Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Evolution of A Mad Soul Child

[So I wrote this post waaaay back but completely forgot to publish it, and only realized it after the lead singer of this group collaborated with Tablo on his comeback track, "Bad". No time to blog about that awesomeness, but check out my Twitter for my thoughts on that, and enjoy this post about a little-known (in mainstream k-pop fandom) yet completely awesome group.]

Source: MTV Iggy

Today I'd like to share with you an awesome group that I've been listening to for a while, but never got around to writing about. Mad Soul Child are an electro-pop group made up of DJ Chanwoo, vocalist Jinsil, and music video director VJ Kwon. Their combined prowess in visual art, music production and singing makes then a serious triple threat, but what stood out about them to me was their versatility when it comes to their music.

The first single of theirs I heard was "Beautiful Day", a single released for a Calvin Klein Jeans campaign featuring three members of f(x). The song is a twangy acoustic track that I instantly fell in love with. I also like how this promo video was shot - I think the quirkiness of the shoot and the song match up pretty well.

You can find the full song on Grooveshark along with the English version, "Get Out".

After listening to this, I went back to see what else they had done. I found their OST track for the hit Won Bin movie, Ajusshi (The Man From Nowhere) which is very different from "Beautiful Day". Jinsil's voice is mournful and plaintive, very different from the more cynical tone she sang with in the last track. It starts out with a sad piano, and then gets accompanied by guitar and drums, making it a wonderfully melancholy rock ballad.

Finally, I came to their own album, Lalala, released in 2009. I was definitely not expecting them to be an electro pop group, but I was excited: I had been looking for more Korean electro groups since Clazziquai have been on hiatus. Their style is very different from Clazziquai's, but equally amazing and just as dancey. Check out the video for "VIP Girl" below, which showcases their visual and musical style:

I gotta say, I absolutely love Jinsil. Her voice is very distinctive, but she makes it work for every sound they throw at her. My favorite track of theirs is "Ask" which sees her taking on the more melancholy sound seen in "Dear" with an awesomely spacey instrumental:

They've made a name for themselves not only in the Korean indie scene, but also abroad: They were among the first Korean bands invited to play at New York's CMJ Music Festival, and toured the US with Seoulsonic in 2010. MTV Iggy even named them one of the 25 Best New Bands In The World for 2010. Now all we have to do is wait until they drop some more awesomeness on us - hopefully soon.

If you're looking for more electronic music from Korea outside of staples like Clazziquai, then I highly recommend Idiotape, who were part of this year's Seoulsonic tour (check out this awesome clip of them from the tour); EE, who are primarily audio-visual artists and have done some really cool work; and Telepathy, who are kind of electro-rock.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble! October Girl Group Comebacks Part 1

Finally something to bring me out of the silence. I have been itching to write about SNSD's impending comeback for a while, so I figure I should get a headstart before the MV actually drops - I have a few things to say about it already, lol. Starting with the photos...

So Yoona is probably my least favorite member of this group, competing with Jessica for last place. Nothing about her is particularly bad, but nothing is particularly good either. She's good at being pretty... and that's kinda it. She also has decent dance skills, but that's hardly a claim to fame in an industry chock full of great dancers. This photo, however, is great. I love how she holds the foil like she's going to slice you open with it at any second. It actually reminds me of this photo of Kristen Stewart, for a number of reasons: the styling, the fact that I don't quite see why they're popular people, but liking the badassness on them anyway...

Though now that I look at it, Yoona's photo also reminds me of this photo of Charlize Theron, which gives her even more cool points.

It's kind of disappointing though, that hers was the only other photo I liked out of all the promo photographs. They're gorgeous, yes, but they're also boring. No life, no emotion. When Yoona's pwning the rest of the group at something, you know there's a problem. I was extremely confused at first - usually they're all on the same level of blandness or, occasionally, goodness. This was all explained, however when I found out that the comeback had a "princess" concept.

When I heard that, all my hopes for a fantastically bad-ass comeback went out the window. When I think "princess", I think "girl who is spoiled and babied and doesn't have any skill except being pretty and getting the men she's involved with into lots of trouble." It's the trope that's been presented to us time and time again in books, movies and television series. Princesses are a liability. They never assume the throne unless their older brothers die, and face constant opposition if they fail to marry, or worse, bear a male heir. Thus their value lies solely in how attractive and powerless they are. They're always getting into scrapes like being captured by giants or dragons, and then have to be rescued by valiant men who are only really doing it for the fame, glory and the hot chick's attention. There are, of course, notable exceptions - Princess Fiona from Shrek, for example, and the heroine of the latest Pixar awesomeness, Brave. But those are only two out of a few, compared to the vast canon of stereotypical princess fiction and non-fiction we have out there. Basically it's a ubiquitous trope that really doesn't endow SNSD with any good qualities other than being pretty. I thought we had ditched the passive women thing, girls. What gives?

If the latest video teaser showed anything even mildly different from what I just described, then I might be more excited. But it doesn't:

I'll admit, it's not like they're going back to their "Gee" days. They're clearly stepping into their big-girl heels and I'm extremely happy about that. But the girls in these teasers don't look like the girls who were singing about having power over the boys ("Bad Girl"), or that they would be the ones doing the rescuing ("The Great Escape"). The maturity that SM has finally deemed to give them seems more like a superficial sort of maturity to me, one in which old ideals of passivity in songs like "Gee" and "Oh!" can just be reinforced - sold once again to impressionable young girls only in a different package. Wearing black and looking mean doesn't mean you're strong.

I suppose my expectations, while considerably lowered, are still pretty high for the SM idol mill. Maybe that's why I'm mad. I can definitely say that I wouldn't be so critical of the whole thing if there was some sort of storyline in these videos. These days SM music videos have just been photo slideshows with music in the background - a glorified magazine spread. Where's the creativity? I mean, there was very little substance in k-pop to begin with, but that doesn't mean you can just throw all of it out. I want to like this comeback, but I'm just bored. And no amount of fancy set design or slow-mo camerawork is going to fix that.

As for the track itself, I'm not impressed. I actually find it kind of hilarious that Teddy Riley has become the new big-name producer in Korea when he hasn't had a hit single in the States since the early 90s. I mean, sure he created New Jack Swing, but calling him innovative nowadays would be taking it a bit far. In fact, it sounds like he's just taken the already over-recycled American top 40 radio sound and put it in a new market. Pure laziness, if you ask me. Producers all over the world are constantly working to put out new sounds, and he's just biting from people with a better idea of what's hot right now. If Britney Spears didn't want it, k-pop fans don't want it either, all right?

[Also, it's now clear that he ditched Rania for SM, which kinda bothers me. He defended them and their image from criticism like he really cared, and then left at the drop of a hat for what I'm assuming is a bigger paycheck. So much for loyalty.]

Anyway, all this aside, I'm looking forward to the So Nyu Shi Dae/SECRET Smackdown. SECRET is probably the female equivalent of B2ST in their near-astronomical rise to prominence in the k-pop scene over the last year. They originally caught my attention with their awesomely fierce single, Madonna, and then moved on to the cute to make sure they had a solid grip on the market. Now having made a splash in Japan and become the darlings of Korea while SNSD were away, they're bringing sexy back for their first full album. And when I say sexy, I mean sexy:

Dayum, girls! I thought only the Brown Eyed Girls could pull off that much hotness, but SECRET are making it known that they're going all out for this release. And this? This I can look forward to, because SECRET has done the sexy, and done it in a way that doesn't make me want to puke from the cuteness, or die of boredom. The song may be a little cliched music-wise, but then again Secret hardly ever uses their actual title track in teasers, so I'm still excited for what's to come. They've proven themselves to be dynamic performers and worthy rivals for the queens of military precision, so this is gonna be good. SM will probably win the chart awards, but who will win the crown of hottest girl group around? We'll have to wait and see.

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen - who's your pick to win the So Nyu Shi Dae/SECRET Smackdown?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And We Now Have Twitter!

I miss you guys! And I want to keep sharing my thoughts about k-pop and other musics even though I'm too busy to post. So Mixtapes and Liner Notes now has an official Twitter account! Follow me @mellowyel or check out my feed on the sidebar. Still working on the podcast - making sure that you're not breaking any laws is surprisingly difficult to do. But it will happen, I promise. Till then, see you on Twitter!