Midweek Music List - What I've Been Listening This Spring

Hey everyone! Back again (and on time this time) with another Midweek Music List. I plan to start rolling these out on a fairly regular basis from now on, so these posts will be shorter and more to the point. Also, they'll soon include a wider range of music than the usual Korean fare. Here's the playlist, and my general thoughts on last month's releases after the jump. The songs are not in order, and do not represent everyone I mention on here, but there are a few links scattered here and there to make sure everyone's covered. Enjoy!

Music Playlist at MixPod.com

Okay, I'd like to start off with Big Bang's repackaged album. In my boy band post, I expressed that their comeback track "Tonight" was a great way to slay all the other electrokpop out there, but not what I was hoping for from the band that has such a good track record of pop hip-hop goodness. I had to change my opinion once I listened to "Love Song" - it is the amazing pop song I was hoping for, but it's also a step ahead of that. All members have their awesome moments, the instrumental is a great rock-pop mix with an electronic touch that feels very timely, and the video is beautifully evocative. It's also restrained, in that it doesn't blow your mind, but stays subdued, as you would be after a breakup. In sum, it's a maturing of their original sound, incorporating all the new things they explored through their individual work, but also taking them in a new direction where it's more about the musicianship and artistry than attempting to recreate the hits we grew to love them for or simply beat out the competition. And that, I can get with 100%. This song convinced me of what people have been saying for a while now - Big Bang are the most promising musicians in k-pop at the moment. Hands down.

Rainbow also returned with their first mini-album. I was a fan of "A" and "Mach" already. And I like "To Me" as well - the Daishi Dance instrumental was great, the vocals were great, and the rap was great too. I think the group is finally hitting a groove in terms of what sounds and song structures work for them, so I think they'll keep getting better. I also loved the verses on "So Cool", but wished they took it further instead of devolving into shouts and repetitive phrases in the pre-chorus and then leaving the chorus as boring as well. Oh well.

Brian Joo returns! Unveiled is a really nice pop CD. Brian Joo is a talented vocalist, and carries both the more serious ballads like the lead single, "Love Is Over Now" (which has an awesome video, by the way) and the uptempos, like "Song 4 U", my personal favorite. Nothing mindblowing, but it features some pretty nice songwriting, which harder to find in k-pop these days.

Now, male vocalists are a dime a dozen, but few of them really evoke emotions out of you or sing like they actually feel what they're saying. Newcomer Taeha is one of these few. His EP, Come Back To Me is one heck of a first release not necessarily because of unique songs or sounds, but because he sings his heart out every single time. He reminds me a lot of Brian McKnight, actually. The EP features "Stay With Me," the duet with Hwayobi I featured a few months back, and the beautiful track, "Come Back".

I absolutely love Supreme Team's  new track "I Was Arrogant" - fast becoming one of my favorite Korean hip-hop acts - in tribute to Quincy Jones. I definitely feel his influence in the instrumental, so it's a great tribute IMHO. Supreme Team are fast becoming one of my favorite Korean hip-hop acts.

The 1llionare brand has acquired a number of great new collaborators in the past year - Crucial Star, Rado, and now, the newsmaker of 2009/2010, Jay Park. His solo debut album, Take A Deeper Look, features many 1llionare rappers, as well as the sleek production style that characterizes many of Dok2 and associates' releases. "Abandoned" is the song I can't stop listening to - the first verse is a little long, but once the bass kicks in at the chorus, I'm in for the rest of it. It feels very Usher/Omarion-esque, and that sound, along with his association with the 1llionares, positions him slightly left of the mainstream, which in my opinion is a good move. He can develop his own sound and while still appealing to the pop preferences of the fans that have been with him during his JYP days (see, "Tonight"). This way, he can truly become a standout solo artist, as opposed to "ex-2PM member Park Jaebeom". It'll be a while before he shakes that ignominious title off, but this album is a huge step in the right direction.

We also had a slew of boy band and girl band debuts in the past month. Seriously, my head was reeling from all the new young faces. I liked B1A4, who had a great energetic live stage, and A Pink, who did cute tastefully and with great vocals - not a girlish squeal in sight. They have some nice electropop stuff on their album that reminds me of Owl City, so if that's your thing, check it out. Brave Brothers put his best efforts of the year into his girl group, Brave Girls - while the songwriting is a little dull, the production is sick and the girls have vocal and performance potential. Definitely a group to watch.

Some female veterans return - Park Bom's gorgeous solo track, "Please Don't Cry" is a great listen. f(x) returned with a menagerie of an album, but one that matches their concept, which is equally a smorgasbord of influences. The songs are all catchy, and well-produced, but not crazy good, which is really what I was hoping for with this album. However, a couple stood out for me - "Beautiful Goodbye" (currently under suspicion of plagiarism *sigh) and "Love". "Danger" works in conjunction with the awesomely futuristic and colorful video (with choreography from Jillian Meyers!) but on it's own it can be a little dull, since it's pretty one note. I get what they were going for though, and it seems to be working - f(x) are pulling chart awards left and right.

Then of course, we have After School with their first full album Virgin. This CD has been on repeat for the past two weeks. I love it as a whole, and the individual tracks are great too. It shows just enough range to keep a 12-track album interesting, yet doesn't go haywire and lose the essence of who these ladies are. In other words, it's near perfect. I would have put the whole thing on the playlist, but I stuck with a few choice selections instead, including my only slightly guilty pleasure, Nana and Lizzy's "Funky Man". Miss A drop their first English single, "Love Alone" weirdly with no fanfare whatsoever. It's clearly not their lead single, but it's a hot dance track. I'm now much more curious about their actual comeback. Then, the Sistar sub-unit Sistar19 (Hyorin and Bora) come out with their track "Ma Boy". A Brave Brothers single, it's nothing mind-blowing, but I've always liked the simplistic mid-tempo R&B track. And Hyorin sounds awesome on this. Sadly, apart from the sound, this doesn't sound much different from an actual Sistar track. It makes it look like the other members don't contribute as much to the group, which is not the point of a sub-unit. If anything, it shows that musically, there's still much to be desired from this group. They do well on charts - often in the top 10 or 20 for at least a month after release, which is better than a lot of the newer groups do - but musically and concept wise, they don't stand out. I like them though, so I hope their comeback kicks ass.

Lastly, some indie music for you guys - Sentimental Scenery, a Pastel Music artist, gave us his latest CD, Soundscape, which is all piano-driven electro-indie-pop amazingness. Fans of Pastel artists get to hear Hee Young and Taru on this album as well. Yoon Jong Shin's project song this month is a Luther Vandross-esque 80s ballad type track featuring Lee Jung. It's called "Two Breakups" and is pretty much two songs in one 8 minute package. I love Lee Jung, but Yoon Jong Shin's track is the one that does it for me.

... I think that's it? Oh wait, no - CNBlue released as a thank you to fans an EP featuring reworked songs from the album arranged by the boys themselves. These tracks sound much more genuine to what I feel to be their style, and I prefer them miles over most of the songs in First Step. Particularly of Jonghyun's track "그래요". Hoping they keep this sound for their next release. Then we have Rude Paper - taking dub reggae into the 21st century and creating an amazing track with "Radio". And finally, Handsome People dropping their second single, "Crazy". Tei is an amazing vocalist - range and control and quality are all up there at the highest level. He just won an opera singing TV competition too. Somebody get him on "I Am A Singer" stat.

And we're done. Have a Happy Wednesday everyone :)


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