But enough about me! I guess this is also the right time to make a "comeback" because of the influx of releases -- I can pick up from my last post where I complained about a lack of major releases lined up for the start of 2015. If anything, this year is shaping up to be a great year for the music side of K-pop.
So I'll be talking about some (not all!) of my favorite releases from February and the first half of March. There will be part 2 in the next few days because I don't have much schoolwork to do this weekend!
Amber - "Shake That Brass" (feat. Taeyeon of SNSD)
Like anyone, I'm really happy when an act gives us a pleasantly surprising release -- and I put it down to neutral expectations (not so much hype, but enough that I actually know of it) laced with competent delivery. "Shake That Brass" is a classic example of what I like to call the "SM Slow Burn." It's no "Genie," and I really can't speak for the technical aspects of Amber's rapping (I may have watched "Show Me The Money 3" recently and listened to my fair share of Infinite H, but that's nothing), but "Shake That Brass" works as a package. At the same time, it's not totally dependent on non-musical aspects -- I can and will listen to just the audio of "Shake That Brass." I think one of the most important elements in the song is, obviously, the brass hook. It's catchy but not annoying, mainly because it doesn't just loop throughout the whole song -- it appears at critical moments, and is present for just the right amount of time for you to remember it. And as a whole, "Shake That Brass" is very Amber -- it's a little bit of f(x), and there's nothing wrong with that because, after all, Amber is in f(x), a little bit of SM, but also a little bit not. "Shake That Brass" is fresh, but not alien.
FIESTAR - "불 좀 꺼줘요"
While I (sort of) understood "One More," the last FIESTAR single I genuinely liked was "We Don't Stop." So you can imagine how surprised I was when "Black Label" was consistently and cohesively strong. It's not a mind-blowing EP nor is it game-changing, but in the context of FIESTAR's repertoire it's definitely their best. "불 좀 꺼줘요", my favorite track from a strong line-up of songs, is the right parts melodious, sexy, and spunky -- and it's the kind of song that keeps me alert through all-nighters without hitting me over the head.
Wheesung and Ailee - "Kiss"
Despite her passable repertoire, what sustains my strong interest in Ailee is the fact that she's so dynamic a singer. "Kiss" demonstrates Ailee's flexibility, and how she doesn't have to scream her way through a song (though she does that well too) to prove she's a good singer. On the song, Ailee's vocals switch from just the right amount of cutesy at the verses, to smooth caresses at the bridge, to stable, controlled belting when the song calls for it. Throw in Wheesung's stable, rich vocals and "Kiss" is one of the best "chill" songs I've heard in a very long time. This is what I mean when I complain about how people mistake "chill" for "lazy" -- "Kiss" is smooth and melodious, but it has tension both between Wheesung and Ailee, and in their individual performances. It's relaxing, but it doesn't fade into oblivion.
VIXX - "이별공식"
I have a soft spot for cheesy songs with beautiful melodies, and honestly that's why I got interested in VIXX's debut in the first place ("Starlight" and "Superhero" are classics, honestly). And so I unashamedly adore "이별공식" -- it's well-done, on-purpose, cheese that's just the right balance between dated elements and cutting-edge production. You find the 80s/90s cheese in the song's key elements: the synth loop, the drum machine, and the practically monotonous melody of the chorus followed by a short, catchy, but melodic hook. But these happen alongside sharp production, pronounced dynamics and punchy transitions -- qualities of 2010s releases. "이별공식" is cheese that was clearly thought through.
XIA - "Flower" (Feat. Tablo of Epik High)
I never knew I wanted a Tablo-Junsu collaboration until it was announced and my already-high expectations for Junsu's solo release shot through the roof. I got everything I asked for and more, honestly. While my beef with the music video is for a different time and place, "Flower" as a song does everything right. Junsu is a good singer with a gorgeous voice, yes, but a lot of other people have nice voices and good technicals -- what sets him apart and makes him one of the best in K-Pop (if not the best) is the fact that he knows how to carry a song. "Flower" could have been a boring, over-embelished song if it was sung not only by a less proficient singer, but also by someone with a weaker presence. Junsu has both the talent, the training, and the vocal personality to compete and win against an arrangement as elaborate as "Flower"'s -- by the last chorus you have a string section, a choir, a female falsetto, a bass loop, you have Tablo all competing for your attention. It's so easy for the vocal line to drown amidst all of that, and it's equally easy for the producer to just turn up the volume of Junsu's vocal track and render all the other elements useless. But Junsu does neither -- you can hear him, yes, and he is clearly on center stage, yes, but you can also hear everything else that's happening. Your focus is on Junsu's vocals, but just because you're focused on something doesn't mean it's the only thing you see. The rap, the strings, the choir, all have a purpose, and Junsu is secure enough in the strength of his performance to give you the chance to discover their purpose.
In Part 2 I'll be talking about new releases from SHINee, Super Junior D&E, GAIN, MinAh (Girls' Day), Red Velvet, and CLC!