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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.