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In 2008, Asian and Asian American artists brought beats, rhymes, and musical inspiration. APA recalls its favorite tracks of the year.
CSS sweeps you off your feet in "Air Painter," an electro-pop love song from the group's sophomore release, Donkey. Vibrant synths and danceable beats back a litany of romantic requests ("Tell me your stories. Write down your secrets...") that take a turn for the unexpected with lines like "Get me a sandwich." Unexpected is what CSS does best, after all. The Brazilian art rockers introduced themselves in a track called "CSS Suxxx," on their 2006 self titled debut -- an album that hit big in the indie scene with its infectious DIY beats and the tongue-and-cheek humor of "Meeting Paris Hilton" and "Music is My Hot, Hot Sex." In "Air Painter," the odd and unexpected become charming, playful, and even sentimental, thanks to the sultry, sweet vocals of CSS's often glitter or rainbow clad frontwoman, Lovefoxxx (Luísa Hanaê Matsushita). –-Ana La O'
This theme from Taiwan's mega-hit Cape No. 7 became a hit on the radio, on MTV, and as a ring-tone. Its anthemic chorus and paean to youthful freedom made it a karaoke favorite. Most of all, its hummable hook kept Cape No. 7 on the minds of audiences for months. --Brian Hu
I could've easily chosen "Jai Ho," the Oscar-nominated song over Slumdog's crowd-pleasing ending credits, sung by the great Sukhwinder Singh and complete with a Bollywood-inspired dance. Or I could have picked M.I.A.'s Grammy-nominated "Paper Planes." But I had to go with "Ringga Ringga," "Mausam & Escape" and "Riots." Together they represent Rahman's incredible musical sensibility (M.I.A. described him as "India's Timbaland") that goes beyond Slumdog Millionaire and speaks to the more than 15 years he's been composing music. In "Ringga Ringga," Rahman brings together singers Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun for a hypnotic beat; in "Mausam & Escape," he creates a mood-inspiring sitar-driven instrumental; and in "Riots," he gives us an electronic heartbeat that is as good a stand-alone track as any – and whose only fault is that it's too short. --Rowena Aquino
Everywhere At Once, with the live band exchanged for for looping samples, was not my favorite Lyrics Born album, but LB has settled nicely into his known niche of funk in "I Like It, I Love It." His video for this song speaks for itself. It's a party song all the way -- its classic club vibe for the twenty-one plus crowd, but lyrics that are still teen safe and relatable. --LiAnn Ishizuka
"Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)" rings like an anthem for the broken hearted -- but no sad bastards here. The track sounds off with pounding percussion and bright acoustic chords, even as singer Thao Nguyen asks: "Oh how could they be liars? They assured me health, life, and fire." Played live, "Beat" inspires a healthy dose of head banging as I found at the band's summer show at Los Angeles' Troubadour. As resilient as it is vulnerable, it's a fitting opening for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down's 2008 release, We Brave Bee Stings and All, which delivers an infectious mix of warmth, exuberance, and sharp wit. –-Ana La O'
"Aren't You Glad" is a track sung entirely in English, off his latest album, Don't Want to Let Go. I've been a longtime fan of Eason's music, and the man shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The song itself is very simple, but he turns it into something quite extraoridinary. --Kanara Ty
Psychedelic surfer rock featuring a female Cambodian vocalist? Yep, that's exactly what Dengue Fever is all about. "Tiger Phone Card" is Dengue Fever's signature song, featuring a bit of American indie rock with Cambodian pop to deliver a distinctly fresh sound. --William Hong
While Far East Movement's sophomore album Animal has been on repeat since it arrived in my hands a week ago, it's this particular track that I'll pump up to full blast because essentially it's just a fun track to bust out your "stunna shades and gangsta lean" to. I've been looking for a great dance track for the last couple of months, and this one fulfilled that need quite well. I'm hoping the music video will be just as fun. --Kanara Ty
Nearing the final track of Rachael Yamagata's two-disc sophomore effort, Elephants... Teeth Sinking Into Heart, we find that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Disc-one reveals Yamagata's darker side but the bridging transition is beautiful. In "Horizon," Yamagata's reflection of her naïve past is given some sensibility, yet we're still unsure about the future. Weighty piano chords rock elegantly against the sultry depth in her voice, and this allows her talents as a pianist to receive the limelight. The little harmony we hear is of the song's one-word title, melding richly together. But what makes "Horizon" stand out isn't just its hopeful character or its fifteen minute timestamp. As the silence and the expected ending begins, that's when instrumental intensity strikes -- keys pounding. We finally make out that rough edgy background of an electric guitar. Another four minutes of silence but Yamagata's acapella voice comforts our ears. And just as quick, a speedy tempo welcomes the next track, "Sidedish Friend," the continuation of a grittier second disc. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Led by charismatic frontwoman Chaisiri Lee, PaperDoll brings to the table bouncy, No Doubt inspired pop punk with songs like "Everything is Ok." Their self-released debut album Ballad Nerd Pop is a fun and buoyant throwback to sounds from the 80s and 90s, but still manages to be infectiously enjoyable today. --William Hong
The in-store partnership of Apple's iTunes and Starbucks created something few companies can boast. Since starting their "Song of the Day" deal where downloads of selected songs are free on iTunes (with or without purchase) back in 2007, they've moved onto "Pick of the Week." That's where I first found/heard/discovered rising indie/folk artist Priscilla Ahn. The tiny-sized paper had your basic album info and a download code. Ahn's "Dream" off her debut A Good Day release has been a quaint and pleasant surprise. I guess it's a big deal when people start comparing you to Norah Jones, when your songs get network airtime on the season finale of Grey's Anatomy, or even when your "Pick of the Week" card appears all over Starbucks. This Los Angeles girl has a lot of buzz and her live appearances in this year's Hotel Café Tour proved equally successful. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Rapper/producer CHOPS drops references from Asian American icons (like Vincent Chin) to commenting on recent Asian flicks ("nobody could be my equal/at least until I'm Departed like Infernal Affairs with white people") in this track that'll appeal to the Angry Asian Man crowd. It's fun, has a bit of social commentary -- but nothing heavy-handed -- making it the perfect opening for Jessica Yu's Ping Pong Playa. --William Hong
So what if Hikki's Heart Station was a re-release of most of her old chart-topping hits like "Flavor of Life" (the world's most downloaded digital single) and "Boku wa Kuma." I didn't feel like the album itself was giving me less. Especially with the song "Stay Gold," which makes use of a soothing piano hook and is reminiscent of her 2002 "Deep River" ballad. The song begins with the chorus: "Daisuki dakara zutto / nanni mo shinpai iranai wa / My darling Stay gold / mujaki ni waratte kudasai na itsumademo" (Because I love you / You don't have to worry about anything / My Darling, Stay Gold / Please smile innocently... Forever]. We can imagine her request to a distant love. First played on a Japanese beauty commercial, "Stay Gold" will also be featured in the 2009 remake of a Doraemon classic, The New Record of Nobita: Spaceblazer, set to release in March. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Back to APA's Best of 2008 issue
Date Posted: 1/2/2009