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Friday, May 29, 2015

JJY Band - OMG


There aren't a lot of super mainstream Korean rock groups, so it's refreshing when a song like OMG is released. Ignore its lame title, because the track itself is a blistering, punky bit of pop noise. It helps that frontman Jung Joonyoung is one of the most charismatic rockers in K-Pop. But while I love him, I've never been a big fan of his music. It tends to be a bit slow and plodding for my taste, and unfortunately the new album pretty much follows suit. This single, though, is easily my favorite musical thing that he's done. It's just a blast of energy from start to finish. The hook in particular is one of those catchy, shout-along melodies that would've been featured in an old itunes commercial. It's definitely going on my running playlist!



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

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hurts - Some Kind Of Heaven


I feel like I've had an interesting relationship with the music of Hurts. I knew of them back when they were Daggers... an electro-pop band that recorded some of the best unreleased material of the past decade. Then they went all serious and brooding when they became Hurts, abandoning most of the big pop moments that I'd fallen in love with in the first place in favor of something more subdued. And now that they've kind of gone back to the poppiness with this new single, I'm seeing that some fans of the "Hurts sound" are not happy. However, I'm finally back on board. I guess they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. But regardless of which incarnation of the band you're a fan of, I just don't see how you can't be won over by Some Kind Of Heaven. It's straightforward radio pop, but with grand production and a rapturous hook. A part of me hopes that they've rediscovered their roots and recorded an entire album in this style.



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

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Loïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside


So Eurovision took place last Saturday. It was an off year for me... has been since Melodifestivalen... but that doesn't mean I didn't watch and enjoy it. I was honestly shocked that Sweden won. I mean, Heroes wasn't even my top pick for Melodifestivalen and then it goes and wins in all of Europe! Being a massive Sweden fan, this result made me very happy. That said, my favorite entry this year actually came from Belgium. For the past few years, they've been reliable for sending slightly off-kilter, yet totally poppy, acts. This year was definitely more on the left-of-center side, but benefited from a powerfully obtuse performance and some amazing, androgynous vocals. Sometimes I think it actually works better as a performance piece than an actual song, but there's no denying the intensity of the melody and production. It pulls you right in. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Loïc has recorded any other songs that have been released. I'm SO curious what his other music might sound like, but I guess I'll just have to wait awhile to find out. His top five placing on Saturday should at least guarantee some sort of follow-up single/album.



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

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Track-by-Track: Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect

I've always been a casual fan of the Killers, but I'm shocked at how completely this solo album by frontman Brandon Flowers has pulled me in. It's been awhile since an artist has captured this specific American rock 80's sound, and even though this album is pretty much 90% homage rather than pushing forward into something new, that's exactly what makes it feel like an instant classic.

1. Dreams Come True - A surging opener, performed with a nearly-gospel fervor. It's the first time we hear the female backing vocals, which play such an integral part in the album. The chorus is absolutely massive, and reminds me of Meat Loaf at his very best. 10/10

2. Can't Deny My Love - For some reason, the production here reminds me of Madonna's Like A Prayer. It's one of the poppiest tracks on the album, but retains a sense of epic grandeur as that catchy-as-hell hook explodes. 10/10

3. I Can Change - A collaboration with Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, at first this sounds somewhat out of place with the rest of the album. It's far more electronic in nature, and opens with an extended vocal intro before bursting into a italo-disco beat. This is probably the track that's grown on me the most. 10/10

4. Still Want You - This is such a throwback. It's an incredibly simple song that could've been produced in any decade, but the wobbly synth and Ronettes-style backing vocals are absolute perfection. I'm just awestruck that anyone's making music like this in 2015. 10/10

5. Between Me And You - The first time I heard this, I was completely smitten. I'm a sucker for melody, and this boasts probably the best one on the album. The second verse, where the production really kicks in, is almost tear-inducingly pretty. If this doesn't become a single, then that's a very wasted opportunity. 10/10

6. Lonely Town - This track caused me to check out the album. It's my favorite, and will likely be one of my favorite singles of the year. From the pulsating synth beat that forms the song's skeleton, to the bombastic post-chorus to the impressive backing vocals, it's a real centerpiece. 10/10

7. Diggin' Up The Heart - Certainly one of the slighter tracks on the album, it comes the closest to feeling like filler. It's supremely catchy filler of the piano-driven Billy Joel type, but it suffers coming after the first six tracks. 8/10

8. Never Get You Right - And we're back to something that feels more classic. Of the ballads on the album, this is one of the best. The verses remind me so much of an 80's song (Tom Petty?) that I can't put my finger on, but the track really starts to soar when the guitar comes in on the chorus. 10/10

9. Untangled Love - Definitely has an epic Killers-esque sound, and I adore the piano flourishes in the chorus, but overall it falls just short of the album's best moments. It's still very rousing, though. 9/10

10. The Way It's Always Been - A somewhat murky, downtempo ballad. It has a very classic rock sound and is more lyrically focused than production or melody. Not my favorite, but definitely not bad either. 8/10

11. The Desired Effect - I don't know why this was a bonus track, because to me it feels essential to the album as a whole. The chorus is gigantic, in a bombastic Meat Loaf way, and I love the lyrics. A fitting closer, and certainly among the best tracks here. 10/10


Album Grade: 9.5/10 Highly Recommended

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Jakob Karlberg - Fan va bra


I've been waiting for this song to be uploaded to some form of online media for weeks now. I've wanted to share it so badly but haven't had a chance. Despite my preoccupation with all things K-Pop, I still have a massive love for good old Swedish-language pop. This song, which has become kind of a surprise hit this spring, is such a good example of the off-kilter brand of indie-pop that Sweden produces so well. I don't know much about Jakob Karlberg, except that like so many others, he found initial fame doing covers on youtube. But as far as debut singles go, Fan va bra is a corker. It's got an instantly singable, hooky chorus, some excellent synth-sprinkled production and a genuine sense of pop fun that makes it perfect for the summer. Ignore the first couple of seconds in the video. It's some kind of brief advertisement for another song.



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

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ola Salo - Standing On The Edge Of The World


Somehow, this week has gifted me with two of the best English-language pop albums I've heard in months (years?). First we got Brandon Flowers' surprisingly epic The Desired Effect, and now we have the first solo album from Ola Salo (formerly of the Ark). Though the Ark remains my favorite rock band ever, it's been nearly a decade since they released their last great recording. Because of this, I was convinced that Ola's solo work would end up as a parade of diminishing returns. While his commercial peak is likely past him, I am SO happy to report that the album itself is fantastic. It's everything I liked about the Ark, plus added choral and experimental elements. Lyrically, the songs are not nearly as accessible as they used to be. There are a lot of obscure, intellectual/philosophical musings throughout the record. But musically, Ola's writing is just as strong and universal as it always was. Standing On The Edge Of The World is him in total It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane-mode -- a skyscraper anthem that hits you like a sucker punch every time. I just live for this kind of bombast and melody. The track has an excellent, dramatic build to it, finally exploding as it hits that last chorus. Get your lighters ready and sing along. Ola is back and his music is everything. I can't believe I ever expected less.



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

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shinee - Woof Woof


K-Pop royalty Shinee released a new album yesterday, and of course I was super excited for it. The band had an awe-inspiringly massive 2013 musically, but have been focused on solo endeavors since. The album is solid, if not completely the version of Shinee that I love best. Their new single, View, is an instantly catchy summer dance track. It's very good, and I like it very much, but it also feels kind of basic and... familiar? Actually, it's an example of a trend in k-pop that I'm not too thrilled about. Entertainment companies in Korea have always looked outward for songwriters, hiring many from Europe and the States. In the past, these songwriters have given k-pop artists their most experimental, genre-mashing singles. Of late, though, a lot of these imported songs are sounding like... well, imported songs. View was written by UK songwriters, and it sounds very much like a UK dance track. I like it better than those UK singles, because I like Shinee better, but what drew me to k-pop in the first place were its differences from Western pop. It has its tropes and trends, but it also takes more risks than a lot of Western mainstream music. Take Woof Woof, a track on the latter half of the new Shinee album, as an example. It's another European songwriter, but the entire sound and composition is... weirder. Somehow they take a genre I usually hate (big band/swing) and transform it into a modern dance production. The fact that I love this is a testament to just how awesomely and energetically it's been arranged. Oh yeah, and that mammoth chorus helps. It's not necessarily the specific sound I'd want from a group like Shinee, but I admire its adventurous spirit and balls-to-the-wall bombast.



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

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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Janet Jackson Megamix


Something miraculous happened over the weekend, just as my birthday was ending and Janet Jackson's was beginning. It's been over seven years, but Miss Jackson is finally coming back with new music this year! We don't know when it will be, or what it will be, but it was confirmed by Janet herself. Honestly, part of me thought it would never happen... and that would be okay. I mean, she's earned her legend status. She will likely never eclipse the music she made in her prime. That said, I am RIDICULOUSLY excited about this. Janet is my number one pop star. She's the one who ushered me into the world of pop music in the first place. She's the one I felt a connection to, and my adolescence is colored with her songs. I don't think there will ever again be an album run to rival the quadruple punch of Control, Rhythm Nation, janet., and Velvet Rope. It's actually pretty staggering how flawless those four albums are. If the new material is even a fraction of that quality, I'll be happy. Now here's a brief (but very well produced) megamix to remind us how awesome Janet is and will forever be. Enjoy!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Penguin Prison - Show Me The Way


Somehow I missed the fact that Penguin Prison released a new album last week. In a way, that's kind of exciting because it feels like it just dropped out of nowhere. I haven't listened to it yet, beyond 30-second samples on amazon, but I can already tell that it features the familiar, syncopated dance sound we've come to expect. Show Me The Way was the track that appeared on my soundcloud feed, so it's the one I'm posting today. It's a collaboration with frequent producer RAC, and opens with a strong, funky dance beat before moving into tight, melodic pop track. The chorus, especially, feels tailored just for the upcoming summer season. From the sound of it, the full album follows suit.



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

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hyunseung - You're The First


Beast has very quickly entered into my top five Kpop groups, so I'm thrilled that yet another band member has released solo material. Hyunseung is the quiet, somewhat odd one in the group, but he absolutely comes alive onstage. His new mini-album is excellent, and was launched with this addictive single. Straightaway, you'll be hooked in by the beat and the catchy screams in the background. The hook is incredibly simple, which initially disappointed me, but I've since realized that its strength actually lies in its simplicity, particularly during that wordless dance break toward the end. The rest of the album isn't as uptempo, but benefits greatly with repeated listens. Hyunseung has one of the more distinctive and recognizable male voices in k-pop, and (despite the odd vocoder here and there) it's utilized wonderfully on the slower tracks.



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

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ulrik Munther - Nån gång


How did I miss this? Sweden's excellent singer-songwriter Ulrik Munther came back in March with a new single and today with a new album. I think it passed me by because all of the online media is region restricted (don't even get me started on how annoying *that* is). With the new album, it looks like he's following the latest trend and singing in his native language instead of English. This is totally fine with me, but it'll probably prove tricky with some of his international fans. Nån gång is the only song I've heard so far, and it's a rousing old-school folk-rocker. Not immediately commercial, for sure, but I can already tell it'll improve with repeated listens. I can't wait to check out the full album. Ulrik has yet to disappoint thus far.



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

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Monday, May 11, 2015

SungKyu - The Answer


As I've made quite clear over the past few months, I am an enormous fan of K-Pop group Infinite. In particular, their leader Kim SungKyu is one of my favorite Korean performers (if not my absolute favorite at the moment). Beyond finding his personality utterly charming, I am continually impressed with his powerful, emotive vocals. His first solo album was really, really amazing, and although I find the just-released follow-up a little slow in comparison, I'm so happy he's able to release another collection of songs as an individual. At times, his solo stuff reminds me of Savage Garden/Darren Hayes, which was one of my first entryways into pop music as a teenager. The Answer is a good example of this. It's nothing mind-bendingly new or unique, but it marries gorgeous vocals with lush, string-laden production and a peaceful, affirming melody. It's not the kind of song I'd always be in the mood for, but it does its specific job very well. It's just really, really pretty. A classic pop song... about as far away from Gangnam Style K-Pop as you could get.



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

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Romeo - Lovesick


I worship at the alter of Sweetune. They are just an unstoppable force of pop songwriting. No matter who they're working with, I know I'm going to love the song even before hearing it. So, I was very happy to discover that one of their tracks would be kicking off the career of new band Romeo. Before I go any further, I will note that this is definitely not A-grade Sweetune, but that's to be expected for such a newbie boyband. They really save their best stuff for Infinite (and, let's be honest, Infinite does more than a little to elevate every track they perform). The music video is also a bit cringeworthy, which is why I'm not posting it. But even with all those flaws, that consistently awesome, propulsive Sweetune sound is intact and I love it. It's been awhile since we've heard this light, poppy sound from a Korean boyband. It's a trend I really hope remains through the summer. I'm getting just a little tired of all the swaggy hip-hop.



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

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Brandon Flowers - Lonely Town


This is such a nice surprise. Even though Brandon Flowers' Can't Deny My Love was undeniably awesome earlier this year, I really expected it to be something of a red herring. I guess I just assumed that his upcoming solo album would be full of the now-boring sound that the Killers have been giving us for the past couple of years. Instead, he's gone and recreated the 80's. Lonely Town has such a specific sound and vision. He didn't just borrow trendy 80's elements like so many others do, but actually created something that sounds like it could have easily existed thirty years ago. If I was being picky, I wish that we heard that dramatic, beautiful post-chorus hook one more time during the song's running length, but I guess that just means I'll need to hit the replay button. I'm cautiously optimistic about the full-length album. I hope it's more like this and less like what the Killers has become as of late.



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

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

BTS - I Need U


I was so looking forward to BTS's comeback. They're one of my favorite current K-Pop groups out there. When I Need U was released last week, I was initially disappointed. I was really craving something more uptempo, along the lines of Danger or Hormone War. It was a case of expectations striking yet again. A week later, and I am so obsessed with this track. I absolutely love it. The moody music video (below) definitely played a part in that, but repeated listens also brought to light the fantastic production and melody, which had initially seemed too murky for my taste. I'm still looking forward to a big dance track from the guys (maybe later this year?), but as of now I think I've listened to this even more than Bigbang's new single.



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

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Reece Mastin - Rebel And The Reason


Reece Mastin, of Australian X-Factor fame, just released his newest EP. It’s his first as an independent artist. To be completely honest, that’s usually a bad thing in my opinion. More often than not, it means cheaper production, less striking songs, and music that tends to be more indulgent than universal. For Reece, I feel like it’s exactly the opposite. The production and songwriting is top notch, but more than that, it feels like he’s actually creating the music he wants to. What I’m most impressed by is the sheer amount of catchy hooks throughout the EP’s running length. Rebel And The Reason is the collection’s title track and first single, and it’s among the finest songs Reece has recorded. His vocals sound incredibly strong, and I love the dramatic melody and arrangement of the chorus. It’s got an epic, yet mature, feel to it. A very pleasant surprise.



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

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Bigbang - Loser


It's been three years! Though, with all the solo releases it doesn't necessarily feel like it. But Bigbang is back! And, as expected, they're selling through the roof. About a month ago I posted about Exo's newest single and the idea of expectation being a hindrance when it comes to music. With three years of expectation, nothing Bigbang could have released would have been entirely sufficient. And although I think it was a bit of a mistake to comeback with two slower-tempo, pretty-but-not-in-your-face-awesome singles, that shouldn't take away from the tracks themselves. Loser, in particular, is a classic YG midtempo track with an instantly memorable chorus. What it lacks in punch, it'll most likely make up for in staying power. But I don't think it will be the best thing that the guys release this year. After all, they've got an entire summer of singles planned. I'm still waiting for a new Monster or Haru Haru or Fantastic Baby... something that feels like an instant classic. I hope we get one, but if we don't I'll certainly settle for a handful of tracks like this.



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

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dragonette & Lenno - The Best


Dragonette have been collaborating with a ton of producers lately. It seems like every couple of weeks there's a new track out there. Some are definitely more "producer" than "Dragonette," but I think that the just released The Best is a perfect mix between club and pop sensibilities. This time around, the band collaborated with Lenno, a young producer from Finland. The music itself goes full summertime, with bright synths, propulsive beat and addictive hook. It's not quite as instant as the band's best songs, but definitely delivers that EDM bombast that dancefloors are looking for. I could see Dragonette releasing an entire album of these collaborations (if they have the rights to do that...) and continuing to go down this route for awhile. After all, their biggest hits up to this point have been collaborations with DJs and producers.



(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Anton Ewald - Vill Ha Dig (ft. Samboii)


We know Anton Ewald from his English-language Melodifestivalen singles, as well as some ace tracks released outside of the competition. Unfortunately, he sort of flamed out with his latest entry, so I feel like he's at the point again of having to prove himself. Smartly, he recorded this new single in Swedish and changed up his sound a bit. Instead of the trendy EDM productions of the past, he's gone for a smooth mid-tempo dance track with addictive bass and a slinky, easy-on-the-ears melody. It may not bust down the doors and announce itself as loudly as some of his past stuff, but the song gets better with each listen. The addictive beat is like a more subtle version of Iggy Azalea's Fancy. In other words, it's a hook unto itself.



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

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Robin - Kipinän Hetki (ft. Elastinen)


Finnish popstar Robin Packalen is back with a new single from the deluxe version of his newest album, 16. I've been very happy with how well Robin has done in his homeland, though the fact that he sings solely in Finnish makes his international prospects pretty much nonexistent. That's okay, though. I'd rather have him conquer Finland and stay true to the sound that's made him so popular. Kipinän Hetki, featuring rapper Elastinen, is definitely more on the hip-hop side of Robin's music, but it still retains that huge hook that he's been known for. I could do without the hockey siren sound effect prior to the chorus, but from what I can tell from the just-released music video, the song is also part of some hockey-themed soundtrack (?). Either way, it's great to hear Robin back with new music. He hasn't disappointed yet.


Kipinän Hetki (Feat. Elastinen) - Robin by spanishrobiners

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

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