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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.