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Magdalen Hsu-Li


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Beautiful & fierce evocative/eclectic alternative pop/rock/folk. Her live shows have elements of performance art.

Status:

Most recent release, Smashing the Ceiling (2005)

See also:

Magdalen Hsu-Li's site

Comparisons:

...cutting edge avant-garde somewhat reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, to modern jazz, folk, pop á la Ani Difranco and Tori Amos. (jsutton@rahul.net)

Though definitely an original, Hsu-Li is very political and confrontational, in the vein of Ani Difranco but perhaps even more so. Some of her more evocative piano work reminds me of Tori Amos. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Covers/own material:

Own material

General comments:

Magdalen is very in-your-face and passionately political in her music and lyrics, which I love. Her style is very eclectic piano rock, ranging from very mellow to raging rock. And as one of the few Asian-Americans to enter the alternative rock scene, she brings a fresh perspective that we've not seen before. Very intriguing, and full of potential. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Magdalen Hsu-Li writes very personal songs and she doesn't use kid gloves or obtuse phrases to get across her point. She's from the new breed of female artists that gets right in your face, not to be arrogant or mean-spirited, but to rise to the level necessary to awaken awareness of unenlightened behavior sometimes evident in our society. (jsutton@rahul.net)

Comments about live performance:

I was fortunate enough to see her perform a small concert. It was in a lounge in the student union building, and there were only a dozen of us in the audience. She was wonderful. Her song "Lillian" was written about a sister who died before she was born, and it is one of the most moving songs i have ever heard. Especially when she is sitting there singing in front of you. I think she has a strong, assured presence when performing. And our little audience really appreciated the event. It was just her and her keyboard with a drummer. It was fun to watch the interplay between the two of them. (peskura@scn.org)

I saw Magdalen Hsu-Li perform on April 12, 1999, and she put on a great show to an undeservedly small audience. She performed all of her consciousness-rising songs from Evolution, but also peppered the night with clever bits of poetry and spoken word and a number of songs not available on album. Perhaps most impressive was her interplay with her phenomenal drummer, Deb Lane, as the duo performed and improvised off each other tremendously well. Magdalen's warm stage presence belied her confrontational and thought-provoking lyrics, poetry, and stories, and her voice is rare in that it comes across better live than on CD. A very fine concert. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

So tonight was Magdalen Hsu-Li's show at the Borders Books in Marietta, Georgia...I was blown away by Magdalen's lovely piano and evocative lyrics etc.... (2/00, John.Drummond)

Recommended first album:

Evolution

Recordings:


Muscle and Bone

Release info:

1997—ChickPop Records—CPR001

Availability:

Out of print; may be available at a few Borders bookstores around the country, or used stores

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Magdalen Hsu-Li—vocals, keyboard, piano
Dale Fanning—drums and percussion
Christine Gunn—cello
Randy Neal—acoustic and electric guitar
and Paul Hinklin—bass

Produced by:

Dale Fanning and Magdalen Hsu-Li

Comments:

I love her music. Especially her first CD, Muscle and Bone. (peskura@scn.org)

Evolution

Release info:

1998—ChickPop Records, 604 E. Union, Seattle, WA, 98122, U.S.A.—cpr003

Availability:

Somewhat tough to find in stores, although some Border's Bookstores and Tower Records carry it; it can be ordered on-line from the Harmony Ridge Web Site, Goldenrod Music, and Ladyslipper Music

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Magdalen Hsu-Li—vocals, piano, synth bass, drum, organ, flute, string, synth, mark tree, & tambourine pads
Dale Fanning—drums, kick drum, jembe, dumbeck, shakers, military drum, cymbals, shaker, tambourine
Timothy Young—acoustic and electric guitars
Gene Matthews—bass

Guest artists:

Alicia Allen—violin
Peter Hill—shakahachi
Christine Gunn—cello
and Paul Hinklin—bass

Produced by:

Dale Fanning and Magdalen Hsu-Li

Comments:

"Chick Pop" is a good example of the male-dominated music industry's attitude toward female artists, and sadly, too often the American status quo, as evidenced by: "Chick Pop, Chick Pop / Singing in America...land of the free / Home of the brave home of the slaves / Home of the slaves to GOD and Christianity." "Submissive" is another look at the male attitudes with respect to Asian women. It's written from the experience of being there, facing the fear, and doing something definitely not 'submissive' about it. Magdalen's music to me ranges from cutting edge avant-garde somewhat reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, to modern jazz, folk, pop á la Ani Difranco and Tori Amos. She plays a very powerful hard-driving piano, and has assembled a fine array of musicians to complement her vision and musical essence. (jsutton@rahul.net)

I actually found it a little mainstream for my personal tastes. (Neile)

My favorite composition here is "Submissive," which has Hsu-Li railing against the notion of what Asian women 'should be'. The song has great lyrics and an intriguing story to tell, while still being extremely catchy and melodic. Hsu-Li has deftly crafted a song that is intensely personal and political, yet has you walking away singing the " 'Why can't you be submissive / like you Asian girls should be', / said one minority / to another minority" chorus for the rest of the day. I also loved the swirling and ranting "Chick Pop"; its heavy percussion, piano, and anger reminds me a little of Tori Amos, but definitely is blaringly original in its own right. Magdalen's voice is simple and unaffected, and works well with the material here. The piano playing is beautiful and expressive, and the percussion strong and powerful throughout. Hsu-Li's eclecticism also is impressive, as she'll go from the catchy piano pop of "Submissive" to the stirring ballad "Lillian" to the edgy alternative rock of "Chick Pop" without missing a beat. The release is only eight songs long and she's better appreciated live, but Evolution still is a powerful, passionate, and intelligent, with an admirable social conscious. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)


Fire

Release info:

2001—Chickpop Records—CPR004

Availability:

Available from Magdalen and hipper stores.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of smooth pop with biting lyrics

Group members:

Magdalen Hsu-Li—vocals, piano, triangle, Hammond organ, clavinet, kurzweil programming
Dale Fanning—Hammond organ, clavinet, kurweil programming, drums, percussion, backing vocals, drum loops
Timothy Young—guitars
Arne Livingston—basses

Guest artists:

Dave Carter—trumpet, flugelhorn
Christine Gunn—cello

Produced by:

Magdalen Hsu-Li, Dale Fanning, Ryan Hadlock

Comments:

I read all the other comments about her fiery spirit and confrontational manner and was looking forward to a really dramatic album. Instead I find myself agreeing with Neile. There is an unlisted bonus track that is a dramatic change of pace, but the album as a whole is very smooth and easy on the ears. Magdalen has a fine voice and is a good piano player, but I'm not hit with anything that distinguishes this from the other decent piano-playing singers I've been exposed to.
     There are some nice touches throughout, with some tasty cello on one track and atmospheric drum programming on another. The lyrics are uniformly personal and evocative, and occasionally even provocative. The album reads very well, addressing issues of race, identity, generational differences and isolation, as well as a touching ode to Matthew Shepard. In fact, there really is a lot that is confrontational on the album, but that isn't reflected in the pretty songs, which sonically stick to a familiar piano/vocal sound.
     This seems a particular shame when you get to the bonus track, a flailing rocker with wild piano and frenzied vocals. Magdalen shrieks and growls and refuses to be ignored. I like what goes before. The subtle melodies and tasteful playing will probably grow on me over time. But if she mixed that wild energy into some of these other tracks, I might be gushing along with the others. I suspect all of this music really comes to life in a live performance. (1/02, neal)

Further info:

Hsu-Li's song "Monkey Girl," from Evolution was nominated for a 1998 Gay & Lesbian Music Award for Best Out Song. More info at http://www.glama.com.


Thanks to Neal Copperman and Mark Miazga for work on this entry.

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