Monday, April 21, 2008

Thought Asian chicks couldn't rock out?

Experimental pop musician Jihae (a 1.5 generation Korean-American currently living and working in Manhattan) released her debut album My Heart is an Elephant in December 2007.  Though she may be relatively new to the scene, Jihae's work has garnered so much attention among the New York art crowd that the album features cameos by both filmmaker (and drummer) Michel Gondry and Lenny Kravitz.  It was also produced by Patrick McCarthy, best known for his production work with REM.

Jihae's vocals are delicate and breathy but never overly sentimental (think a depressed version of Feist), and usually set up against a backdrop of low-res electronic washes, creating a sort of disillusioned, urban beauty.  Every moment of the album seems devoted to artistry and experimentalism, and her website displays a fascination with the relationship between audio and video. Though her lyrics contain very few references to her ethnicity, the music creates a feeling of being lost within a dreary, industrial reality, and this effect, I think, speaks for itself.

Below is an excerpt from the documentary "Chorus," featuring Jihae. After so little mention of her heritage on the album, it's interesting to hear her talking about her mother and grandmother.

And here's another clip of Jihae performing a cover of Nina Simone's "Do I Move You."

Another one of my favorite independent Asian-American musicians is Vietnamese guitarist Carol Bui, who I first found out about after she performed in the AIR (Asians in Rock) Tour a few years ago. The girl can definitely rock out, and songs like "Hyphen-American" and "Bangkok" directly address her Vietnamese-American heritage.

Unfortunately, she still only plays small venues, and there are only a few grainy videos on YouTube. I have to admit, her music's not always as melodic as I usually like, but I think the overall effect is fantastic.  Here's the title track from her 2004 album "This is How I Recover."

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