chorus. “Dark Star” seems like a more subdued version of the band with forced synths/keyboards added in the background of the song. They really like space themes. “Toyz” is an odd electronic rock song with lots of autotune that doesn’t quite work. Doesn’t help that the chorus is weak. “In Your Cage” is awkwardly worded in places and the music doesn’t seem to match up with the vocal arrangement in places. “Heaven is Wrapped in Chains” has potential to be a really good song, but the suddenness of the chorus just rushing at the tail end of the verses kinda ruins the flow of the whole song. Once you get used to it the first time, it becomes a little less of a problem, but unfortunately still awkward. “Hypnotized by Jane” is probably my most played track on this album. Something about it is very catchy and all the little vocal changes don’t bother me as much. “Blasphemy” is a slightly contrived piano song that tries to be sweet, but the vocals seem strained and forced to pull emotions out. “I Don't Wanna Know (If U Got Laid)” has promise, but the chorus just seems too silly for such a good musical track. I like the arrangement and the vocals work, but the whole lyrics are mediocre. “Out of Love” is a simple, but good electro-pop track. I think the band excels at things like this. “Sad Day (For Happiness)” sounds like an old keyboard ballad from the 80s. “Tears in Vegas” brings in dynamic keyboards and glam rock which transitions pretty well from the previous track. “Le Generique Fin” concludes the album with a similar tone as the introduction. This album was a definite improvement from their previous album. I’m still not a fan, but I did enjoy what I heard.

Adam Lambert - Trespassing (2012, USA) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Underneath, Cuckoo, Never Close Our Eyes, Outlaws of Love

Thanks to the MAMAs last year, I got to know that American Idol runner-up was still active in the music scene, which is great. I love his voice! The first song I heard from the album through his live performance and the first track is “Trespassing”. It has a simple, toe-tapping beat with some great guitar riffs sitting in the background while Adam’s voice whales and softens just right. Great introduction! “Cuckoo” continues the pace, but upping the energy just a little more for a good dance track. The title and the short chorus might seem silly, but it works surprisingly. “Shady” is a smooth electro-rock track that’ll make your hips sway to the subtle seductive beat. “Never Close Our Eyes” starts off like your typical dance track, but the lyrics and the powerful vocals make this song great. “Kickin’ In” retreats back to the retro sounds that are presented in “Trespassing”. Very simple, toe-tapping beat and I think that’s a cowbell hiding in there. “Naked Love” kinda sounds like the mainstream radio pop. It really restrains Adam’s power vocals, but it’s admirable he has such control of his voice. “Pop That Lock” is very…experimental. It’s electronic, simplistic, dubstep, and some stop and start arrangements in the music. “Better Than I Know Myself” has a slightly slower tempo and has a good arrangement that helps emphasize Adam’s vocal range, but it can sound pretty generic in spots. “Broken English” is another experimental track. It seems a little overproduced with the straining electronics, out of placed loud vocals, and awkward dubstep moments. “Underneath” brings me back on board of cheering the runner-up with this piano track. It has a good balance of softness, vulnerability, and passion. “Chokehold” eases you into a heavier track without being overwhelming to the ears. It’s not full on hard rock, but a balance of electronic and rock that compliment Adam’s vocals. “Outlaws of Love” is by far my favorite track on this album. Its beautiful arrangement and passionately written and it shows when you listen to this track. It has a soft piano and acoustic guitar to emphasis the personal emotions in Adam’s voice. If there’s one track you should really listen to, it’s definitely this one. “Runnin’” has some hard hitting drums and beats. It doesn’t quite transition as smoothly from the previous song, but it’s not too overwhelming. “Take Back” combines the hard hitting sound from the previous tracks and throws in some piano and electro-pop. It’s an interesting sound that’ll take some adjusting, but it’s an okay song. “Nirvana” eases us out of the album with some piano and a soothing electo-pop track accompanying it to support Adam’s smooth vocals.

Rita Ora - Ora (2012, USA) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Roc the Life, R.I.P, Love and War, Hot Right Now

“Facemelt” revs up this album with deep growling sounds and some strong vocal delivery that might make your body wind to the griminess. “Roc the Life” has a simply drum beat and some vocal remnants that Rihanna decided to leave behind in her “Pon da Replay” days, but improved. There might be some seemingly vocal filler with the repeated “life”, but it really works for this song and has major confidence in the vocal delivery. “How We Do (Party)” is even more simplistic and borderline generic. It reminds me Jessie J’s “Domino”, but more basic. It could be consider boring for an artist like Rita Ora, but it’s passable. “R.I.P” was given to Drake, but Rita delivers quite well with her rendition, although it really makes that Rihanna comparison more obvious vocally. Tinie Tempah’s contribution is a little unnecessary, but doesn’t kill the fierceness of this track. “Radioactive” kinda sounds like your generic mainstream dance pop track. Maybe something Kelly Rowland could pull off, but this is a pretty good song. It does what it needs to do as a dance track: danceable beat, catchy chorus, and booming vocals. “Shine Ya Light” brings in Rita’s roots with some island sounds and vocal arrangement. “Love and War” was an unexpected track that I happened to like. Rita and J.Cole’s vocals work out quite well with this conflicting atmosphere that usually goes along with simpler R&B sounds. “Uneasy” brings in some guitars and choppy vocal delivery to this rock pop track. It doesn’t really work with Rita’s voice. It sounds like a song mocking lower level pop songtresses like Cheryl Cole or something. “Fall in Love” has potential to be something good, but, of course, anything with gets a bit overproduced with electro-pop. This tends to bring the lyrical level to plummet and get dragged down by’s lazy contribution. “Been Lying” brings back the integrity and strength back in Rita’s vocals in this power R&B track. “Hello, Hi, Goodbye” continues on the soft path, but does it with bongos and acoustic guitar. It might sound boring, but with the right vocal arrangement, it turns out quite pretty. “Hot Right Now” might really be considered as a DJ Fresh song, but it’s on this album. This song is responsible for me liking Rita. It’s a fun and in your face electronic club song. The beat may be difficult to dance conventionally, but this would be good for break dancing, extreme sport stunts or something. Either way, it gets the blood pumping and the energy high.

Icon For Hire - Scripted (2011, USA) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Theater, Make a Move, Get Well, Off With Her Head

I’m going to push aside that I recently saw this band live, because I initially wanted to review this band because they were new to me. They still are. Anyway, “Overture” is practically a guide to the first track “Theater”. It’s a high energy song with some appropriate theatrics both musically and vocally. “Make a Move” smoothly transitions from the previous track with just as much energy. It softens and taunts just enough during the verses to get its point across. “Get Well” was the track responsible for me getting into this band. I like the incorporation of electronics and the hard hitting rock sound. It has pain filled and aggressive vocal delivery that works well with the music. “The Grey” gives us a little break from the aggressive rock to a nice, vulnerable track with piano and soft vocals. I must admit I didn’t properly appreciate this song until I heard it live and really paid attention to the arrangement. It’s very cleverly done and transitions well. “Off With Her Head” returns to the aggressive rock sound and confident vocals to back it up. “Fight” is something that went under the radar until recently. It’s slow building until you get to the slightly aggressive chorus. I love the bridge leading up to the chants of chorus. “Up In Flames” has a Three Days Grace vibe with some great energy and megaphone-like vocals dictating the motion of the beat and the audience’s possible movements. “Iodine” is very in your face and continues slightly off of “Get Well” in lyrics and sound. “Only a Memory” gives us a break with something a little softer with guitar, violin, and a pinch of orchestral elements. It’s something I can hear Paramore doing. “Pieces” concludes with a heavy sound to balance out the sound of “Theater” in the beginning. It’s not super heavy. It tends to speed up and slow down smoothly with the music.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

From Past to Present: Mar:Bell to MAA

 Welcome to a new feature for Muddy Cult that we're going to try out. In this series, we'll attempt to clear up some mysteries about artists that have faded from the spotlight.  Is there someone you've been looking for and can't find any information on? Have you been searching for a certain musician who seems to have dropped off the face of the planet? Whether it's merely a band change or a move to salaryman status, we're sure that fans would like to know.

Does anyone remember the hide Memorial Summit from May 2008? Out of the many bands that played, there was a virtually unknown band with a female vocalist among them. It wasn't just her vocals that made her stand out. She seemed lost and withdrawn, crouching or clutching her skirt as she sang. Her gothic clothes, tattoos and teary expression furthered this thought.

The band was Mar:Bell. Their first and only album, Sister, was released roughly two weeks later. This led to the vocalist, Mar, appearing in several magazines such as Cure. During the summer, they played at various lives and travelled to the United States for an anime convention. There were two pvs released, but the band was unable to follow up with any further releases. They simply faded into oblivion.

Band: Mar:Bell (マーベル)
Members: Mar, Tsunoda Takanori, AZUSA, yu-ya
Genre: Indies, shoegaze, jrock
Country: Japan
Years Active: 2006-2010
Status: Disbanded
Notable traits: Female vocalist
Recommended Songs: Sicilian Kiss; Sorrow; Miss All Birthday; Saihate no Tou

Have you ever wondered what happened to them? While the other members may have faded into the real world, Mar didn't go quietly. In 2010, Mar changed her name to MAA and debuted as a pop solo artist. Her first solo release was the single Ghost Enemy. There was a huge difference between Mar:Bell and her solo work. The rock sound was gone to be replaced with an electro-pop, dance sound.

Her first single was followed up with another, Ballerina Brain System, two months later. Neither of the singles hit the Oricon charts as they were released as rental-only. In December 2010, MAA released her first mini-album, Monkey Kingdom. It didn't earn her much success, only hitting #158 on the Oricon weekly charts before dropping off after the first week.

She did a few collaborations in late 2010 and early 2011, but didn't return with a release of her own until July 2011. Okay was her first song to be used as an ending theme for a show, Happy Music, although this didn't help it much. It failed to chart despite being her first non-rental single. She followed the release of this single with her first full album, BubbleMan Engine, in October of 2011.

MAA disappeared from releasing from October 2011 until January 2013. In January, she releaseed the single, Feel it!/Blue (Chikyuu). It was her first major label single after getting picked up by Warner Music Japan. Both tracks were used as theme songs for CR Cyber Blue, a Pachinko machine game. Once again, the single failed to chart on the Oricon weekly.

She disappeared once more after this release. It's unknown whether MAA will continue her solo work or debut a new band. Her ameblo blog was deleted, but she prompty created a more fashion oriented one. Now using her real name, Maria is still active on twitter, instagram and facebook. She has created her own clothing brand, Gitch. If nothing else, perhaps we'll see her emerge in the world of fashion to make a name for herself.

Artist: MAA
Real Name: Maria Mie Edwards
Genre: Jpop
Country: Japan
Years Active: 2010-
Status: Active
Notable traits: Electropop sound
Recommended Songs: Ghost Enemy; Okay; Nightmare; FREE ウィルス ZONE


Whether we continue with these will be dependent upon responses from our readers. If you like what you read, drop us a comment or an email to let us know your thoughts. You can reach me at and Miko at We're both available if you'd like to request a review of music, movies or anime.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Quick Music Review

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (2013, USA) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Suit & Tie, Don’t Hold the Wall, Strawberry Bubblegum, Tunnel Vision

I know many fans were anticipating a new album and here it finally is. “Pusher Love Girl” brings in lounge orchestra and welcoming, sophisticated tone. This eases you into this mature album and smoothly transitions to similar sound of “Suit & Tie”. I thought I would be replaying this song more than I actually ended up doing when listening to this album. It was a great track to choose to promote this album and show a new growth in Timberlake’s sound and Jay-Z’s contribution wasn’t off putting either like most rappers. When I came to “Don’t Hold the Wall”, I instantly fell in love with it more than “Suit & Tie”. No offense to the previous track, but there was something familiar yet fresh about the track. It has a seductive melody that could be reminiscent of Timbaland’s older material from the 90s. It just proves that they still have great chemistry. Only downfall is the switch up in the music toward the end of the track, which a lot of these tracks suffer from. “Strawberry Bubblegum” mixes Timberlake’s new sound and simplistic R&B sounds from back in the day of midnight love songs on the radio. Despite the title track and the chorus being a little cheesy, it still manages to keep that sophistication of the album and not sound out of place. As mentioned before with melody transitions, this song has one of those unnecessary changes. I would’ve preferred the song to have ended before the beat changed. “Tunnel Vision” is my most played track from this album. Even though it suffers with the length, the ending of the track doesn’t drastically change too much like the other songs. This is another familiar, but fresh sound with Timbaland’s contribution. It sounds like everything good from this album and Timberlake’s first album. “Spaceship Coupe” slows down the tempo and borrows heavily from Usher’s leftovers of not so good love songs. Timberlake’s voice seems strained in places and the pacing kinda drags along. “That Girl” continues to keep a vintage feel from the first two tracks. “Let the Groove In” brings the tempo up, but maintains the nostalgia of the Jackson5 era. “Mirrors” brings sophistication back to the present in another lengthy track that took me some time to appreciate. It still reminds me too much of “Cry Me a River” musically, but the chorus makes up for it. Unfortunately, the music change toward the end is unnecessary. “Blue Ocean Floor” is a bit out of place from the rest of the album. It has a slow, ambient sound to it that makes Timberlake’s voice sound unfamiliar to the ears. The whole album is a satisfying comeback. Unfortunately, it has some length issues where songs would continue on for 8 minutes with a music shift that ruins the initial groove you’re already used to. I would’ve preferred those tracks to be cut shorter and maybe offer two or three more tracks.

Christina Aguilera - Lotus (2012, USA) Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Your Body, Cease Fire, Around the World

I guess not many people liked Bionic. I thought it was a decent album, nothing to praise or gripe about. Anyway, we began with “Lotus Intro” which is mostly drums, some other random sounds, and Christina singing a bit randomly. “Army of Me” is a generic pseudo-power dance song that tries to deliver both vocally and musically, but falls a bit flat. Christina’s voice doesn’t quite suit the genericness of this melody. “Red Hot Kinda Love” seems like it’s trying to mix Back to Basics with the new, but seems awkward with the cutesy vocals. “Make the World Move” continues to bring back old elements from Back to Basics album, but just seems like faded recycle materials that not even the talented CeeLo Green can save. I will admit the only reason I bothered with this album was for “Your Body”. I really like this song and I’ve mentioned before that I like the music video. . It might blend in with what’s playing on the radio, but the arrangement works for Christina’s voice, especially compared to “Army of Me”. “Let There Be Love” seems more blantally like it’s trying to fit in with everything else, but it’s a fun little track despite it not complimenting Christina’s voice at all. She’s just not a dance singer. “Sing For Me” brings Christina to what she’s good at, emotional, slow paced songs that suit her vocals. “Blank Page” continues on that path of highlighting her voice with just piano in the background. Even though the previous tracks were better, but “Cease Fire” hits the mark more for my tastes. It packs a punch and doesn’t take away from Christina’s vocals. It might not have the poetic lyrics of “Blank Page”, but it’s still better than a lot of the wannabe uptempo tracks on here. “Around the World” is a total 180 from the previous track and brings out the bass and the bad girl in Christina. It seems like you should be prepared for such a track musically, but lyrically it’s a whole different subject matter and somehow I enjoy this silly track. “Circles” sounds like a track that should’ve been made during perhaps her first or second album. It’s too cutesy and high school drama. It tries to be the badass anthem with the clumsy rock sounds, but fails. We take another 180 with “Best of Me”. It brings in those power vocals and uplifting music to push Christina to the forefront. It’s a pretty song and immediately makes you forget “Circles”. “Just A Fool” brings out the strained vocals in this rock-ish ballad. “Light Up the Sky” tries to be Katy Perry’s “Fireworks”, but seems too generic and try hard for Christina. “Empty Words” is supposed to be empowering...I guess, but I’m completely zoned out by now. “Shut Up” tries to be naughty and in your face with hip-hop samples and profanity, but it just seems silly and should’ve been left off.

Three Days Grace - Transit of Venus (2012, USA) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Chalk Outline, Give into Me, Give Me A Reason, Unbreakable Heart

For me, this band has been consist in bringing good music, so I wasn’t expecting anything less from this album. “Sign of the Times” starts off at a slow, steady pace that gradually picks up just enough to not be overwhelming. “Chalk Outline” brings in a bit of the heaviness, mostly lyrically and a little bit in the electronics and guitar. It sounds like your standard Three Days Grace song pretty much. “The High Road” begins off minimal with a little guitar and vocal, but eases into a more powerful chorus. “Operate” sounds like something borrowed from Avenged Sevenfold with a slight twist. Not complaining, just an observation. “Anonymous” is essentially a slightly slow track, then delivers the punchline in the chorus before quieting down some for the verses. “Misery Loves My Company” is a little more aggressive and in your face just enough. The melody and chorus are kinda catchy. “Give In To Me” brings my full interest back in. It has an alluring tone to it during the verses, then really keeps you during the chorus with its convincing pleads. “Happiness” is fast paced and gets the blood running, then cools down just a little during the verses. “Give Me A Reason” is a slightly slower track compared to the previous, but I enjoy the arrangement. Everything softens after the intro, then gains a little power when the chorus and bridge hits. It flows very well and I can listen to this track repeatedly. “Time That Remains” brings in the pianos and acoustics and maintains the slight slow pace set from the previous track. It’s a good, uplifting song about life. “Expectations” really comes at you and has some interesting familiar sounds hanging out in the background. This is one of those tracks that carries a lot of attitude. “Broken Glass” has an interesting stop and go melody that works with the vocals surprisingly well. “Unbreakable Heart” brings back the acoustics occasionally and a good way to end the album. It goes in a slightly unexpected direction with the music, but it transitions quite smoothly with vocals and the punch of the chorus.

miss A – Independent Women Pt. III (2012, South Korea) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks:남자 없이 잘 살아, Madness

I was a little nervous coming into this mini-album due to the title and the possibilities JYP could do with it. Surprisingly, “남자 없이 잘 살아” got to its point of being independent, empowering, and catchy. I found myself repeating and singing along to the chorus on several occasions. “Ma Style” continues to carry on a seemingly “girl power” theme to it, but it’s not as interesting. Well, it is interesting, but doesn’t quite hook you as easily. “If I Were a Boy” automatically makes me think of Beyoncé’s rendition of the same title...and I despise that song. This song is not as catchy as Beyoncé’s, sad to say. It kinda just drags along with this sad merry-go-round music. “Madness” somehow lands into one of my favorites, despite its slowness. It’s beautiful and has a great maturity about it. The added male vocals weren’t that bad either. “Time’s Up” reminds me a little of Alexandra Stan’s “Mr. Saxobeat”. It seems a bit out of place compared to the tracks, but I guess they were trying to throw in something more upbeat and dancy.

t.A.T.u - Waste Management (2009, Russia) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: White Robe, Running Blind, Fly on the Wall, Don't Regret (Sniper Remix)

I know this album is old, but I happened to find it this year during the announcement of the duo reuniting for one performance. I didn’t know this album existed until I saw the video for “White Robe”, which happens to be the opening track to this album. I love love love this song so much! Everything just flows so perfectly. It keeps that t.A.T.u sound that they’ve carried from album to album, but add a little bit of newness to it. “You And I” sounds a bit of a rehash of “All About Us”, but it still manages to be enjoyable. “Sparks” is a bit of a hit and miss for me. It has an awkward electronic melody and the vocal arrangement is a little different from the usual. “Snowfalls” falls in the same category of awkwardness. Both of these tracks can be good with the right mood, but it seems a little experimental for the girls. “Martian Eyes” is a pure pop ballad in the girls’ native tongue. It has a simple, but out of this world sound to the melody that works with the vocals. “Little People” returns to the slightly clumsy electronic melody, but maintains its enjoyment to some extent. The vocals are a little strained in places and may sound a bit childish overall. Then we hit a pretty cool electronic instrumental track called “Waste Management”. “Running Blind” comes back with some familiar sounds from the girls that can be found in “Not Gonna Get Us”. “Fly on the Wall” has a couple vocal straining moments, but it doesn’t take away from the song too much. It’s a pretty simple track, but a nice one. “Time of the Moon” brings in a rock element to the album and a bit of a run-on vocal arrangement. It’s not bad, but definitely experimental for the duo. “Don’t Regret” seems like a continuation of “White Robe”, but a lot slower. “White Robe (Fly Dream Remix)” isn’t as good as the original. There are lots of vocal gaps and it takes away everything I love from the original version. “Running Blind (Transformer Remix)” makes the journey sound a little more epic and like this version just a little more than the original. I guess the original was too slow for me, but the slight tempo shift in “Don't Regret (Sniper Remix)” was just right for me to appreciate the song.

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Quick Music Reviews

Ruiza - Abyss (2012, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Sphere; Crepuscular Rays; Abyss, Deep Blue

Most know Ruiza as the lead guitarist of the visual kei band, D. This isn't his first solo instrumental effort. He previously released a single, Ao no Hahen (2001) and a mini album, Amenity Gain (2006). Serendipity opens this mini-album with a heavy guitar track that will  have D fans sitting up to listen. His influence is clearly evident on the band's sound if this track is any indication. Faith has more abrasive feel provided by the drums. At times, it almost seems as if it's a power struggle between Ruiza's guitar and the drums. Sphere returns to more of the Ruiza that D fans know well; melodic guitar with a heavier flare. Crepuscular Rays has a bit of an interesting Latin influence. It's certainly the song that stood out the most on this mini album for me. Erosion jumps back to his heavy metal roots while still being very listenable. The title track, Abyss, is most likely what I would say is his signature track. Most of his skills are put to work in this one. I'd recommend it to someone interested in hearing his style. Deep Blue is a sweeping piece that nearly begs for some vocalizations. I'd be interested in seeing what he could do with adding vocals and lyrics to it. Perhaps, a feminine voice would compliment it well.

 BENI - Satsuki Ame (2013, Japan) Rating: 5/5
Favorite Tracks: Satsuki Ame; Runaway

Satsuki Ame is exactly what I love from BENI. It's an elegant ballad that showcases her voice perfectly. She has a sweet sound in this one, almost as if she's waiting for a love to return with the rain. The b-side, Runaway, is a cover of Rats & Star (aka The Chanels) debut song. BENI puts her own spin on it, creating an upbeat, catchy pop sound that brightens the single greatly. Runaway was also  used in Coca Cola's Share a Coke and a Song campaign. 

Kaya - Taboo (2013, Japan) Rating: 1/5
Favorite Tracks: Taboo

It's been awhile since I've listened to a Kaya single and really enjoyed it. I went into this one with an open mind. The title track, Taboo, has a dance-pop vibe. It reminds me a bit of something Lady Gaga would put out. The only downfall is that it's not catchy enough to really stand out. The b-side, Infection, feels like a leftover from the Schwarz Stein days. It's a gothic circus gone wrong, but overall, it seems unpolished. The two tracks don't really feel as if they belong in the same release. Kaya's vocals have been turned up on Infection where they felt a bit dialed down on Taboo. I wouldn't skip Taboo came on my ipod. At the same time, I wouldn't be rushing to turn it up and jam along. Sadly, Infection would be skipped quickly.

 The Gazette - Fadeless (2013, Japan) Rating: 1.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Quiet

Fadeless has some odd female vocals that I could have done without. They don't really add anything to the song. There's nothing really outstanding about the song. By the end, it felt like it was stretched out a bit too long. Maybe it would have felt less drawn out if the female vocals had been removed or simply lessened. Quiet sounds more like what I remember of Gazette. It's more along the lines of Reila or Without a Trace. It was nice to really hear Kai's drumming get a bit of a shining moment in this one. Forbidden Beaver goes back to that generic sound from their last releases. This could easily be a song from a dozen visual kei bands. It's highly repetitive with some English thrown in. From this release, the only song I'd want to listen to again is Quiet. 

 Acid Black Cherry - Greed Greed Greed (2013, Japan) Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Kagayaki Nagara.... 

This isn't my favorite Acid Black Cherry release. Greed Greed Greed has the heavy rock sound that I expect from Acid Black Cherry. It's not a bad song, but it doesn't stand out to me like some of the past releases have. It feels very repetitive. This single's recreation track is Kagayaki Nagara.... originally by Hideaki Tokunaga is a pop ballad. It's sweet and cute, a fluffy little bit to ease you out of the heavier track. I will say that Yasu has a way of choosing his recreation tracks. I often tend to favor them over the rest of the release.  Both songs together reflect the light and dark play of the cover art. As with Kaya's release, I wouldn't actively seek these out. However, Kagayaki Nagara....gets a higher rating for me.

Monday, September 2, 2013


At A-Kon 23 in Dallas, TX, AYABIE held a Q&A for the fans and here is a summary of what was said and done at the event. This summarization was written by a good friend, Aurora, and I want to thank her for sending this to me and allowing me to share with you, my lovely Cult followers! Also, I want to thank Babel Entertainment for bringing AYABIE to Dallas and allowing the fans this opportunity. Lastly, a thank you to the members of AYABIE and their team for allowing us to become a little closer to them.

Written by: Aurora | Edited: Miko Suzahiru

Band Members
Yumehito - vocals
Takehito - guitar
Intetsu - bass
Kenzo - drums

Yumehito said he was inspired by Kabukicho for the concept of AYABIE.

A repeated answer Yumehito gave was how he enjoyed how much we cheered as compared to the Japanese audience.

When asked about an embarrassing moment from a band member, Yumehito instantly mentioned Kenzo. Kenzo refused to tell the tale so Yumehito enlightened us. The previous night after the concert, Kenzo became very intoxicated and proceeded to take off his belt to spank one of the A-KON staff members. This was then followed by Kenzo being spanked by said staff member with his own belt.

Yumehito said the worst thing that happened to them as a band was during a multi band live there was no one in the audience for their set.

For current favorite video games, Kenzo said Final Fantasy, Yumehito said Pokemon, Takehito said Monster Hunter, and Intetsu said Call of Duty.

Kenzo’s favorite band is KISS, Yumehito’s is Malice Mizer, Intetsu’s is Slayer and Takehito’s is X Japan.

When Ayabie first went overseas to Europe, they were so surprised at the amount of fans they had and the reception they received.

They were asked to label each member as a family member where I believe Takehito answered for them and said Intetsu was the grandpa, Yumehito was the son, Kenzo was labeled a dog after someone in the audience called out for it. Takehito agreed and also decided he would be a dog too.

Someone asked if they liked tacos in which Intetsu said “Yes! Very Texas!” [Fun Fact: One of my friends spotted three of the boys at Taco Bell ordering about $100 worth of food]

At one point someone’s phone began to go off while we were waiting for someone to say their question. Yumehito started dancing before taking the mic to say in English “Silent mode”.

They were asked to label themselves an animal. Kenzo said he was a sexy dog, Yumehito was a cute dog, Intetsu was a pretty cat, and Takehito said he was a husband. This was because a fan from Japan earlier said that Takehito was her husband.

Another fan from America asked for Intetsu’s hand in marriage which let to a very surprised Intetsu who replied, “Yes, lets get married tomorrow.”

When asked what their favorite anime was, Kenzo said he’d been watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ranma ½, Keroro, and Naruto. Intetsu said Fate Zero. Yumehito mentioned some old anime we weren’t familiar with and Gintama and Takehito said Dragonball.

In their free time, Yumehito likes to collect Kamen Rider, Intetsu likes to cook and have tea parties, Takehito likes to drive, drink, and sleep when he isn’t doing something music related. As Takehito said his hobbies Intetsu pantomimed them for the audience. Kenzo said he liked listening to music, watching movies and sleeping.

Kenzo’s best advice for people starting a band was to just do it.

Everyone said the language they want to learn is English so they can communicate with us better.

When asked to make a wish, Kenzo said his wish was for them to come again next year.

When asked if any of the members were dating, Yumehito said he had no girlfriend right now, but please go out with him. Intetsu said no because he was getting married tomorrow and Takehito said no because he was already the husband of the Japanese fan.

Intetsu said his favorite food was Taco Bell. Yumehito asked the band if they know/love sushi to which all of them laughed and were like “Yeah, of course!”