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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beast - This Is My Life


Over the past few months, Beast have quietly been building one of the year's best batch of songs. Ever since March, they've been releasing one Japanese-language track a month. These have been remarkably consistent. In fact, I'd actually say they've been getting better each month. This Is My Life, released a few days ago, is my favorite of the bunch. This was confirmed almost immediately, with that gorgeous, funky synth opening. Then the song itself sets in and has a vaguely African feel (maybe that's just me, though?). As longtime readers know, I'm a sucker for African instrumentation in a pop song. Blame too many viewings of The Lion King growing up. The melody is also just exquisite, rising and falling with the flawless production. It's the kind of song that sneaks up on you and reveals its brilliance the more you listen to it. Now we just need a Korean comeback!

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Benjamin - Young and Restless


I've been wanting to write about this track from rising Finnish pop star Benjamin for weeks now, but was unable to find any means of legally streaming it for you guys (hence the live performance below). But streaming or not, make sure you track down this song. It's simply too good to miss. The EDM + Country-esque combo has been super popular ever since Avicii hit it big with Wake Me Up. Usually, these tracks come off as just what they are: cheap knockoffs. But Benjamin has borrowed just enough of that sound for Young and Restless and, more importantly, fused it to an actual pop melody. He recently released his first EP, which is pretty solid. But this is by far the standout track.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Teen Top - ah-ah


As evidenced by Tuesday's post, summer music has fully bloomed in Korea. The theme (at least visually) this year seems to be neon 80's colors, as seen in Teen Top's fun new video for ah-ah. The song itself is a smooth throwback to the day when Michael Jackson ruled the airwaves. For some reason, to me it sounds like a track that would've been played to death at roller rinks. At first it may seem a little underwhelming, but it's a total grower (same thing for the accompanying album). It's also a welcome step back onto the dance floor for a group that's released more subdued music for the past year or so. And that fancy footwork! I love it.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Carly Rae Jepsen - Making The Most Of The Night


Though it won't be out in the States until early fall, Carly Rae Jepsen's newest album was released in Japan earlier this week. To be honest, I didn't pay much attention when the first single, I Really Like You, was released. But then I started hearing awesome things about the album as a whole, and I got really excited to check it out. I'm so glad I did. Song for song, the album feels like nothing short of a sugary 80's pop masterpiece. Despite being seventeen tracks long, the consistency of the track's massive hooks is very, very impressive. Chief among them is the transcendent Making the Most of the Night. Even on the first listen, this is the song that stood out most. The ridiculously catchy and uplifting hook is so perfectly produced and performed that it turns into something quite epic. And it gets better the more you listen to it. Best of all, the song itself is just pure positivity. No twerking or "dranking," just unadulterated joy. Whether or not Carly will find widespread success with this album or remain a one-hit-wonder in most people's minds, I'm just glad she was able to release songs like this with the big budget needed to make them really shine.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sistar - Shake It


The floodgates have officially opened and now that it is summer, K-pop season is well and truly upon us. I love how every year around this time we get handfuls of bright, summery tracks from South Korea. One group that's been known for these types of singles is girl group Sistar. Sistar is enormously popular in Korea (and I'll be seeing them live in about a month as part of KCON), but for whatever reason I've been slow to connect with them. Shake It will probably be the song that tips the scale for me. It just sounds like summer, with hook upon hook. In fact, it doesn't really have a chorus in the traditional sense. It's more like one of those Xenomania-produced Girls Aloud tracks where it's literally three or four choruses constantly repeating. Unfortunately we don't get this kind of music in America any more. Thank god for Korea!

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Janet Jackson - No Sleeep


My pop goddess of choice is back today with her first new material in years. I'm super excited because I'll be seeing her live for the second time in Vancouver when her world tour kicks off at the tail end of August. The fact that there'll be a new album to celebrate alongside her many, many classics will be absolutely awesome and unexpected. No Sleeep, I'm predicting, is acting as a sort of buzz single before the inevitably dance-heavy track is unleashed on radio to promote the album. I say "buzz single" because the song, while gorgeous and timeless, sounds more like a "second half of the album track" than traditional single. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since Janet's voice and harmonies coupled with that classic Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production makes anything sound good. I'll honestly be surprised if this resonates heavily beyond her fan base, but I'd rather have her cater to those of us that adore her than chase some stupid trends to pander to radio. The fact that we're even getting a new album in a couple of months is probably the happiest musical surprise of the year.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Donkeyboy - Downtown


Ever since Donkeyboy burst onto the scene with the now-classic Ambitions, they've been one of the most reliably great pop bands in the world. Honestly, my only frustration about them comes from the fact that they don't release nearly as much music as they should. Even though they've released some brilliant singles pretty recently, their last actual album was more than three years ago. I'm hoping that Downtown kicks off a new prolific era for them. The song follows what you'd expect from Donkeyboy, with a spunky hook and polished, synth-heavy production. I can't say I like it as much as their past three singles, but even 'alright' Donkeyboy is better than most pop music out there.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dragonette - Let The Night Fall


Awesome pop group Dragonette have been doing a lot of featurings and collaborations of late, and it's been awhile since we've heard a 100% pure Dragonette song. Luckily, Let The Night Fall seems to be worth the wait. I use the words "propulsive" and "soaring" a lot to indicate a sound that I'm totally obsessed with. It's all about that beat and melody that just seems to climb and climb the longer it progresses. The track feels a lot more anthemic than Dragonette have been for awhile, and I hope that it's a taste of sounds to come from them. Pick Up The Phone is still probably my favorite Dragonette song of all time, as I prefer their more melodic songs to their quirkier electropop. Let The Night Fall seems like a nice mix between the two styles.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Park Gyuri & From The Airport - The Little Prince


This was such a nice surprise! The Little Prince is k-pop, but it doesn't sound anything like k-pop. It's a collaboration between Park Gyuri from great girl group Kara and strangely-named indie duo From The Airport. I saw this song likened to Shiny Toy Guns' brand of synth rock, but I think it's actually much better than that. It boasts some amazing production, with propulsive synths and electronic drums bouncing around all over the place. Couple that with a soaring, j-pop-esque chorus, and we've got something that breaks all sorts of boundaries and really should appeal to just about anyone. I wasn't expecting this song to be on my radar at all, but I'm kind of addicted to it now. Ironically, it's better than anything on the actual new Kara album. The b-side is also tons of fun.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Namie Amuro - Fashionista


The name Namie Amuro has been on my radar for well over a decade, and for good reason because she has been one of the biggest Japanese pop stars since the mid-nineties. For some reason I was under the impression that she performed mainly ballads, but then I listened to the previews of her new album and was floored by how awesome (and uptempo!) it is. Better than that, Amuro has released a piece of work that sounds like the perfect updated version of a classic Madonna-mixed-with-Kylie 90's dance album. It really does sound of an era, and it just happens to be my era. It's an incredibly refreshing, strong collection of songs. I could pick almost any of them to feature today, but I think I want to share Fashionista, which was a single a few months ago. It's catchy from the get-go... a real club track with an ever changing, dramatic melody and production. Sometimes it sounds kind of like something Shinee would have released in 2012-2013. But the real musical touchstones are still Madonna and Kylie. If you like this song, you'll love the album!



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

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Cheerleader - The Sunshine Of Your Youth


Here in the Pacific Northwest, we've been gifted with what seems like an unseasonably early summer. This has got me on high alert for beach songs (even if I'm not going to beach). There's a certain summer-rock sound that always seems right for this time of year, and the band Cheerleader supplies that in spades. I'm addicted to their single Sunshine of Your Youth. I mean, any song that has the word 'sunshine' in it has to be good, right? From that opening burst of synths, we're instantly transported to a convertible heading down the beachfront highway. I swear, this track is just a few good radio spins away from having a major breakthrough. We need more music like this to offset the more trendy elements on radio right now.



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

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Exo - Love Me Right


Unexpectedly, Exo's new single has become my most played track of the past couple of weeks. I say this because, as much as I enjoyed Call Me Baby, it was still a little underwhelming as a comeback after a full year. I had little expectations for Love Me Right, and maybe that's what's made it have such staying power on my playlist. I also think that, as immaculately produced as the song is, it just has an easier, more organic vibe to it than any of Exo's singles since Growl. It's definitely on the funkier (ie: Michael Jackson pastiche) side of SM's output, and fits perfectly with the summer. Although Growl was their big breakthrough, I still don't think Exo have ever bettered Mama, their dynamite debut mini album from 2012. Love Me Right feels like a successor to that album's second single, History, which was one of the songs that initially got me interested in k-pop. I love this sound for them. It's just fun, without the weight of a more serious, corporately-driven "event" single.



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

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Boys Republic - Hello


I'm just in love with this song. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of that brief time in the late 90's when pop bands like the Backstreet Boys were releasing ultra-melodic, polished radio hits. Boys Republic has been flawless so far when it comes to single releases, and this is their first mid-tempo ballad. I was a bit worried about this tempo chance at first, but Hello has become a very pleasant surprise. Much like B1A4's modern classic Lonely from last year, Hello has that simple, peaceful melodic quality to it. In fact, it serves as an excellent counterpart to Lonely. In a release schedule filled with loud dance tracks, it's that perfect chill-out moment on your summer playlist. My only disappointment is that it's just a single without an accompanying album, though I expect that to change in the coming months.



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

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Monday, June 08, 2015

The Fooo Conspiracy - Run With Us


It seems like it's been awhile since The Fooo Conspiracy has graced us with another pop anthem. The funny thing is, it hasn't really been awhile at all... it's just that they had such a relentless 2014 that I've come to expect new material almost monthly. Well, Run With Us was worth the wait. The boys have outdone themselves again, with an instantly singalong summer pop song with an incredibly addictive groove. Basically, they took the awesome baseline from Iggy Azalea's Fancy and attached it to an actual song. It's exactly what you'd expect from a modern boyband on the top of their game. Now if only that international recognition could start heightening even further (though a part of me wants them to remain Sweden's awesome pop secret).



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

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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Muse - Mercy


I haven't really been following Muse lately. I knew they had a new album coming, but I'm more of a casual fan. And looking at it casually, they seem to be the type of band that basically just releases the same album over and over again. Now, most artists are like this (including most of my favorites), so I'm certainly not judging. It's just that their style of pomp rock isn't always to my taste. I tend to enjoy their poppier side, especially when they go for a real anthemic melody. I haven't listened to the new album yet, but Mercy has me curious. I'm in love with that opening piano hook and the propulsive beat that builds as the track goes along. I'm sure it won't please fans of their harder material, but to me melody is always key. This is Muse at their most Queen-esque, from the Freddie Mercury belted notes to the multi-layered vocals in the chorus.



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

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Bigbang - Bang Bang Bang


Let's talk about Bigbang for a second. They are K-Pop royalty, and one of the first bands in the genre that I became obsessed with. After years away from the scene, 2015 was billed as their year, with over eight singles released monthly. I was so incredibly excited for what was in store. And while Loser has grown on me quite a bit, I've gotta say their output has been a bit on the 'meh' side for me so far, especially compared with their flawless 2012 era. Bang Bang Bang was released yesterday, and has me all confused. For the first minute or so, I was pumped that this would finally be the BB I'd been waiting for. Then when the chorus hit, I literally groaned. Instead of something melodic and energetic, they went for that tired, lazy, horrible "trap breakdown" that seems to be so popular these days. The song suddenly slows to a crawl, loses all momentum and basically just dies. What a crushing disappointment. I mean, this is Bigbang! Creators of Haru Haru, Monster, Lies, Fantastic Baby, Love Song... the list goes on. It's like they forgot about the importance of an actual chorus in favor of pandering to "what the kids like." I'm sure it will grow on me--such is my loyalty as a fan--but I can't help but fear for mainstream music. I mean, repeating the words "bang bang bang" over an unimaginative trap beat is not a chorus. Anyone can do that. This is BIGBANG. We expect a hell of a lot more. At least the video's flashy (if not a little offensive).



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

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Seventeen - Shining Diamond


This is the kind of old school K-pop that I want more and more of this year. I've been following Seventeen through their reality show, and I was instantly taken by the band's size (13 members!), sound (super pop) and charisma. Of all the Korean debuts this year so far, I'm probably most excited about them. They released a really addictive single last week, but this album track is just as great (if not better). Shining Diamond is the kind of huge, melodic, Jackson-esque music that made me fall in love with K-Pop in the first place. While other bands within their peer group are aimlessly following the hip-hop trend, there's something refreshingly old-school about Seventeen. Simply put, the track is hook upon hook upon hook... all of them pretty damn flawless. Even better, the group writes, produces and choreographs their own music. They're certainly ones to watch. The accompanying mini-album is also pretty awesome.



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

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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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