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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tina & Rene - Mi Amore


"You gave me what no one had given before"

The Eurovision pre-selections are starting to kick off, and as always, Abba's shadow looms big over everything. Denmark's Melodi Grand Prix is in a couple of weeks. They're one of the countries that releases the songs prior to the actual competition, and as I perused this year's entries, I was instantly smitten with Tina and Rene's enormous Mi Amore. It is a 100% schlager belter, with a chorus that sounds quite a lot like the aforementioned Abba. It's the kind of music that really only comes from this region of the world, just like K-Pop is tied only to Korea. I love that, even when this genre has gone out of fashion, we can always count on songs like this being produced for contests like Eurovision. It's cheesy to the max, but I wish it luck!



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

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tooji - Money


"I need an upgrade"

Truth be told, I've always wanted to like Tooji's music more than I do. I'm all for experimental, glamorous Scandinavian pop stars. I mean, who isn't? But the songs that I'd heard seemed to be too generic for what seems like an unusual artist. Then I heard Money, and everything made sense. If Tooji can keep up with this genre-defying, aggressively produced pop, he'll definitely have my full attention. This song certainly won't be to everyone's taste, and we'll see how much staying power it has, but there's no denying that he's gone out on a limb. And in a world with copy/paste DJs being used by every pop singer out there, a little experimentalism goes a long way.



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

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Monday, January 26, 2015

B1A4 - White Miracle


This is for all those in the Northeast that are getting hammered with snow. I figured it might be nice to watch a music video where the snowscapes are gorgeous rather than apocalyptic. Plus, it seems like we're not getting any snow (again) in the Northwest, so I admit I'm a little jealous. Taking weather out of the picture, I was going to post this track anyway because B1A4 are one of my absolute favorite bands these days. I am obsessed with leader Jinyoung's unique vocal tone, and the fact that he composes most of the group's music is incredibly admirable. White Miracle is a Japanese single. More often than not, these feel more uneventful and unexciting than their Korean counterparts. That's true here as well. The song is more "pleasant" and "pretty" than "impactful" or "essential," but sometimes that's okay. The melody is beautiful and builds fantastically. Very soothing, for these short winter days.



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

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Friday, January 23, 2015

GFriend - Glass Bead


I am so far down the K-Pop rabbit hole that I now openly love groups with such tweeny names as Girl's Day, Boyfriend, and GFriend. Yeah, I guess I've turned into a thirteen year old girl, but I'm okay with that because, like I've always said, I don't believe in the "guilty" before "pleasures." Korean music definitely has its cutesy side. It's not my favorite part of the genre, but from time to time it can deliver a fantastic sugar rush. GFriend are a brand new girl group, and this is their debut single. I can't quite pinpoint why, but I'm kind of obsessed with it. Most of that is probably due to the catchy-as-hell hook, but I can't discount the effect that the cheesy music video has had on me either. It's got some golden moments, starting with the awkward, unflattering close-ups at the beginning. Then we've got the perfectly synchronized high kick at the end that I live for. It's just silly fun, honestly.



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

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

G.Soul - You


Sometimes a song just knocks you out on the first listen. I'm not usually a ballad guy, so it takes a special hook or performance to reel me in instantly. You is definitely that song. G.Soul is infamous for being the longest trained artist at JYP Entertainment. He's been there since 2001 (15 years!) and has finally made his debut this month. I don't know why they were holding him back so long. He's got an outstanding voice, and this song displays that in spades. The simple, powerful hook is nothing short of breathtaking. He manages to combine a smooth, neo-soul vibe with a pop sensibility. In short, it's a good old fashioned, chest-beating power ballad -- the likes of which we don't hear all that often these days. Switching continents, I feel like this is the kind of instant, memorable song that could conquer a competition like Eurovision with ease.



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

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ola Salo - Go On Go On


"My panic has become a dependable friend"

This is the way to start out the new year! After a long wait, Ola Salo (of the Ark fame, as if you didn't know) is finally releasing his solo album this year. Now, I've made peace with the fact that I'll never love his solo work the way I loved the Ark's discography. For instance, I tired of last year's I Got You pretty quickly, while I have listened to the Ark's songs more times than I can count. It's just different. That said, Go On Go On is a pretty nice surprise. While the production is a bit softer, the track shares the sense of bombastic bliss that characterized the best Ark singles. It definitely sounds like the work of an older artist -- more reflective than galvanizing. The lyrics are, of course, outstanding, and the track was co-written with Nicklas Stenemo, who is another longtime legend according to this blog. If the rest of the album is in this vein, I can't wait to hear it.



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

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Monday, January 19, 2015

John De Sohn - Wild Roses


"And we run"

December and January are always catch-up months for me when it comes to music. There aren't a lot of new releases out, and it's time for me to discover what I somehow missed the previous year. This can also be frustrating, because I inevitably uncover songs that would have featured in my year-end countdown had I known of their existence. For example, how did I not know that this epic track has been around for months now? It's probably because it's from a dance producer, and there are literally so many of them nowadays that it's hard to keep track. What I love about John De Sohn's Wild Roses, though, is that it's essentially an 80's rock throwback masquerading as a club anthem. This is catnip to me. It's the kind of song that just builds and builds until it explodes. And in that way, it's perfection. It probably wasn't "cool" enough to be a huge hit last year, but that's just fine with me. I live on this kind of bombast.

Wild Roses by John De Sohn on Grooveshark

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

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Friday, January 16, 2015

N.EX.T - Thee


This song is not remotely new, but I can't not post it because it really represents the exact kind of music this blog was designed to spotlight. N.EX.T was a Korean rock band most prominent in the 90's. Its frontman (and mastermind), Shin Hae Chul, tragically and suddenly passed away last October. Though I don't know all that much about him, it's clear that he was a very influential and important artist in his homeland. I do know that he dabbled in almost every genre imaginable, and seemed to have a strong penchant for epic, theatrical rock. To honor his legacy, his songs have been performed by many of my favorite K-Pop idols during the annual end-of-the-year song festivals. That's how I was introduced to this music, and thank god I was. There aren't a lot of translations available for this track, but I've heard it called both "You" and "Thee." I've been teaching myself Korean for a few weeks now, with the goal to be semi-fluent eventually. I believe that the Korean title uses honorifics, hence the reason I went with "Thee." Doesn't matter, though, because a song this triumphant and galvanizing breaks all language barriers. Some might call the epic opening minute cheesy. I would describe it as everything I love in music. I you like Queen or the Ark or any rock opera, you have to listen right now. It's transcendent stuff.



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

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Josef Johansson - Du Tror Du Är


Josef Johansson had two singles in my top fifty last year, both very near the top. That means I'm going to keep featuring his music until he enjoys the kind of success he deserves. His most recent pair of songs have both been covers. Of course, I'd prefer original material, but this Swedish-language version of an old track called Moviestar might as well be original because I've never heard any version of it before. Unsurprisingly, the song doesn't sound all that much like Johansson's other releases. It's more of a downtempo affair with a dreamlike female vocal delivering the hook. I can't quite tell what I think about it yet. It's certainly interesting, though. And I'm still highly anticipating a debut album from him.



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

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jonghyun - Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)


The first major K-Pop release of the year was one that I highly anticipated. I'm a big fan of Shinee, the group that Jonghyun is a part of, and his fellow member Taemin's solo debut last year was one of my favorites. Initially when I heard this song, I've got to admit that I was a little underwhelmed. I felt like the track (its production, specifically), felt underdeveloped. This kind of surprised me, especially since I feel like Jonghyun is the more experimental, songwriting member in the group. Luckily, my enthusiasm nudged me to give the song more listens, and it's grown on me immensely. I particularly like the middle eight, which has a kind of rock/pop melody in the midst of all this spare funk. After this, it feels like solo mini-albums from each Shinee member are inevitable, and I can't wait to hear what the other three have to bring.



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

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Teddybears - Shimmy Shimmy Style


"We keep it up all night"

I don't know how I missed out on this song last year. Well, actually... I guess I do. I'm such a K-Pop devotee nowadays that I haven't had my feelers up as persistently in other regions of the world. And, even though Sweden's Teddybears have quite a pedigree under their belt, I don't feel like there was a lot of buzz when this single was released last September. I'm here to do what I can to change that, because Shimmy Shimmy Style is freaking amazing. For those who don't know, one third of Teddybears is Klas Åhlund, who has done extensive production work with Robyn and (I think) Swingfly. So, if you like music by those two artists (and who wouldn't?), you're going to LOVE this. I'm not sure if that's a "Boys Of Summer" sample I hear in the hook, but either way I think it's tremendously catchy.



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

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Strange Talk - Picking Up All The Pieces


"We've been walking for miles"

Here's another group I somehow missed out on until the end of 2014. Australian electro-pop band Strange Talk have been releasing singles for a few years now, many of which appear on their debut album that was released last spring. The song embedded here today is actually not one of those singles, but it's definitely the Strange Talk track I am most obsessed with. In fact, I love it so much that I've barely gotten past it to listen to the rest of the album. This is going to be a very specific reference, but the track's build and propulsive instrumentation remind me of the excellent songs produced/remixed by Bassflow, of Swedish pop fame. For those longtime readers, you'll know that this is very high praise indeed. Add to that an instantly catchy chorus that compels you to further listens, and you've got one of those songs that refuses to let you go.



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

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Magic Man - Tonight


"I feel alright with all of my heart"

Onto the second American indie act I've been listening to last month, we have the excellent Magic Man. These guys specialize in a synthy, dreamy 80's hodgepodge of soft melodic rock. What I appreciate most, though, is the fact that although there isn't really a lot of bombast in their sound, the melodies definitely veer toward the anthemic. Tonight is a great example of this, with its huge singalong hook that would sound great pumped up in a stadium. In fact, the song's on a FIFA soundtrack and I know I heard it in the background of some football (or basketball?) game that happened to be on the TV. If you like this, make sure to check out the full album. It definitely deserves more attention than it's getting.



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

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Walk The Moon - Avalanche


"Sometimes you only get one chance"

Throughout December, when very little new music was released, there were a couple of non-K-Pop albums I caught up on. One of those albums actually came out during the month, and that's indie band Walk The Moon's excellent Talking Is Hard. For fans of bombastic, 80's synth rock (uh... me??), this is an album you absolutely have to check out. I was really surprised with how consistently good it is. I spotlighted Walk The Moon last year with their awesome single, Shut Up And Dance, and it turns out that that song's a pretty good bellweather for the full album. I could have picked pretty much any of the tracks to spotlight today, but I decided to go with the one that I found to be most catchy on the very first listen. Avalanche is kind of what Maroon 5 would sound like if I found Maroon 5 remotely tolerable. It's glossy, hook-per-second radio pop, but retains a slightly off-kilter presence that gives it a lot of character.



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

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Infinite - Dilemma


After all the hoo ha over Infinite on my year end countdowns, I wanted to end 2014 with a single that slipped in at the very end of the year. And guess what? It's another track from Infinite! There's a reason why I love this band so much, and Dilemma, their debut original Japanese language track, is yet more evidence of that. The song takes a sharp turn into rock territory, with a hard guitar riff and aggressive beat from Japanese legend Tomoyasu Hotei. I love the pounding drums and epic guitar solo. I've heard some say that the rap seems misplaced, but I think it's an interesting contrast with the production. Leader Sungkyu, a rocker at heart, sounds especially awesome on this track. It's not the usual Infinite sound, but it retains enough of what makes them amazing to help it stand well alongside the rest of their catalog. The guys are hinting at a big 2015 to come, and I couldn't be more excited for the music that's to come.



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

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 50 Singles of 2014: 5-1

5. 5 Seconds Of Summer - She Looks So Perfect



Quite simply, it's the perfect pop song. It also happens to be the highest ranked English-language track on the countdown. Of all the singles that were successful in the West this year, this bombastic, fizzy anthem was the one I kept going back to. That chorus is one-in-a-million. Bottled lightning.

4. Josef Johansson - Blickar Kan Mörda



I wish that more people were familiar with this song. Through his work this year, Josef Johansson has become the Swedish artist I'm most anticipating. The song itself reminds me of something Darin would put out, yet it's got a quirky edge that compliments the surging, addictive production and hook.

3. Akdong Musician - 200%



There are so many ideas and surprises hidden in this bubbly mix of pop, folk and hip-hop. It's like pulling open a nesting doll. Some tracks settle for one or two strong hooks. In 200%, every strum of the guitar and vocal adlib are hooky, which makes the song a little hard to click on first listen. But, it's also what makes it the pop song that keeps giving the more you listen to it.

2. B1A4 - Lonely 



Its soaring melody and icy hip-hop beat might seem fairly simple at first, but it's the little turns in leader Jinyoung's songwriting that make this midtempo ballad stand out. The accented high notes in the chorus, the key change at the end, the way the rap winds through the song so seemlessly, the hints of trumpet buried in the mix, and the final, repeated refrain of the title. It's utterly affecting, and much more emotional than you'd expect it to be as it steadily builds to its explosive climax. Honestly, it's probably the best ballad I've heard in years, without really being a ballad at all. I had it placed at the top spot several times.

1. Infinite - Back 



The best pop songs have a standout moment. The absolute best have more than one. Back is like one perfect moment right after the other. That first, dramatic beat drop after the climbing balladry that opens the track -- the aggressive dance breakdown after the first chorus, cut by distorted guitar -- the seemingly disparate orchestral suite underpinning not only the middle eight but the entire song. Somehow, it manages to sound exactly like K-Pop yet nothing like K-Pop at the same time. Infinite has always been known for their powerful vocals, but you can feel the energy and desperation dripping from every note in Back. The track itself is an ambitious gamble with song structure that pays off to almost jaw-dropping effect. It's just ballsy... the kind of thing mainstream groups rarely attempt. In fact, the song is so good that it made me go back and reconsider everything else the guys have done, and put Infinite at the very top of my K-Pop obsession.

Don't forget, if you'd like to listen to the Top 50 Singles Countdown in full, download the audio version!

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: 2-1

2. The Fooo Conspiracy - Off The Grid



I love debut albums that feel like greatest hits packages. The Fooo Conspiracy had released so many singles by the time this full length rolled around that it ended up feeling like listening to a great compilation. Now, this is teen pop through and through. You’re not going to find anything deep here, but remember this is a POP blog, and I can think of no more effective package of Western pop music in 2014 than Off The Grid. It’s Swedish pop melody and production at its very best, each song wrapped in so many layers of hooks that it’s like opening a box of candy and finishing it off with a big soft drink.

1. Infinite - Be Back



Probably the easiest Album of the Year I've had in awhile. It just stood heads and tails above everything else this year. I returned to it the most, I anticipated listening to it even months after it was released, and song for song, it’s one of the (if not the) strongest K-Pop albums I've heard. An ambitious mix of dance, ballads and lush, orchestral strings, it’s the type of album where each track stands as a highlight. The production is impeccable throughout - dense and interesting and surprising. It's a futuristic mix of the current and the classic, of hip hop and orchestral -- palatable to western ears but with a definite eastern flavor. And, oh yeah, the songs? Dynamite, each and every one. It's all tied together with the unmistakably unique wall-of-sound vocals that are distinctly Infinite. It probably won't be for everybody, but if you're willing to give it a few spins, I guarantee the album'll end up knocking you out. Funny enough, when this album was originally released without the two new repackage tracks, I gave it no love whatsoever. I didn't even add it to my ipod. But, I still remember that afternoon, about three listens in, when the entire thing clicked with me big time and I sat in awe as track after wonderful track impressed. It's a feeling that happens less and less these days as I consume more music, and in some ways it brought me back to being a teenager, when the whole world of pop music was new. Jeez, writing about it now I think I have to go listen to the damn thing again!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 50 Singles of 2014: 10-6

10. Kliff - Mun Jopo



I just couldn't get enough of this strange pop trifle this year. It's a hybrid of hip hop, dubstep, and even choral elements in the middle eight. That beat is an absolute sledgehammer. It's hard not to lose it every time it kicks in during the hook.

9. The Madden Brothers - We Are Done



I'm a sucker for bright, summertime harmonies. I would've never expected the Good Charlotte guys to be on my countdown, let alone in the top ten, but this is just a perfectly written, classic pop song.

8. 2NE1 - Come Back Home



The girls do it again, with a galvanizing blend of East and West, pop and trap, and one of the year's most soaring hooks. A deserved smash.

7. B1A4 - Solo Day 



Who would've expected K-pop and summer beach pop to be such a great mix? This has to be the year's ultimate feel good track, especially when those kaleidoscopic harmonies bust in towards the end.

6. GOT7 - A 



A real sense of groove is hard to find in mainstream pop music these days, especially as electronica continues to take over. But, this track boasts one of the year's funkiest, smoothest beats. It doesn't even sound like it's trying, and that's what makes it so addictive.

Don't forget, if you'd like to listen to the Top 50 Singles Countdown in full, download the audio version!

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: 4-3

4. Taeyang - Rise



Taeyang had never been my favorite member of Bigbang (which is honestly pretty hard anyway when G-Dragon exists), but this year he released one of the strongest solo albums of any band member. It was a long time coming, and the quality of the tracks gives the impression that he had a lot of material to choose from and selected only the best. This is the type of smooth, yet playful, modern r&b album that Usher should be releasing. It's high point after high point.

3. My First Band - Corazon



The biggest surprise of the year, when it comes to album releases. After a successful, yet somewhat so-so, single release, the Finnish pop/rock/glam band knocked me out with an album full of great melodies and the exact type of bombastic production that I go gaga for. For me, this was undoubtedly the rock album of the year, and hearkened back to the types of Scandinavian bands that got me into global pop music in the first place.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 Mini Albums of 2014

Before we move on to the best of the best early next week, I'm going to pause for my top mini albums (or EPs) of the year. Given that this format is used most widely in Asia, there's a lot of K-Pop on the list. Strangely, there's also only one female representing this year! I'll be looking for them to come strong in 2015! To be eligible for this chart, the albums must have at least four full tracks.

10. HyunA - A Talk



I became a HyunA fan this year, despite not being into too much of he stuff in the past. That's all to do with this sleek, dud-free collection of charismatic dance pop.

9. BTS - Skool Luv Affair



Nearly a full album, with eight tracks on the expanded version, I didn't like this quite as much as their other release this year, but you can't deny the pair of singles...totally different from one another but both awesome.

8. VIXX - Error



Glossy, meticulous production highlights this collection of dramatic, sci-fi flavored dance. The title track is epic, and the rest of the album surprisingly lives up to it.

7. Exo - Overdose 



EXO had a quieter year in 2014, with just this mini-album release. It's not their most in-your-face collection, but it's an incredibly interesting listen, sonically, and of course includes the fantastic title track.

6. Halo - Hello Halo 



One of the most promising new debuts of the year, I love that this group is pure POP and doesn't really try to be anything else. It's a short album, at only four tracks, but they're all bright and fun.

5. Austin Mahone - The Secret



It may not include his best song (What About Love), but the throwback sound to the late 90's Swedish pop boom is incredibly welcome and sets this collection of songs apart from everything else out there.

4. Gravitonas - Garden Of Men And Machines



My favorite release from them, simply because each and every song is flawless. It has a nice sonic variety as well, with aggressive dance sitting beside pensive balladry.

3. The Fooo Conspiracy - Conspiration



These guys released two excellent EPs this year, but this is my favorite. It's a masterclass in fun, youthful 2014 urban dance pop. Playful, energetic and ridiculously catchy.

2. Taemin - Ace 



I'm a massive Michael Jackson fan, which is part of the reason I love K-Pop so much, and Taemin delivered what sounds like a modern MJ release. His background as a dancer is evident in the way his vocals massage the beats.

1. B1A4 - Solo Day 



No single release this year sounded more like summer than this. Overall, it's more subdued and downtempo (even acoustic) than most of what I like, but song for song, I don't think this mini album could be beat in 2014. It just makes me happy.

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