Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DBSK, Catch Me (album)

HoMin returns with their second album after the departure of JYJ from DBSK - still a sore spot for many Cassies, and a thorn in the Korean courts' side. (Why they don't just end the case, I don't know - waste of time and money, if you ask me.) Something about this album feels very different - it almost feels as if this album represents a growth, a moving on, a maturing of the group. Thinking back, much of DBSK's music was very youthful in that intense, all out raw emotion way, and also very fun. But the boys have grown up, and they ain't here to play.

The lead single, Catch Me, is really good, but it's bogged down by the long dubstep break. I mean, as far as compulsory dubstep breaks in pop songs go, it's pretty good, but it takes away from the lovely piano lines and booming electropop of the rest of the song. It also extends the song's runtime to four and a half minutes - way longer than any pop song it needs to be in this day and age. Dubstep is best utilized when it's placed in unexpected places, like at the beginning of the second verse, or bookending the chorus in the hip-hop tinged Viva. (Shout out to the boys for what might be my favorite rapping from them ever in that song.) It works for the video, but if there was an album version or radio edit of this track that got rid of the dubstep break, I'd be a happy camper.

What strikes me the most about this album is how much I like the mid-tempos and ballads. Usually SM ballads are sweet, sweet filler - meant to be pretty and nothing else. But these seem like they have more substance - they feel very romantic and sincere in a way that many ballads that came before them did not. I kept thinking "OST track", and that makes sense since that music is meant to set a mood and evoke a feeling more than anything else, and these songs are wildly successful in that regard. And they feel very suited to this duo, who have grown a lot in the last two or three years - as opposed to the ballads on their last album, which seemed like they belonged to a different DBSK (some of them probably did). My favorite by far is Like A Soap, but I also love the mellow R&B jam Destiny, which does much more for me than the YYJ leftover, Good Night; and How Are You, which is the perfect background music for a chance meeting with a former flame on a city street.

All in all, I think this is a stronger album than Keep Your Head Down. It's a simpler, more cohesive album than anything else that SM has put out recently, concentrating on two different vibes - you could call them "romantic" and "masculine" - rather than throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there. And Changmin and Yunho's vocal progress is well-highlighted. Great addition to the catalogue. But now I'm beginning to wonder - how long before these two are shipped off to the army? *sob*

The "Catch Me" video is your typical SM MV-in-a-box video, differentiated only by its uber-dark color palette, the "Doc Ock Tentacle Of Hell" and the choreography which seems halfway between interpretive dance and imitation tribal dance. The boys look good and make the whole thing look good, but it will only be getting a few replays from me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

RaNia, "Style"

Now hold on just a hot minute... where's Jooyi???!

Okay, so considering the main reason I cared about this group in the beginning is their awesome vocals, led by Jooyi, and their envelope-pushing version of sexy, I'm disappointed that both Jooyi and the sexy are absent here. At least, the version of sexy they debuted with. I hate people who do the sexy as a gimmick to get people talking, i.e. most k-pop girl groups. (Which I guess is why I like Hyuna - it's her MO, not something she only does when she's low on the search rankings.)

What is here, though, is some decent electro, some solid singers, and a girl group that still brings some of the sexy and some good performances. The verses are a little boring, but the chorus is decent, and I'm all about that middle-eight dance break. It's enough to get me to hit replay on this at least a few times. The YG touch isn't obvious, which means they can move on (and hopefully up) from here without necessarily changing their style. And the song's got enough going for it that it will keep them in the game. They just need to bring their A-game next comeback. I would suggest making the most of their vocals (can I get some harmonies, please?) and bringing back the choreographer from "Dr. Feel Good." And more Jooyi, please.

Tuesday, Sept 24: Okay, so I basically played this song all weekend. It grew on me unexpectedly. My initial impression still stands, but I'll add that it's actually pretty catchy with a nice melody, and the girls kill it live. You just go, girls.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

U-KISS, "Stop Girl"

I feel like, aside from hardcore KissMes, I'm the only one still on the U-KISS train. Usually by now my t-list would be bombarded with OMG U-KISS SO HOT tweets right now, but there isn't a peep. Which is a shame, because this song is smooth and sexy like you've never heard U-KISS before.

The beat goes hard. The song starts off as bump-in-your-car R&B straight from US urban radio, then a little drama is added in at the pre-chorus to remind us that no, we're still in k-pop, despite the mostly English chorus with gorgeous harmonizing from the guys. Kiseop steps up to the singing plate, with much less processing than before, and nails it. Kevin works his lower register. Dongho slays his rap as if to say, "Noona, I'm not a little boy anymore." I love it all. Except, of course, for the lack of AJ, which would have made it all that much sexier. That being said, less members means more room for the others to shine, and shine they do.

I think part* of the lackluster response to U-KISS these days is that they haven't yet done something as epic as "Neverland" was last year. Songs like "Stop Girl" and "Doradora", while solid, are less in-your-face and may not draw much attention coming from a group who made their name making cray-cray dance pop. Before U-KISS's transformation into a more well-rounded (music and talent-wise) boy band, all they had to make them stand out was loud, brash electro-pop. But I think they stand out in a different way now - experimenting with different sounds in a way that doesn't make you tilt your head in confusion, while still maintaining fantastic production quality and improving in their own way. It feels like they've gone indie, actually - like they've decided not to slavishly pursue the number one spot with gimmicks and trendy music, but rather try out new things and see what fits them in their new iteration. While they may not be showered with confetti anytime soon - particularly with a DBSK comeback right around the corner - they're definitely setting the bar high for the competition in terms of the quality of their music, and it can only get better from here. Whether they'll pull a dark horse and get into the winner's circle with this release is hard to tell, but you can be sure I'll be rooting for them all the way.

*The other part being their small fanbase in comparison to other boybands. Anyone know if they've gotten more fans over the course of the last two years?