Sunday, April 17, 2011
Sorry for the delay, it's just that things were hectic last week - graduation, graduates' ball, family celebrations left and right, sleepovers, gallivanting with friends in celebration, burning all my university exam reviewers and deleting all my high school files, you know, the usual? Hahah.
I've only gotten the chance to sit down and finish writing this now, with the help of my spankin' new audio technica headphones.
So far, March was THE month of releases left and right - anyone who mattered (and even those who didn't) had something out. Or at least was gearing up to have something out. And to be honest with you, majority of the major releases (LOL) were actually pretty darn good.
HoMin/TVXQ - "이것만은 알고가 독백 (Before U Go)"
From "Keep Your Head Down" Repackaged
Whenever I hear this song I want to cry with joy. I kid you not. When I saw the first live performance of this I had the volume so high my mom could hear it from the kitchen (and we have a relatively big house, mind you) and I was literally crying because it was so gorgeous.
This is everything Yoo Young Jin stands for - it's like SM The Ballad's "Hot Times" and "Beautiful Girls" (the one on the SNSD live album? yeah.) were the prototypes for this song. They don't sound alike, but a lot of elements from both songs were taken, mixed together and bettered. The harmonies are swoon-worthy - hearing them live or recorded makes me want to cry because they're so gorgeous. I can't emphasize the power of beautiful harmonies enough - it will make or break a song, frankly.
Yoo Young Jin is one sneaky bastard, that's all I have to say. The recording is stunning, but you listen closely and you hear all these little elements - an acoustic guitar line, the "sprinkles"/chymes - but then you listen to the live performances and you just wanna die with joy. The slight tweaks to the arrangement, the addition of another harmony line at the chorus, the shifts in instrumentation - Yoo Young Jin why are you so damn brilliant?
Another reason why this song just works is because it fits both Yunho and Changmin vocally - it's everything they can do, and everything they were never able to do because Junsu, Jaejoong and Yoochun did it better than them. This song, and the two of them singing it, just proves a point I've raised long ago - I fall to my feet at Jaejoong's voice, I adore Junsu's, and Yoochun's I praise, but Yunho and Changmin are something too. Yunho and Changmin are good singers, they know what they're doing and they know how to do it well, it's just that you put them beside people like Jaejoong and Junsu and they pale in comparison. However that doesn't mean they're not good - they are.
The simple fact that they stood beside what could very well be Asia's best voices and didn't crumble or run away in fear - that shows how good they are. Remember, DBSK is not a "dream team" because they're all talented in different things, DBSK is a dream team because they are five lead vocalists of dissolved SM project groups. LEAD SINGERS. You put five lead singers together and you'd think you'd have the five of them trying to outdo each other, but they didn't - because they knew their strengths and they stuck to that. However, that also meant that there were times when certain people never got to show that they're able to do certain things.
And you know what? HoMin showed exactly what they can do on this song - sing damn well. Put them beside any lead singer of an idol group now and they win - by a really long mile. I kid you not.
Girls' Day - "반짝반짝"
From "Girl's Day Party #3"
Now because words are simply not enough to describe what I think about this song, and Girl's Day in general, I've prepared a graph for you guys! LOL. Let's just got this out of the way before I find anything more to complain about. Hahah.
So basically this new single is like a less decent "Nothing Lasts Forever", or a better "whateverthenameofthatsinglewas" - there're two ways of looking at it hahah. So anyway. There. It's got much better vocals than their first single, although autotuned almost as bad at the verses, and as a whole the arrangement and production are much better. But it's far too cutesy to the point of being squeaky and annoying in the bad way - it just goes on and on and on and on and around in circles until the song ends.
And how they pronounce the "반" in "반짝반짝" pisses me off too lol. So does the girl who "stars" in the video - she makes me want to throw up. Literally. I almost did, actually.
In my opinion these girls most probably do have the chops to do more, because "Nothing Lasts Forever", although a little all over the place in my opinion, was pretty good. Nothing special, but it was a decent song. And then they go back to this? Oh well.
Lee Haeri - "Can You Hear Me?"
From "Tears of Heaven"
I admit that I only really listened to this because Junsu stars in this musical and he sings this too on stage, but this is honestly one of the few songs that have literally brought me to tears at the first listen. I can understand some of the lyrics and the general theme of the song and it's sad and all - but my God the melody, the arrangement, the vocals are spot-on.
The strings add dimension to the very simple piano part, and everything starts out really soft and floaty, but when the percussion and the guitar parts come in, along with a rather pretty backing vocal line, I just lost it. There's a sense of urgency to the entire song, and everything explodes, without losing that character the song had at the beginning, and the stunning melody.
Let's take a moment to worship Lee Haeri's epic vocals, shall we? I swear, no matter how gorgeous the song itself is, and no matter how much the arrangement makes me want to cry, it's the delivery that delivers the final blow. And in this case, she knocked it out like hell. She doesn't push it too much - she's not screaming in your face, forcing you to think she's a good singer. And she doesn't shower you with belting and high notes either - she has a gorgeous voice because it really is gorgeous, and she knows how to use it.
Just thinking of Junsu in the recording sends shivers down my spine.
Namie Amuro with After School - "Make It Happen"
This is technically k-pop. Technically. OK it's not. But After School are here, and I like the song. And besides, I'll be talking about KARA's "Jet Coaster Love" too, and this is my list, so who says I can't include this? Anyway.
Avex, huh? Smart move, Pledis, very smart move. For an agency that doesn't really crank out stars like a factory, they're really playing their cards right with After School. They better have an epic comeback next month or I'm gonna explode with rage - I'm already putting my "I only like talent" reputation on the line for these girls, I need nothing less than brilliance from them!
So the song. It's very Namie, it's very Japanese, it's very Avex - it's standard. There's nothing epicly bad about the song, but there's nothing extremely special about it either. The rather eyebrow raise-worthy English can be overlooked, and we've heard songs like this a million times before, but it's not really enough for the song to be bad or anything.
It's got great production, an arrangement with attention to dynamics, a very clean melody and literally it's like a cheesecake. Here I go again with my food analogies. Call me crazy or something, but seriously - this song is like a cheesecake.
I rest my case.
[Full MV] Namie Amuro ft. AFTER SCHOOL - Make It... by ASFVariety
Infinite - "Nothing's Over"
"Nothing's Over" is more like their debut single than anything, and for one it's rather confusing because you have similarities with "Come Back to Me", but with the maturity they had in "Before The Dawn", but it sounds like neither. And once again, that can either be a good thing, or a bad thing.
This is one of the songs that are okay, but borderline amazing for me. It's close, but not quite though. If I may say so though, Infinite are turning into the Beast of their generation of boybands. That's a complement. They're not the most talented people - they can't belt out high notes like it's second nature or anything like that - but you can see that they really do try, and their effort shows. And my god do they dance in sync, it freaks me out sometimes how together they are when they dance.
The melody is there, although a little choppy at the verses and a bit overpowered by the rapping, the arrangement very tight, like all their singles, and the dynamics in place. It has enough of everything to induce foot-tapping, and maybe even random dancing around your room, which is always a good thing. All they really have to do is learn how to perform this extremely well and I'm sold.
Point is, the talent is there, the material is more or less decent, and they have a solid backing - the only thing stopping them from succeeding is time, and pretty soon that'll have to make way for them too. IF THEY GET FAMOUS I CALLED IT! I was the one who believed in them right from the beginning LOL.
KARA - "Jet Coaster Love"
This song in particular brings back memories for me, because it came out when I was sick with that horrid tropical virus last month and because of it I didn't go to Singapore which pissed me off. Anyway. Yes.
To be honest with you, I'm seriously liking Kara now, material-wise. Emphasis on the NOW and MATERIAL-WISE. If not for the "they can't sing live to save their lives" situation, they'd probably be one of my favorites. So basically as long as I don't watch them sing the songs live, everything during and after the "Lupin" era is fantastic for me, especially "Lupin" and "Jumping".
I like this song, actually, well for the most part at least. It's very Japanese production and arrangement-wise, and the part just after the first chorus, and even the middle 8, is stunning, and nice contrast to the rest of the song. That's it - the song has contrast. The verses are strong, they have just the right amount of spunk and grace, the bridges are nice and floaty, and the chorus is catchy.
It's just a little too cutesy at the chorus for my taste, but it's bearable.
Kim Hyung Joon - "Heaven"
From "My Girl"
SS501 are not untalented, and I believe I've said that before, it's just that I never really adored any of their material, in Korea or Japan, so I never took the time to learn all their voices inside out. I know all their names and basic stuff about them because I had to write about them during my time as a k-pop news writer/editor-in-chief, but that's about it.
Which is probably why I never really took notice of Hyung Joon. I knew him as the guy who's got almost the same name as Hyun Joong, who's Jaejoong's bff, and the guy with the now ex-U-Kiss member for a brother. He does have a nice voice though. Not stunning or anything, but I assume that years of singing, both in Korea and Japan, whipped him into shape.
Because seriously, this song is stunning in every single way possible. Yeah sure you've probably heard the piano line somewhere else, and the melody isn't exactly the most original thing ever, but the combination of the two, mixed with Hyung Joon's competent vocals and a spot-on arrangement, make my head want to explode. With joy.
It's simple. It's a simple orchestration with a simple melody and an average voice, but sometimes music does things to you that you can't really explain nor justify. It's like a tame, slightly less stunning version, of JYJ's "Long Way", which I named my favorite song of 2010, mind you.
I can talk about how gorgeous the melody is all day, and maybe one day I will, but I will leave it at that for now.
ZE:A - "Here I Am"
In the ZE:A vs. Infinite battle, which I started myself and has nothing to do with history because ZE:A were alive long before Infinite and only started because they released stuff around the same time in March (my iTunes library, which never lies, says I added them on the same day), Infinite win. Without a doubt. Better vocals, better material, better performances.
I mean come on, "Mazeltov"? "Man to Man", which I don't even want to see in my iTunes library because it disgusts me? Total fails. Their only good single was "Day By Day" and although it was actually kinda really good, they just had to follow it up with a pathetic excuse for a song that was "Man to Man". (or however you spell it)
They've improved, a lot, though. This new single is actually a song! Someone clearly got the picture. The hook is nice, not too imposing or loud, but to be honest the entire package lacks intensity. The vocals at the chorus are light, but a little too airy, the verses too calm, and even the high note sound half-baked. There's no BAM or sudden break downs - the song just kinda goes on and on and on and on until the song ends.
It has good points, but none of them are enough to deliver and make the song memorable, really. This will be forgotten in a few months, trust me. No variety show's gonna parody this and expect people to laugh like there's no tomorrow.
4Minute - "Heart to Heart"
From "Steal 20"
Just to be clear, I'd rather talk about "Mirror Mirror", but I'm recapping everything from January to March, and "Mirror Mirror" was out in April, so we'll get to that next time.
Heart to Heart, the song, is decent at best. It has a catchy chorus, decent production, a cohesive arrangement and it does have its moments, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't fit 4Minute. It doesn't fit them because it brings our the fact that 4Minute vocals are throaty, rough in the bad way, and cheap. I mean OK, Gayoon has a big voice and I like Jiyoon's vocals, but let's be honest - they're not suited to songs like this.
The vocals really make the song a lot less decent that it could've been. Seriously, my ears hurt just thinking of the chorus, and it doesn't help that the hook is in English and requires a tad bit of belting. Their voices are rough to start with, and they still have very little technique. Jiyoon is the better among them, but even she isn't that good. She's fine though.
As much as I'm not their biggest fan, if there's one thing they did right before "Heart to Heart", it's that Cube knew how to choose their repertoire, or at least they knew what to do with the songs so their vocals would sound apt and that much more tasteful (e.g., the ever so slight autotune on "What A Girl Wants").
CN Blue - "Intuition"
From "First Step"
Well, maybe partially OK. OK verging on bleh.
I had a never-publicized CN Blue phase last year, just letting everyone know. Before it's too late. That and I grew up watching bands record albums and write songs, so I think I'm a little more qualified to write about CN Blue than I am writing about pop, to be honest.
CN Blue are a novelty in kpop - apart from FT Island, who're under the same agency so it doesn't really count that much, and a spattering of indie acts, there haven't been that many bands with the drum-base-guitar-vocals set-up who've really gotten really popular lately. And I think that's why they got as famous as they did. I mean I know they have a cult following in Japan and obviously that amounts to a lot, but the success in Korea is just mind-blowing. (They beat HoMin on Music Bank in the first week of this month, I'll give them that)
"I'm A Loner" was spunky, and personally I adored the verses. Just the verses - the chorus annoyed me after a while. The drum treatment made the entire song, in my opinion - they were raw, they sounded real, but they were so clean and smooth at the same time. The guitars were leaning towards American-style production, and the melody was strong. And my god was the chorus catchy as hell. They had all the makings of a hit, except for the fact that the song actually had actual drums and a few other things.
But why am I talking about "I'm a Loner" instead of "Intuition"? Well, because it's like every CN Blue lead single after "I'm a Loner", which is pretty much every other Korean CN Blue single, sounds like "I'm a Loner". I understand wanting to make a signature sound, especially if the band themselves write the material, but it seems like Yonghwa, who I assume is writing all these lead singles, doesn't get it.
Signature sound does not mean taking a song that worked, changing the key, tinkering with a few chords here a there, writing new lyrics, adding some "bad-ass" electric guitar lines, and changing the title. Those "stop everything and sing a line" parts, although cool, are being overused way too much, and the choruses are the same kind of repetitiveness, plus the short parts after the chorus? Aren't we a little to obvious now?
I'm starting to think that this is all Yonghwa is capable of, to be honest, or that this is his idea of a "hit song". I mean okay, it technically is a hit song now, but mark my words - people will get tired of this one day, and if CN Blue don't wanna be a "afewhitswhichallsoundthesame-wonder", they better hurry the hell up and deliver.
U-Kiss - "0330"
From "Bran New Kiss"
I've never really liked U-Kiss, but I've never hated their guts either. I was there during "Man Man Hani" and to be honest with you that single was pretty decent. The proceeding singles ranged from blegh to nothing special, but in the wake of member changes they present us with this masterpiece.
When I first heard this I had a strange feeling that I'd like it, and I do. A lot? Hell yeah. As much as Mel is ready to have me sliced into tiny little pieces for saying I like the song now, I think I'll sacrifice that to listen to this lol.
It's a simple song, with a piano line that's a slight variation of stuff we've all heard before, a simple, repetitive but not so repetitive melody, surprisingly strong production (or is it just my new headphones?) and no predominant hook, which is unorthodox for kpop - but throw everything together and my god is it gorgeous.
Allow me to backtrack on something I just said - the song doesn't have a predominant hook. It doesn't. Or at least one as short as "sorry sorry" or "I hate this love song" or "I got that SOUP love" (LOL). And I'm very pleased at how everything turned out, considering that miniscule detail - basically the entire chorus, or maybe half of it, is the hook. And it blatantly made the song catchy but far from annoying.
The rapping is bearable, but I think over 2 years in k-pop has made me learn to either tune out rap, or appreciate it. In this case, I'm appreciating it. Not a lot, but enough. And I like how it ends too - it's the type of song that will go on and on and on and on and ooooooooon, but they cut it at just the right time, in just the right way, a little after everything got too chaotic, but just before the song became a bore. And it's much harder to end a song well than it is to start it well.
Super Junior M - "Perfection" (Chinese/Korean)
I'm not so hot over this, but it's very SM and very new and rather good. The Chinese version is a bit more graceful than the Korean one, mainly because Chinese is a much more graceful language to start with, but apart from that they're practically the same.
Everything about the song - from the production, to the melody, to the processing, to the hook - screams SME. Therefore, it's a strong song. I like the synths, and I like the guitar lines at the beginning, even if they remind me of "Hoot" and another recent major release I can't quite pinpoint.
Other than that, there's nothing else to say, really.
Chi Chi - "장난치지마"
The first thing that came to mind when I heard this song was "WHAT IN HEAVEN'S NAME IS THIS ATROCIOUS THING?!", and even after I calmed down a bit I still couldn't stand the song. The hook, both instrumental and vocal (oh wait, they're the same LOL), sounds like it's straight out of those 90's swede/German pop that I had to endure when I was going through pop history back when I was a new blogger.
You know, the type that goes on and on and on and yet gets nowhere AND pisses you off in the process? For about 97% of the song, that's how I feel - pissed off.
However, I tried looking for some salvageable part, and the heavens granted my wish. YESSS. The middle 8 is probably the most decent part of the song and even though it's not close to good, it's a start. A pretty OK start.
Can they sing? Who knows - the song's too bad for me to be able to draw any solid conclusion, and when I hear it I just want it to be over quicker, so I might listen to their next single just to see if they can. If they ever see the light of one.
Orange Caramel - "Bangkok City" (Chinese/Korean)
From "Bangkok City"
If you told me this was a cover of some German/Swedish/Europop act like STEPS or beFour (I can't believe I still remember them), I wouldn't be surprised. At all. Because I have a very strong hunch that I'm on the right track with thinking that and no one's around to verify that for me.
"Bangkok City" is just a step above that Chi Chi song, mainly because of the better production and the less blatant and not that in-your-face cheap melody. But that doesn't mean it's any good. If this was released in Europe or even the US I don't even have to guess that it'll have a gazillion remixes on the maxi single.
Oh how I miss writing like that. I can't wait for k-pop to get more sophisticated, if that means having a history more than 20/30 years long, official sales charts that really count, and actual singlessssss. But that's just me. Anyway.
Their voices still annoy me, After School should hurry and come back as the full group because Orange Caramel are getting on my nerves now with their non-existent brilliance and their sub-par singles.
I return to my regular blogging schedule on TUESDAY. With a single review. A full-length one. Hopefully. And I'll start working on my After School commentary as well, so that just come before the end of the month. If it sees the light of day, that is.
Leave me lots of comments - I've been reading them over the past few days and I'll be replying in the coming days. :D