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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Donkeyboy - Hero

"There will be nothing we can't take on"

As soon as I heard those thundering drums that open this song, I knew I was in love. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. I kinda knew I was in love before I even heard the song, because since their debut with the modern classic Ambitions, Norwegian band Donkeyboy haven't put a foot wrong. Hero is catchy enough with its choral hook and melodic verses, but then two and a half minutes in, the production switches up and the track becomes a deliriously fun bit of electro dance. It's like a bonus surprise remix at the end of the song. An even greater surprise would be the debut of this long-awaited third album. We're three excellent singles in at this point, and my mouth is watering for a new full-length. Come on, guys! We can't wait much longer! At least give us a release date...

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy their music here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Monday, September 29, 2014

One Direction - Steal My Girl

"Everybody wanna take her heart away"

Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I wish that I could be one of those "cool" music bloggers who rails against manufactured pop music and highlights "true" musicians. Then I remind myself to screw it and go with the melody, like I always have. I adore a big chorus, an awesome guitar or piano riff, and slick, polished production. Judging from Steal My Girl, One Direction are in the same boat I am. I keep expecting them to ditch this awesome, "uncool" 80's power rock sound they've brought back in favor of something more trendy and boring. Luckily, they surprise me time after time by coming back with something hugely anthemic and melodic, over the top and filled with brilliant pop cheese. I love this new single, just as I've loved everything the band have put out since their debut. I'm amazed how consistently good (and fun) their music has remained four albums in, when most of these types of bands fizzle out and go the boring, adult-contemporary route to make those last few bucks. Like, seriously... that Abba-meets-Journey piano line? I'm in heaven. And I feel sorry for anyone whose personal definition of "cool" doesn't allow them to turn this up and sing along. (But I bet even they'd do it secretly at home)

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tove Lo - Timebomb

"You're not the one"

We're all guilty of rushing to snap judgments from time to time when it comes to pop music. I'm no different. In fact, I'm probably worse because I listen to so much music, both for this blog and for my own enjoyment. I knew that Sweden's Tove Lo was tapped as a "next big thing" by many, but I heard her breakout single Habits and deemed it not for me. It probably never will be... I just find it sonically and lyrically uninteresting, and that's fine. It's personal taste. My mistake, though, was painting all her music with the same brush and assuming I didn't need to explore further. Then, Timebomb premiered and shattered that assumption. It's got that building synth and drum production that gives it a big, vital sound. For my taste at least, this is the kind of track that makes me want to investigate what else Tove has to offer. So thank you, Timebomb, for reminding me that an artist is more than one song.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Block B - Secret Door

"Let it flow"

Block B is yet another Korean band I've been getting into this year, mostly due to the irresistable H.E.R. this summer and Nillila Mambo from a year back. They're a colorful hip-hop group that, at times, reminds me of a group of carnies or gypsies. This is a good thing, by the way! I used to complain about hip hop all the time, thinking it was a boring, unnecessary violent and immature genre. A lot of that is still true of western hip-hop, but I absolutely love the Korean counterpart. Yes, they emulate a lot of Western elements, but combine them with a sense of experimentalism, high fashion and a willingness to borrow from other genres. Take Block B's latest, for example. Secret Door is from a soundtrack, and could've easily been a throw-away track. Instead, its rock and orchestral elements give the song drive, power and an instant upbeat catchiness. I love that we get a guitar solo! Oh, and while you're investigating Block B, check out their album track Mental Breaker. Sounds a bit like good Swedish pop to me!

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the soundtrack here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Robin - Kaikki Ok

I've been thinking a lot lately about my MVPs of the year--those artists or bands that have been both prolific and incredibly consistent with the quality of their releases. Robin Packalen, who I've written about many times on the blog, is certainly on that list. His new album comes out later this week, less than a year from his last one. Having heard it, I can say if you've liked his stuff in the past, you'll love this one too. He's got an incredible team behind him, who have crafted a sound all his own--an addictive mixture of One Direction-style pop/rock, Euro and Afro rhythms and an increasingly prominent emphasis on hip hop and beat. That's not to sell Robin himself short. The guy's a bundle of youthful charisma, with a full-bodied voice that sounds older than he is. Kaikki Ok is a bonus track released with a magazine in Finland, and it's a shame it didn't find its way onto the album because it would have been a highlight. I love African influences in production, and the relentless beat here fits the bill. Add to that a sax interlude and a party atmosphere, and you have another in a string of very strong pop releases. Don't let the language barrier scare you away. It doesn't matter.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 - 25th Anniversary

"Get the point? Good, let's dance."

Just a short post today to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Janet Jackson's classic fourth album Rhythm Nation 1814, which I would consider to be one of the best albums of all time by my favorite artist of all time. It remains a very unique piece of art, and holds up very well to this day. Part of that appeal is that the album truly does not sound like anything else. Sure, it's firmly in the industrial new jack swing genre, but it manages to leap past that label with its propulsive songwriting, social awareness and intricate, inventive production. Janet, of course, wraps it all up in a bow with her fierce, charismatic-as-hell vocals and performance, as well as the considerable artistic input and songwriting she added to the mix. In fact, one of the album's best tracks--the dynamic hard rocker Black Cat--was written solely by Janet herself. Janet simply does not get her due nowadays as the legend that she is. Her music will always be a huge part of me. For years now, I've been meaning to post a "Ten Best Singles By..." list for Janet on this blog, but I just can't bring myself to rank her best songs. They're all too good. I'd kill for a remastered deluxe version of this album (hint hint) and, of course, new music. But for now, take a listen to this megamix highlighting some of the album's most enduring moments.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Team B - Wait For Me

After the success of last year's WIN reality competition that led to the debut of hugely popular K-Pop group Winner, YG Entertainment is at it again with Mix & Match, which takes the losing team from last year and... well, mixes and matches them until they're a new group to be called iKON. For now, I guess we still call them Team B, but either way, they were my favorite of the two teams on WIN and I think if they get the right songs, they could eventually be the more successful of the two teams. As part of M&M's premiere episode last week, the guys released Wait For Me. Like most YG songs, I was a little ho-hum on first listen but I quickly grew to fall in love with it. And when I say "fall in love," I am not using that phrase lightly. I literally can't stop listening to this track. It's an emotional mid-tempo pop/r&b track with a perfect melody and an excellent guitar line forming the foundation. It feels so incredibly powerful, but I think part of that is because I've watched all these guys have had to go through on their way to success. They're hungry, and you can feel that in the vocals and level of commitment. So all in all, give this a few listens until it clicks, and also watch the performance. You won't regret it (at least until a couple of these guys get kicked off the team...).

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eden XO - Too Cool To Dance

"I don't even have to try"

I don't know how I missed this when it was released four months ago. I guess that's what music videos are for, and Eden XO released hers today, drawing my attention finally. Now, Eden XO is the new stage name of Jessie Malakouti, formerly of ace pop project Jessie & The Toyboys. I loved the music of the Toyboys and even featured it here, but if I'm honest, I'd somehow forgotten about the project. Shame on me! Too Cool To Dance is a single that brings it all back to the forefront--a big dance track that sounds like a cross between Gwen Stefani and Kylie Minogue with a modern disco beat. Jessie/Eden is a pop star that never got her due, so here's hoping this new image will reignite her music career. I'm ready for more songs and an album, pronto!

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Track-by-Track: HyunA - A Talk

I've always considered HyunA to be the troublemaker of the K-Pop world. Maybe that's just me being literal, since one of her many projects is as part of a duo actually called Trouble Maker, but beyond that there's just a swagger and anything-goes-craziness in her music that I really appreciate. A note about any K-Pop review I do: I am not a Korean speaker. I search out translations of the lyrics when it interests me, but lyrics are definitely not something I'm focusing too heavily on in these reviews.

1. A Talk - The intro to HyunA’s new album is more of a mini song than most intros, though it’s still not really long enough to warrant a score. As intros go, it’s fine but not all that memorable.

2. French Kiss - I’ve heard many say that this should have been the album’s single. I don’t agree, as it’s not as good as Red, but I do think that it sounds like it could be a second single. It’s all about that chorus, which is ridiculously catchy and fun. I’d say it’s also probably the poppiest track on the album. 8/10

3. Red - I have come to absolutely adore this song. From the attitude-filled rap, to the melodic, melancholic bridge, to the explosive, fun-as-hell chorus (transitioned from what sounds like a bonkers Tigerlily impression that’s definitely not politically correct), this is a party. The accompanying video does a great job positioning her as Korea's answer to Miley Cyrus, at least when it comes to strange party/afterparty visuals and "screw you" attitude.  10/10

4. From Where Until Where (ft. Beast’s Yo Seop) - Slowing things down to a mid-tempo, smooth r&b flavor, this is a pleasant summertime jam with some catchy synth drops in the background. Not a favorite, but not something I’d skip either. 7/10

5. Blacklist (ft. LE) - This is my second favorite track on the album. It’s a hard-hitting hip-hop track with tons of attitude and a great beat. The refrain that kicks off the song is incredibly catchy. 9/10

Album Grade: 8.5/10 Recommended

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Wolf Gang - Lay Your Love Down

"Do you hear me at all?"

Wolf Gang are the band responsible for one of my favorite singles of the year, the gorgeous and epic Black River. This is their follow-up, which was always going to suffer a bit in my eyes having to follow River. But even though it's not nearly as over the top, the guys have created a really solid indie pop track. The hook sounds instantly familiar to me, like a mix between Bastille and Florence + The Machine. I like the verses even better, with that majestic opening and drumbeat. It definitely has the feel of mainstream crossover success, which this band is well overdue for. It just needs to be featured in the right movie or TV show or something. For now, they're one of music's best kept secrets.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Kalle Lindroth - Annika

To Finland again today, which has become one of my most reliable countries for new pop music lately. As I've stated before, I just love the sound of the Finnish language. This brand new track by Kalle Lindroth is drop dead beautiful. It's got that surging build to it, where it feels like the song is just getting bigger and bigger while still managing to remain intimate and gentle. Kalle is apparently a TV personality and former lead singer of the band Smak, who I'm unfamiliar with. Not sure what this song is about, but it doesn't really matter because the melody is so gorgeous. It seems to be pretty popular in Finland, too, since it's riding high on the itunes charts upon its release.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Track-by-Track: Infinite - Be Back

Infinite has been a group I've admired for a few years, but for whatever reason I didn't connect with any of their full or mini albums. That has changed completely, and the strength of Be Back has even caused me to revisit their older albums with a new perspective. A note about any K-Pop review I do: I am not a Korean speaker. I search out translations of the lyrics when it interests me, but lyrics are definitely not something I'm focusing too heavily on in these reviews.

1. Season 2 - As with many K-Pop albums, this one starts with an intro. I don’t score intros, but for what it’s worth, this is actually my favorite intro Infinite’s ever done. Something about the piano. It also segues perfectly into the first actual track.

2. Last Romeo - When this was released as a single earlier in the year, I wasn’t too crazy about it. Boy, has that changed! Hearing it as a proper kick off to the album really highlights the power and energy of this song. I love the squealing guitars in the background and just the general relentlessness of the production. 10/10

3. Back - What more can I say about this song that I haven’t already? It may very well be my favorite Infinite track ever. The progression from haunting ballad to all out orchestral dance track is so, so well done. It possesses a sense of drama and structure that most pop songs lack, and boasts that tremendous breakdown after the first chorus that’s nothing short of aural euphoria. 10/10

4. Diamond - One of this album’s greatest hallmarks is that its ballads, which are not usually my favorite, are actually really strong. Diamond is a new track for the album’s reissue, and is very deserving of its place here. A lush, string-laden ballad with a real sense of dynamics, it suffers just a bit coming after the two tracks before it. Still, excellent stuff. 8/10

5. Follow Me - The first word I think of when listening to this track is “galloping.” It has a very unique start/stop beat that rarely maintains the same tempo for long. I can’t think of anything else to compare this to, but it sounds like a fantastic mix of the very old and the very current. Lots of strings going on here, too. I love the processed fade-out towards the end, before launching back into that full-voiced hook. It’s a very inventive track. 9/10

6. Rosinante - This is more of the classic, Sweetune Infinite sound, with an extremely strong, synth-drenched chorus. It’s a major uptempo to rival Last Romeo in energy. As with most of the songs on this album, the production is lush as hell. 10/10

7. Breathe - Other than the singles, this was the instant standout for me when I first listened to the album months ago. It’s all due to that chorus, which is definitely one of the album’s catchiest. The song itself is more typically K-Pop than most of the songs on the album, reminding me somewhat of Beast’s Breath. 9/10

8. Light (Sungkyu solo) - Sungkyu is my favorite member of the group and I absolutely love his solo work. That said, I find this to be one of the least memorable tracks on the album. It’s almost too pleasant and mid-tempo to leave much of an effect. Then again, I don’t ever skip it either and it certainly gets more interesting vocally as it goes on. 7/10

9. Alone (Infinite H) - Now this, I loved instantly and I still love now. A complete 180, this is a mellow but super-catchy hip-hop track with one heck of an earworm hook. I haven’t loved much of what subgroup Infinite H have put out before, but this is an album highlight. 10/10

10. Memories - We’re in mid-tempo/ballad territory again, but this one builds into one huge anthemic chorus, making it the kind of ballad that I definitely prefer. Those “doo doo doo doo doo” bits in the verses help things out, too. Sometimes it’s those little melodic touches! It’s definitely a more standard pop song than most of the tracks on the album, but that’s no bad thing. The guitar in the middle eight is pure, rousing power ballad bombast. 9/10

11. A Person Like Me - This is a much more traditional, slower ballad where an emotional vocal is the biggest highlight. I much prefer the verses over the chorus. I just find the progression of the melody to be much more interesting and catchy. 7/10

12. Reflex - Okay, this sounds like a K-Pop group covering Rick Astley or some other Stock, Aitken and Waterman track from the 80’s. It has the best, synth-driven 80’s production and melody in the chorus. Very unique for K-Pop, and very memorable. Classic layered Infinite vocals, too. In a lot of ways, this feels like the successor to Be Mine, one of their best singles to date. 10/10

13. I'm Going Crazy (Infinite F) - This is a new subgroup, and they bring a slightly experimental, off-the-wall production. It feels like some indie electronica gone pop. The melody is not the highlight here, though it’s certainly not bad. It’s just an odd duck, sonically. 8/10

14. Close Your Eyes (WooHyun solo) - This syrupy ballad was not of interest to me until the massive guitar kicked in just after the two minute mark. That’s some grade-A drama for you, right there. It reemerges a couple minutes later for an enormous climax of guitar, vocals and strings. Of course, me being a lover of bombast, I wish it had even more of that! 8/10

15. Shower - A strong uptempo to close the album, we’re back to that bright, densely produced Infinite sound. It’s got a strong chorus, particularly the b-section with its shout/sung vocals, and feels kind of like a lost single tacked on to the end of the album. 9/10

Album Grade: 8.9/10 Highly Recommended

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

BoA - First Time

While it's been awhile since global superstar BoA has released new music in her native Korea, she's been rattling off single after single in Japan, culminating in her new album, which is ostensibly a best-of compilation with some new tracks. The new single is First Time, and I'm ridiculously addicted to it. It's the kind of track that I loved the very first time I heard it, due to that driving beat and uber-catchy hook. The anthemic production helps as well. I especially like those filtered background vocals that bubble up in the chorus, like a Eurovision choir kept just at bay. I also love when BoA sings in her lower register, where her vocals have an almost gritty sound. The seesaw melody here allows her to do just that, creating a dynamic piece of timeless pop.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

One Direction - Fireproof

"Nobody knows you, baby, the way I do"

We've now entered the phase where a pop band like One Direction adapts or dies. It's an exciting time for pop-obsessives like me, fraught with potential danger but also unlimited possibilities. With their upcoming fourth album (and to a lesser extent, Midnight Memories from last year) we're going to see them either reach a new peak creatively and commercially, or begin the inevitable decline into obscurity. Let's face it, the latter is what happens to 95% of pop bands. While they've yet to reveal their new single, which I'm hoping with be massive and awesome, today the guys granted us an early look at a new sound with Fireproof, a free promo/album track revealed on their website. The song is a harmony-laced, almost psychedelic slow burn with an incredibly melodic core. It doesn't sound like a single, which is fine, but instead points to a willingness to experiment a bit with their sound. My hope is that we get a lot of different experiments on the album, without forgetting the sticky melodies the band is known for.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Friday, September 05, 2014

Track-by-Track: B1A4 - Solo Day

B1A4 have been my major discovery this year. As I get more and more familiar with the K-Pop world, I'm continually surprised at how many awesome groups exist outside of the "big three" agencies. Luckily, I got into this band right before their newest mini-album was released. A note about any K-Pop review I do: I am not a Korean speaker. I search out translations of the lyrics when it interests me, but lyrics are definitely not something I'm focusing too heavily on in these reviews.

1. Solo Day - The band bills this as "country pop," but I'd say it's better described as "sunshine pop." This is the kind of music that makes you feel like driving around in a convertible, speakers blaring under an open sky. It's one of my favorite K-Pop songs of the summer, with an outstandingly fun music video to accompany it. 10/10

2. You Make Me A Fool - Moving from a summer day soundtrack to a soulful summer night acoustic campfire track. I must confess, this one took me longer to get into, mostly because it's quite slow and delicate sounding and I usually like my music more bombastic. Still, it's grown on me immensely and become one of my favorite ballads from the band. 8/10

3. It's Going Well - The music starts off slow, sultry and beat-driven before launching into a big sing-along chorus. Like the others before it, this has got a total summer backyard barbecue feeling to it. It's definitely on the more r&b side of the band's catalog. It's a solid addition to the album. 8/10

4. A Glass Of Water - A song about literally needing a cup of water (though apparently it was initially about alcohol... and I feel like it still kinda is). Other than Solo Day, this is definitely my favorite track, and one of the band's best ever. An uptempo, party track with an anthemic singalong hook, it gets even better as the beat drops out for a surprisingly melodic middle eight before launching into that mammoth hook once more. 10/10

5. Drive - We're back to that summery r&b pop that flavors most of this album. It has an American feel to it, like something that Usher would've performed at his peak. It's a laidback track, for sure, and as such doesn't overly stand out. Still, it retains the general vibe of the album, which is quite strong when taken as a whole. 8/10

6. You (ft. Sunmi) - Another solid, pleasant track in an album full of them. This sounds like it might be a bad thing, but it really isn't because sometimes a cohesive album is more than the sum of its parts. It would be repetitive to say this is a midtempo, summery r&b track, but it is, and it's another good one. Maybe not quite as good as the ones that come before it, but a nice closer nonetheless. 7/10

Album Grade: 8.5/10 Highly Recommended

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Reece Mastin - Wolf In The Woods

"Listen close, the music never dies"

As this year's X-Factor Australia lurches to its finale (not the biggest fan of the acts this year), we're treated to a new single from the show's winner of three years ago. Other than this year, the Australian iteration of XF has been incredibly reliable when it comes to crowning a deserving pop star. Reece was one of my favorites, even if his material after the show didn't always live up to his potential. I'm assuming he's still with his record label, even though this new song has more of an authentic, independent feel. Wolf In The Woods might actually be his best single yet. Its propulsive beat, powerful rock vocals and catchy-as-hell guitar refrain hit me immediately. More importantly, it feels much truer to Reece as an artist than his more teen-poppy image ever did. If this is the type of thing he's got up his sleeve for the next album, it could be something really special.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the last album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Alex Metric - Heart Weighs A Ton (ft. Stefan Storm)

"I'll carry you when your heart weighs a ton"

Okay, this is massive. It might as well be the new Sound Of Arrows single, and if it had been, I wouldn't be disappointed. Heart Weighs A Ton features the vocals of Stefan Storm, who is the inimitable frontman of, as mentioned before, Swedish band The Sound Of Arrows. This is a huge deal to me, because their debut album is still one of my favorites and since then they've been pretty reclusive. This track sounds like it would've been right at home alongside their others, though it does have stronger mainstream dance appeal. It's all about that soaring, simple hook. I was in love at first listen. I don't know much about Alex Metric as a producer, but I wouldn't mind seeing more collaborations between the two of them.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Track-by-Track: Winner - 2014 S/S

I was one of the eager viewers who watched Winner become an official group through the reality show WIN last summer. To be totally honest, I was rooting for the other group, but I knew that no matter who won, YG would give them a chance at great debut album. In a lot of ways, the album that did materialize surprised me. A note about any K-Pop review I do: I am not a Korean speaker. I search out translations of the lyrics when it interests me, but lyrics are definitely not something I'm focusing too heavily on in these reviews.

1. Empty - The standard YG mid-tempo that took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate. What did sit with me instantly, though, were the processed, syncopated background vocals throughout the song. Sometimes it's those little touches that make a song stand out. Now it's definitely one of my favorites from the album. 9/10

2. Color Ring - I'm not a fan of kicking off an album with back-to-back downtempos, but that doesn't mean this isn't a great single. In fact, I like it even better than Empty. It has a more organic, rock feel to it and takes its time to build to its emotional climax. Sonically, it sounds quite similar to Kang Seung Yoon's solo track, Stealer, from last year. Except this one's better. 10/10

3. Don't Flirt - Finally, an uptempo track! It's not the album's best, but it is nice to hear that slightly reggae-ish beat kick in and know that this isn't going to be an album filled entirely with ballads. The song itself is fairly standard k-pop album filler, but at least it's at the top end of that category quality-wise. The hook is particularly sticky. 8/10

4. I'm Him - The album's only straight-up hip-hop song, and it's a monster. The beat alone makes this an instant standout. I love how at the end it switches to an old-school break beat for a few bars. If anything, I'd like to see the group pursue this sound more in the future, even if it is technically a solo piece. It's a nice complement to their otherwise smooth aesthetic. 10/10

5. Love Is A Lie - Probably the album's most club-friendly track, this sounds like it could have been a Big Bang song from a couple years back. It doesn't stand out as single-material to me, but I appreciate the relentless eurobeat and the spoken bits at the end of the chorus make me laugh for some reason. 8/10

6. Confession - Now we're in total ballad territory, slowing the tempo way down. Luckily, the melody is pretty and the production lush. Some nice falsetto here, too. It's very nice, just not my favorite kind of K-Pop. 7/10

7. But - This represents part two of what I consider to be the album's somewhat saggy middle. It's a pleasant midtempo with a great chorus, but no real edge. As nice as it is, it's one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. 7/10

8. Different - I've noticed that this track is getting a lot of love from the fan community. I've gotta admit that I'm a little baffled by that. It's not a bad song by any means, but I don't really see what separates it from the two before and after it. It's another pleasant midtempo with a good chorus. 7/10

9. Tonight - Completing our exhaustive run of pleasant midtempos, we have Tonight. Despite this sounding like 90's r&b (a good thing), it's probably my least favorite track on the album. I don't skip it, but in the realm of K-Pop, it sounds like so much else that I can't highly recommend it either. 6/10

10. Smile Again - Those who watched WIN will be familiar with this track. It's one of the catchiest songs on the album, and feels like a good, celebratory closer. I'm not a huge fan with what they did with the production here, but a good song is a good song, no matter how it's dressed up. 8/10

Album Grade: 8.0/10 Recommended

Nick's Recommendation: I find that inserting the two tracks the band recorded as part of the WIN program into the album helps round out the tempos and sound. The excellent Go Up slots perfectly between tracks 7 and 8 and helps resolve that saggy middle issue. And Just Another Boy acts as a great primer right before Smile Again closes the album.

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Monday, September 01, 2014

The Fooo - Jump

"All these good times just hanging out with my friends"

The Fooo, who have apparently now changed their name to... er... The Fooo Conspiracy, are back again with a new EP. Name change aside (which I think is totally unnecessary and overly complicated, by the way), they continue to release really fun, playful pop music. Like K-pop, their style is a hybrid of dance, hip-hop, pop and rock with an emphasis on style and attitude. In the normally safe realm of boy bands, it's pretty forward-looking. The new EP contains their most recent singles, All Over The World and Suitcase, plus three new songs and a remix. I gotta say, I absolutely love how often these guys give us new music of such high quality. It makes it very easy to be a fan. Of the new songs, I think that Jump is my favorite. I love the 50's guitar and ad-libs running through, and the bridge/beginning of the hook is pop singalong bliss. It sounds at once classic and totally current.

Jump by The Fooo on Grooveshark

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the EP here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Track-by-Track: Taemin - Ace

God, it's been a long time since I've done one of these. And with all of my going on about K-Pop this summer, it's time for some in-depth opinionating on some of the summer's biggest albums, starting with the solo debut of Shinee's Taemin. A note about any K-Pop review I do: I am not a Korean speaker. I search out translations of the lyrics when it interests me, but lyrics are definitely not something I'm focusing too heavily on in these reviews.

1. Ace - We get a slow burn to open the mini-album. I'm usually not a fan of this, but this track is so slinky and interesting and well-produced that I can't help but love it. The waterfall of vocals in the chorus are especially effective. The English bit at the end makes me laugh, though, as it's such a weird phrase: "Talkin' about what I know about". 10/10

2. Danger - Loved it from the very first listen. This is what Michael Jackson in 2014 would sound like, albeit Korean. It's an impressive, dense production, with the catchiest "bom bom bom" bits I've ever heard in a song. Full of attitude and a chaotic, propulsive beat, this is more than a song. It's an opening salvo. 10/10

3. Experience - We open with some spaghetti western guitar before launching into another catchy, uptempo MJ-inspired pop number. This suffers just a bit by following the excellent Danger, but it's still another great production with an easy chorus and strong beat. 9/10

4. Pretty Boy (ft. Kai) - This sounds more like current K-Pop than anything else on the album, and that's no bad thing. From the trumpeting opening to the huge, aggressive hook, this is a definite standout. If they were to select another single from the album, this would be my pick. In a lot of ways, it sounds like a mix between Shinee (Taemin's group) and EXO (Kai's group), which obviously makes sense. Doesn't make it any less awesome. 10/10

5. Wicked - We're going old-school again, with a slightly funkier feel. My favorite part is when things slow down for the bridge. It's actually better than the chorus, which is a little weak melodically. Still good, but not up to the four tracks that preceded it. 8/10

6. Play Me - With a nod to symmetry, we end with another slow track. This isn't as interesting or melodically rewarding as Ace. Unfortunately, it's easily my least favorite track. Perfectly pleasant, but it just doesn't do anything special for me. 6/10

Album Grade: 8.6/10 Highly Recommended

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