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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.


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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