Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rant: Japan vs. South Korea Round 3

To continue on the rant of jpop vs. kpop, I will focus on the second issue of sexiness or adult imagery. Now every time I saw or heard that kpop is more sexy and mature than jpop I cringe. Some people are so close minded and only compare AKB48 to SNSD, which is completely unfair. How would you feel if I compared Foxxi misQ to GP Basic?

In a previous post, I mentioned South Korea's broadcasting rules concerning music videos. To me, it feels like Japan has more creative freedom when marketing their music with risque videos, provocative lyrics, and intimate photoshoots. If a kpop group shows their midriffs on TV or start grinding on some girl on stage, people become "offended".

Now I can understand how idol groups can seem more adult and sexy if you simply compare groups, because the major groups in Japan are Johnny's or female groups like AKB48 or Morning Musume. But what they neglect are solo artists. I can easily pick apart how safe (innocent and soft) kpop artists are with their generic ballads or carefree, upbeat love tunes. I've seen very little examples of sexiness with kpop solo acts like Chae Yeon or Rain. Since Japan seems a little less conservative about sexual matters in music videos, artists like Koda Kumi and Maki Goto don't hesitate to show their sexy side to their fans. On the other hand of just being "cute", kpop has their own form of "kawaii" called "aegyo" which is used quite often with young groups like Boyfriend, Teen Top, Girl's Day, and Orange Caramel. Please don't tell me that that's adult, because you'd be lying to yourself.

So, to say that the always banned to the public eye for taking risks kpop is more sexy than the most perverted country in the world Japan is like saying Lil' Kim is more saintly than Mother Teresa.

To tie up both topics, I highly recommend you guys to watch this video. It goes over the jpop/kpop industry scene at a more professional, intelligent level. Sadly, it does point out my rant topic of sexiness/maturity, but it's still better than most sources. Best place to start is the 7 minute mark:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rant: Japan vs. South Korea Round 2

A couple weeks ago, there was a couple reposts from some dumb tumblr site and an inaccurate article on the Atlantic to arama@LJ and the comments I read there were amusing. I guess the battle between jpop and kpop fans won't be dying any time soon...unfortunately. Two things that get brought up in articles like this are how the jpop industry could be more like kpop as in branching out internationally and be more sexy or adult. I want to take this topic and make it two different rants.

Japan has one of the most successful music industries in the world. South Korea is still developing and that's one main reason groups venture to Japan for money. That being said it's obvious that Japan can depend on domestic sells more than South Korea can. Because of this factor, South Korea has more reason to be global and in order to make profit from international activities, artists must have a global versatile sound and image to an extent. This makes people believe that kpop is conquering the world.

I'm sure if the jpop industry wanted to become more globally known, they could. Honestly, I think Japan has the upper hand as they have more variety in the pop scene compared to South Korea. You might not think there's variety if you only focus on Johnny's Entertainment groups and female groups like AKB48. Of course, I will admit that at times Japan gives a vibe of disinterest when it comes to international ventures mainly outside of Asia. I'm not sure why this is happening, especially when jrock/visual kei, a more niche market in and out of Japan, are more ambitious by consistently travelling outside of Asia.

For jpop fans, it would be nice if items and activities were more accessible like kpop, therefore in that sense I can understand why articles want the industry to reflect kpop's global branching. They have the tools to do so and perhaps it will help the economy a little.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rant: Are Rap/Hip-Hop Fans Ignorant?

This topic has been sitting in the back of my mind for quite some time (and I mean like years of time). I've seen and read many things and this topic has pushed itself to the front of my thoughts more and more, especially for this blog. I'm not sure how many of you listen/enjoy rap/hip-hop music, but I always wanted to express my view on the issue.

I've mentioned a little background with the genre in a post about Korean rap music. My tastes haven't changed much at all. My ears still crave the sounds of talent from the past. I wish it could've remained in this present time, but I'm not optimistic about that ever happening with the way things are now, especially with the current line-up of artists and the fans that enjoy them. Yes, I have given up long time ago. This feeling was sealed and secured in my mind since my senior year of high school when three freshman/sophomore students hanging outside the school were criticizing my music as garbage. I didn't say anything, because I knew if I did I would be wasting my time with their ignorance of the past. To paint a clearer picture of this scenario, I was parking my car and listening to some oldies really loud with my windows down. I figured kids today never look back to see what built the present when it comes to music like when I was a kid. I learned to appreciate and enjoy the oldies like George Clinton, The Temptations, Chaka Khan, and many others that my parents and relatives listened to.

Some time ago (some number of months), my brother shared this video with me on Facebook, I believe, and it brought up a lot of good points that I agreed with along with some points I never thought of. I contemplated doing a video response to it, but I knew what I had to say wouldn't fit in the allotted time. Instead, I let the idea of ranting about it here linger in my mind until I felt the moment was right or until I could wrap everything up nicely for my Cult followers.

The topic of the video was whether hip-hop fans are fickle. In my opinion, I think the answer is no. The reason I say that is because the question is too...general. If you pick an age group or generation, then it's easier to pinpoint what fans have the capacity to be loyal to a certain artist and the ones who just stick with the trend. During high school, I had my close friends that felt the same as I do about older rap being better and then I had younger friends that really pushed what was in at the moment (i.e. chopped and screwed, dance craze songs). A few of them did actually appreciate the older stuff that I liked that wasn't all too popular anymore. I suppose if you look over the timeline of hip-hop and rap, it seems like the fans are fickle as things that got popular over time became more simplified. But honestly, if you ask two different age groups, you get a different conclusions that it's all generational.

Another question was brought up by one of the people in the video, Joe Budden, about whether the fans are ignorant, which creates this rant topic. After re-watching this video one more time before typing and reading a certain book I mentioned in a v-log, I truly believe that fans are ignorant to the past. Let me use some examples from the video. Joe mentioned to his colleagues that what current fans were saying about a past popular rapper Ja Rule, who apparently was being ridiculed when he was going to jail at the time, would come back and new/young fans would be cheering for him or appreciating his music. One person believes that this new generation would welcome artists like Outkast, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, or Ice Cube back like they're brand new or appreciate the path they created for current entertainers, but clearly only fans of that time would appreciate their comeback and probably sing along to their songs like it's brand new all over again. I'm sure if older artists that are still relevant now performed their older material, newer fans would criticize them.

In the video, once the topic of ignorance was brought up, there was a repetitive claim of the fans not having the tools to look back at history, the poets of hip-hop, but fans have tons of sources to check out what was great back in the 80's and 90's. I did! And there was no YouTube and music sharing was in infancy. I picked up this stuff from family members and through the radio, cassettes, and vinyls. Honestly, from experience they quickly dismiss the genre from those decades and ridicule the people who listen to it. Check out the Lil' Kim vs. Nicki Minaj from the same channel and the comments!

I know things can't always stay the same with an artist and I welcome experimentation. I was a big fan of Missy Elliott and she was an innovator for her genre along with producers Pharrell Williams and Timbaland. They combined all sorts of cultural elements into hip-hop and people loved it. But I think nowadays lyrical content has truly become secondary in this genre. It doesn't even have to be deep or poetic like Public Enemy or Tupac just have some sense or relatably.

Lastly, I want to tie in this book I read about southern rap/hip-hop: Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy the genre or simply want to reminisce on the times when everyone was reppin' the ATL, sippin' drank, and had to get their CD chopped and screwed. It starts at the beginning with the Ms. Peachez controversy and even an amusing chat with Luke Campbell of 2 Live Crew. It gives an interesting perspective of how southern rap gradually dominated the charts as well as a general view of how the business works and trending as well as bits and pieces of what other artists in the industry think of the genre currently (especially when you get to Soulja Boy).

In conclusion:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: RESCUE

Starring: Nakamaru Yuuichi, Ishibashi Ryou, Yamamoto Yuusuke, Masuda Takahisa
Language: Japanese
Genre: Action
Episodes: 9

Daichi Kitajima was a little boy trapped and rescued by a brave Super Ranger. After being saved the rescuer in orange, the rescuer became trapped immediately in another collapse. This unfortunate event inspired the young Daichi to train to become a Super Ranger and save lives in the future.

We follow him and a few other aspiring young men during their training until the time comes to announce those who are qualified for what field. Then we meet the older Super Rangers and develop a relationship with them as they interact with our familiar rookies.

Rescue is an emotional, action packed drama that reveals the bond between men and the impact of safety officials in the community. You definitely connect with each character naturally and there are moments where you need to reach for a box of tissues.

The acting among the cast were somewhat realistic and occasionally there were a few times where it seemed a bit overdramatic. The action sequences or rescue missions were clearly secondary, but not in a bad way. A couple of the missions are similar, but still enjoyable to watch.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting series, great choice of actors, and a thoughtful storyline. The drama could've been better and less dramatic acting-wise, but nonetheless, I don't feel like I wasted my time when I finished the series.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, September 16, 2011

V-log: A Big Screw You

Is there anyone else who doesn't understand YouTube's copyright rules? Because it seems hella confusing to me & my friends.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Crush! -90's V-Rock best hit cover songs-

Various Artists - Crush! -90's V-Rock best hit cover songs- (2011, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Pink Spider, Gekka no Yasoukyoku, Kurenai, Schwein no Isu

I noticed my review on the Seikima tribute album ran a little long and I wanted to add something I noticed after listening to this album. While listening to these covers, I noticed the newer bands stuck by the original arrangement of the song and didn't add a little part of themselves in it like the more established bands. I thought that was interesting. Unfortunately, most of the bands that were covered in this album, I don't really follow or listen to. I might've heard of them, so at least that's something. I know when this CD came out earlier this year, I did check out samples of the bands I don't listen to to compare to the covers. That's when the observation came up. There's nothing wrong with that just interesting.

The album opens up with the most memorable hide song, "Pink Spider, covered by one of my favorite underrated jrock bands heidi.. The intro is very much themselves and they added a little creative spin to the song while still keeping the greatness of this classic with great guitar work and high energy. Next is SOPHIA's "Machi" covered by another band I enjoy DOREMIdan. Even though the band is a little more well known than BugLug or DOGinthePWO, they pretty much stuck with the original. The song is alright, but a little too slow for my liking. I haven't listened to much SHAZNA, but I know a couple friends have showed me things by them or at least IZAM. BugLug covers "Melty Love". I'm not a fan of BugLug at all and I wish Megamasso took over this song instead since they covered a SHAZNA song in their album. It's kinda bland and super indies sounding. So, I don't listen to SIAM SHADE and I don't really care for NoGoD, but I actually really liked this song. I think they did a good job covering this song and I like the vocals more than SIAM SHADE. Don't hurt me. Alright, "Gekka no Yasoukyoku" is one of my favorite Malice Mizer songs and I know that D's vocalist Asagi admires Gackt, so I concluded this track would be pretty epic...and it was! They fused the elegance of Malice Mizer and D's heavy, but classy sound together to one amazing cover that would make the band tear up from the pure brilliance of this rendition. I like LUNA SEA, probably not as much as I would like to, and I really like Lolita23q, so I was curious how an oshare kei band would pull off such an iconic band's song. The intro of "STORM" was pretty wicked, especially with all the guitar breaks. Most people would've automatically thought this was gonna turn into a disaster, but I think they did a pretty good job. Yay~ Another song I'm familiar with and normally I'm a little lost when it comes to X Japan sometimes despite them being the jrock band I was introduced to. I couldn't have thought of a better band to cover the classic of "Kurenai" than Matenrou Opera. It opens with a beautiful piano intro that would make Yoshiki proud and then when the first lines of the song come in it is...flawless. In about a minute and a half, things will really pick up and Matenrou Opera definitely take a creative spin of this song like they own it. So, I don't listen to either La'cryma Christi or DaizyStripper, so anything could happen here. In the beginning of the "With-you" cover, the singing is a bit painful to listen and it's probably the reason I never stuck to DaizyStripper. They pretty much keep everything the same, but up the tempo and the tone. Next, we have GLAY's "winter again". Not a big fan of GLAY, but I love 12012 to no end. After hearing a sample of the original, I figured with 12012's skills they could pull this off and maybe make it better. They added little bits and pieces of themselves, but stuck close to the original which was a bit disappointing. Next up is Penicillin's "Romance" covered by a j-indies band I'm not particularly fond of And -Eccentric Agent-. I'm a little familiar with the song and the sample helped me refresh my memory. They pretty much stick with the original arrangement, which I think is a wise choice for the young band. Another old band I don't listen to CASCADE and a somewhat new band MIX SPEAKER'S INC. that I don't really like. The band puts their own little fun spin of "S.O.S Romantic" which was...okay. Honestly, I've never heard of D-Shade until this album and I remember that whatever song I heard of LOST ASH I didn't like that much, but they cover "Endless Love" and stuck by the book and made it a little louder. I must admit there were a couple covers I anticipated when seeing the tracklist and Merry's cover of Dir en grey's "Schwein no Isu" was one of them. Reason is quite obvious, but for those new Diru fans out there that don't know, I think one of the members was the band's roadie, so this is a perfect match like D and Malice Mizer. Must say...I think this is the most repeated cover from this album. Not only to did they take a great classic Dir en grey song and follow along the original, but they made it very Merry! They kept the energy and craziness of it without being a Diru copycat but themselves. Moving onto Buck-Tick and DuelJewel which neither I'm a fan of. They cover "Jupiter" and basically keep it all the same without doing anything wild or special to it. Reaching the final track, I noticed that the band selection was more or less evenly distributed between indies and major/well-known bands because the last track is covered by an j-indies band by the name of DOG in the Parallel World Orchestra. They close out this album with Raphael's "Yume Yori Suteki na". This song really fits the band's original sound, so they could get away with sticking closely with the original arrangement and not get scolded too badly from me.

Overall, the album was very well compiled, although I wish they snuck some D'erlanger in there or maybe and exist†trace cover of a SHOW-YA song would be awesome, but what they picked made me check out other iconic bands that I don't normally listen to.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"

Lady Gaga - Born This Way (2011, U.S.) Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Government Hooker, Scheiße, Heavy Metal Lover

I've been wanting to do a one-on-one review on a CD and Gaga gets to be the first victim. Honestly, as a Gaga fan, I was a little hesitant to see how this album would go and my hesitation was kinda right on this one.

"Marry the Night" opens up this album with a organesque/vocal combo. It has a generic dance sound and the lyrics are kinda bland. "Born This Way" was the promotion song for this album and when I first heard it, I couldn't believe this was a Gaga song. It doesn't sound like her at all. I later found out that the music was possibly borrowed from a popular female Korean pop group. The song is one of those inspiration pieces along with Katy Perry's "Firework" and Pink's "Raise Your Glass". "Government Hooker" has a dramatic and mysterious intro that makes you curious what direction Gaga's gonna go. The music kicks in and it fuses electronic dance elements from the present and past. This is the first track I actually enjoyed! The vocal arrangement is kinda tamely wild and it remains catchy in a good way. Before I heard the album, I saw the video to "Judas" and it definitely pulled some religious nerve inside that felt a little offended. When you think about it, it has nothing to do with religion, she's only using it as a metaphor in the lyrics. The song's not that bad, but the chorus is a bit weak in my opinion. "Americano" gives a historical aire and mixes Latin culture with American or even European sounds together. It's interesting marriage for sure. Well, she already has a song called "Teeth", so why not have a song called "Hair". It's a bit of a melodramatic song and I honestly can't focus too much into the song as I quickly lose interest in the first 40 seconds. "Scheiße" is an odd track featuring some German words and a familiar dance sound that's super catchy. Sometimes you forget that there's German in there because the music is very easy to lose yourself in. "Bloody Mary" opens up with a classical sound, then combines it with the dance sound. It has an interesting transition and can be a bit hit or miss at times. With "Black Jesus†Amen Fashion", I honestly can't tell where this song is going and I really have no interest in finding out really. I can see it for the runway, but not my iPod. Let's add a little rock with "Bad Kid". I guess this is where Gaga is suppose to bring out her rebel side, but it's soft and has an alright music track. I guess we don't have enough tracks about fashion, so here's another reference to clothing in some way song called "Fashion of His Love". It has a retro pop feel like "Like A Virgin" Madonna or Cyndi Lauper. "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" has an uplifting sound in the beginning, but drops down a few levels musically. The arrangement is pretty much everywhere, but it's no surprise with a title like that. After several unappealing tracks, "Heavy Metal Lover" pops up and pulls me back in. Sure, it sticks with that semi-generic dance sound, but the lyrics are so...rock and wrong. *adds to the Miko anthem list* "Electric Chapel" is a bit of a hit or miss, depending on my mood. The old school rock guitar and new wave "Flashdance" sound can be appealing. "The Queen" has a lighter sound and goes a different direction than what I would expect from Gaga. "You and I" is like an electro-country song. Yes, you read that right. It sounds very country. At the moment, "The Edge of Glory" is the song floating around the radio and TV. Oh. My. Gosh. I hate this song so much! It's just so...cheesy. It feels like a cop out Olympic song or something and the story behind the music video once it was release is hilarious. If you haven't heard it, the short version is that no one wants to take credit for that piece of fail. Nonetheless, this song closes out this mediocre album.

But, wait! There's more if you got the two discs version with the remixes. "Born This Way (The Country Road version)" sounds pretty much how it's titled. The intro is pretty cool, but once the first verse starts, I'm ready to move onto the next remix. Nothing will make me like that song! For the longest, since my religious side kinda twitches a little with the original version, I stuck by the remix of "Judas". "Judas (DJ White Shadow Remix)" is more or equally appealing as the original. "Marry the Night (Zedd Remix)" doesn't make this song any better or enjoyable to me. "Scheiße (DJ White Shadow Mugler)" made an already addicting dance song even more addicting. Perhaps more appealing for the club kids than the original. I think I listen to the original and remix about the same amount, give or take. "Fashion of His Love (Fernando Garibay Remix)" slightly enhances this bland piece of work, but still doesn't convince me to listen to it anymore than I do now. I thought I'd escape the tragedy of "Born This Way", but no...there's two more remixes that try to convince me to listen to this awful song. Now the Jost & Naaf Remix almost does it, but I honestly would rather just listen to an instrumental of this remix. There is a LLG vs. GLG remix I like from one of her previous albums, but no luck in winning me over.

Overall, this album isn't worth buying and it's probably too late to even say that. I heard the record sells weren't as good as her previous albums anyway. But, if you were to buy the album, I would suggest getting the version that includes the remixes. The remixes are more appealing than the original tracks more than half the time and the album art is better too. Who wants a Gaga bike, seriously!?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Quick Music Review

The Birthday Massacre - Imaginary Monsters (2011, U.S.) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Forever, Pale (Kevvy Mental & Dave Ogilvie "Rubber Unicorn" Mix), Shallow Grave (Assemblage 23 Mix)

Recently, I blindly bought a single...and I really dislike buying singles, but I ended up not regretting this one. "Forever" is haunting yet beautiful track that shows off that emotional goth electronic sound of the band and Chibi's voice is flawless. The song smoothly transitions to "Burn Away" which has a slightly harder sound than the first track. "Left Behind" has an eerie sound and dramatic electronic rock music arrangement that drags along some. The next 5 tracks are remixes of songs from their last album, Pins and Needles. "Pale (Kevvy Mental & Dave Ogilvie "Rubber Unicorn" Mix)" brings out more bass and guitar sound yet keeps the integrity of the original intent of the song. "Control (Tweaker Mix)" sounds extra retro electronic. Think of Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran". "Shallow Grave (Combichrist "Good For Her" Mix)" has a few scratches and tweaks. I didn't really care for this remix so much. "Pins And Needles (Skold Mix)" has its moments of great musical arrangement choices within the remix. It kinda reminds of me of an industrial DDR song or something. "Shallow Grave (Assemblage 23 Mix)" is better than the other remix of the same song. It keeps its original tempo and adds cool, familiar dance elements to it. Overall, the single wasn't that bad.

Natalia Kills - Perfectionist (2011, U.S.) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Wonderland, Break You Hard, Zombie, Love is a Suicide

If you haven't noticed, I've been waiting for this album for a while now. It opens with one of my favorite tracks, "Wonderland". The lyrics are interesting and a little dark. The music is simple, but definitely leaves an impression in your mind. "Free" is an upbeat, fun song that follows along the same line as Jessie J's "Price Tag". I believe this is her latest music video as well and it features I really wish he wasn't in it because his part is kinda annoying and unnecessary. "Break You Hard" is an aggressive song mixing haunting sound effects, intense vocals, and a rock influence music arrangement. "Zombie" used to be a track I was obsessed with. The song is still amazing and keeps that dark pop vibe. "Love is a Suicide" is my favorite new track. No doubts there. It has a great dance sound and keeps true to Natalia's style. "Mirrors" was another song that was previously released. It still has a nice dramatic sound with a retro-electropop vibe. "Acid Annie" goes back to that dramatic rock sound, but more of a stalkerish, threatening tone to it than "Break You Hard", but underlying uplifting. "Superficial" is a lighter track than the previous one and easy to get into. "Broke" is a slightly softer track and fuses Natalia's sound with R&B elements which creates this beautiful little song. "If I Was God" keeps that light, thoughtful tone going to close out the album. It compiles some of the themes presented in the previous tracks and puts it on the table for the listener to think things over. It also shows off Natalia's great, diverse vocal range. Overall, this is a great debut album for Kills and it was definitely worth the wait. I hope she can keep going on this great route while this dance/electronic trend is still going. I also hope this kills the Gaga comparisons too.

f(x) - PINOCCHIO (2011, South Korea) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Pinocchio (Danger), Dangerous, Love, Lollipop

Things have been a little quiet for the girls since Amber was injured, but this was their comeback. "Pinocchio (Danger)" was the promo song to get people excited about their first album and their comeback. It's a very catchy song and goes along with the same vibe as "Nu ABO", which made me happy. "Sweet Witches" takes a sweeter sound of pop that I didn't know existed in them. I'd rather not hear anything like this again. "Dangerous" has a bit of a retro pop sound that I can't seem to place where I've heard before. "Beautiful Goodbye" is a nice, little simple ballad that gives the girls a chance to show off their vocal harmony. "Gangsta Boy" kinda has a bit of a red flag vibe for me just basing it off the title, but the song isn't that bad. They took pieces from the same sound as "Pinocchio (Danger)" and pretty much simplified it to a cute track. "Love" regains my attention back to the fact that these girls have talent. It has cuteness and power at the same time. "Stand Up!" is one of those tracks that's supposed to put an instant smile on your face, but...I just skip this track completely. "MY STYLE" has a retro "Soul Train" element in the music, but combines it with the girls' sassy pop sound. I noticed a lot of people like "So into U". It does have a nice instrumental to it and the vocals are pretty good too, but not my style. The album ends with "Lollipop" featuring labelmates SHINee. I must say I might like this one better than Big Bang and 2NE1's, but that's probably due to overplay. Nonetheless, it's a really good, repeatable track.

9GOATS BLACK OUT - Rorschach inkblot (2011, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: missing, Yuuustu to Kodoku

A highly anticipated yet nerve racking comeback. I was a little nervous about listening to this single, since I wasn't completely wowed by their last release before they went on hiatus. I was surprised by this single! "missing" has flawless vocals and the music is filled with so much theatrics and emotion that it's hard not to fall in love with them again. "Yuuutsu To Kodoku" has an airy, haunting feeling that made "sink" amazing, but on a whole new level. The single ends with a live track from their latest DVD. "Atena No Nai Tegami [live in Melancholy pool]" has a mellow, acoustic lounge sound and it's easy to lose yourself with the soft vocals and prominent basslines.

2NE1 - 2NE1 Mini Album Vol. 2 (2011, South Korea) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: I Am the Best, Lonely, Hate You, Don't Stop the Music

The girls have been teasing us with video after video of awesomeness and now we have the compilation of the girls' great works from their recent releases. "I Am the Best" was the biggest boom since "Clap Your Hands" perhaps? It has a heavy bass, a simple electro-pop sound, and extra sass. It is a very catchy track that you can't resist repeating and it's a great opener for this new mini. "UGLY" is one of those confident building anthems that's kinda catchy here in the States. I'm not particularly fond of the song and the video didn't help the matter either. Surprisingly, "Lonely" grew on me and I slowly started liking this little ballad. Everyone's voice is nice and the video reflects the beauty and emptiness of the song. "Hate You" has more of an electro-pop sound than the first track and the song lyrically is kinda simple. Easy to sing along, at least around the chorus. The video is kinda entertaining for something animated. Park Bom's "Don't Cry" is featured on this mini and...I'm still not a fan of hers, but the song's alright. "Don't Stop the Music" closes up the mini and it was the first track to be used to promote this CD. It reflects more of the girls' sound from their last album release and doesn't mesh as well with these new tracks. Nonetheless, it's still a good song.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quick Music Review

Blood Stain Child - Episilon (2011, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Sirius VI, Forever Free, Stargazer, Electricity

This is BSC's first album featuring their new vocalist Sophia. I was really curious how much their sound would change having a new vocalist, especially a female one, but the live satisfied my curiosity. Episilon opens up with a strong track, "Sirius VI", that features heavy rock elements and Sophia's melodic voice flowing softly like the wind accompanied by Ryo's screams occasionally. The sound stays consistent throughout the album with a "trance-metal" sound. "Forever Free" keeps the intensity and Ryo and Sophia bridge their old sound from MOSAIQ and this new beautiful, haunting vocals. It's uplifting lyrically, but keeps an intense emotion through the music. "Stargazer" is more upbeat in sound, but doesn't seem out of place in the album at all. It kinda sounds like an anime song. "S.O.P.H.I.A" keeps along the lines of that generic anime sound, but still keeps true the bands sound by adding aggressive guitars and screams here and there. "Unlimited Alchemist" goes back to the slight fast pace that is represented in their first track and the vocals go back and forth to in your face yells and comforting mystical singing. "Electricity" is a highly addicting song that has a fun musical sound and still strikes a nerve around the bridge. "Eternal" starts off like a dramatic DDR song and instantly catches your interest when Sophia begins talking. "Moon Light Wave" goes back to a lighthearted sound and a strong bassline. "Dedicated to Violator" really reminds of this DDR song I'm not particularly fond of. This song puts the rock element on the back burner and purely focuses on the electronic elements more. The album continues to get a little more distant from the heavy sounds in the beginning and keeps it soft yet still beautiful with "Merry-Go-Round". After going through the album, the songs kinda blend a little when you get to intense tracks like "La+". It's still a great song, but it definitely goes back to the fast pace aggression. "Sai-ka-no" is the softest track on the whole album. It uses soft echoes, acoustic guitars, and combines it with fantasy-like electronic sounds. "Void dmn-str. remix" closes off the album and touches base with the bands metal side. Overall the album is a great piece of work and still keeps true to the original sound of the band before Sophia joined. I think overseas fans that already enjoy this genre could easily get pulled into this band (as long as they ignore that Ryu likes wearing lolita).

Dir en grey - DIFFERENT SENSE (2011, Japan) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: DIFFERENT SENSE

While anticipating the new album, Diru released a new single (and a photobook that featured 2 songs) and I must say that this was a good sample of what was to come of DUM SPIRO SPERO. "DIFFERENT SENSE" is a very aggressive sounding song at first with Kyo's signature screams and growling singing style. The drums are very pace and the guitars lag just enough to keep the songs interesting, then when the chorus comes around the vocals are layered to Kyo's matured vocals and his painful screams. Yes, Kyo still sings...please stop saying he doesn't. While listening to "Tsuki to Kisei", I was bothered by the fact that the song sounded so familiar yet I couldn't place why, then I looked it up and was reminded it's a "loose" remake of their older classic "Tsumi to Batsu". The song confuses me on how I feel about it. I suppose it's okay. I could do without the muffled vocals, but I love the dramatic musical arrangement. To close out the single, it's a generic solution...adding a live track. This time it's "Red Soil". Yeah, I'm not gonna waste my time reviewing a live track. XP Deal with it!

2PM - Hands Up (2011, South Korea) Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Hands Up, Electricity, Don't Stop Can't Stop

First of all, I'm gonna partially apologize to 2PM fans because...I just don't like these guys. So, why in the hell am I reviewing their album? Well, 1. there's one song that drew me in to listen to the rest of the tracks...give them a third chance and 2. it's my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want. XP Anyway...onto the album. "Hands Up" is your generic high energy, club song that you can't resist liking...even if you dislike the group. Sadly, this is the main reason I have this album on my external drive. It's like a Ke$ha song, you don't wanna like it, but it sticks. "Electricity" kinda stuck to me as well. It has a strong bass and hints of R&B and hip-hop to the arrangement. "Give It to Me" is a total generic lovey R&B track that I guess is suppose to make the ladies swoon or whatever, but I'm not having it. The music is alright, but it's nothing I would listen to all the time like the previous two tracks. "영화처럼" is a pure ballad track and "모르니" sounds like some retro kpop track that H.O.T would make but worse. "Hot" brings back that heavy bass in the intro and goes back to that generic electronic dance sound. It's okay on a good day, but doesn't stick as much as "Hands Up". "Without" has beautiful piano, but this overall sound is the reason why 2pm completely turns me off. "I'll Be Back" sticks with that bland sound and "I Can't" is another lovey dovey ballad with nice acoustic guitar. For some reason, there's remixes of "Hands Up" and "Electricity"...and not very impressive ones either. Although, "Electricity (220v Remix)" is the better of the two. "Thank You" brings the tempo down to another slow song that's suppose to show off their vocal "talent". I believe "Don't Stop Can't Stop" was previously released on something, but I really don't know nor care. Nonetheless, for some reason I ended up liking it. Maybe because I wasn't watching them heartlessly performing it live, but it has a nice beat and the singing's not bad. As you can see, 2pm hasn't won me over and you 2pm readers will just have to deal with.

Kim Hyun Joong - Break Down (2011, South Korea) Rating: 2/5
Favorite Tracks: Break Down

Now I'm not a SS501 fan at all [been there, done that], but the title track was the reason for listening. Grand organ opening surprised me in "Intro (Let Me Go)". It was intriguing and dramatic enough to bring you into this single. "Break Down" is bass heavy, powerful yet smooth kpop track that I'm still to this day blasting when I can. The song is catchy, but clearly has thought put into the song. Having Double K be apart of it makes it extra enjoyable. "Please" brings us in with a basic piano intro and basically cues some pretty impressive vocals. It's not a song I would listen to all the time, but it is nice. "Kiss Kiss" combines Spanish acoustics with bass driven dance beats. It's pretty simple and nothing to go crazy over. "Yes I Will" is a pure dance track and I'm not particularly a fan of this nasally autotune vocals featured in it. It has a simple catchy musical arrangement, but it's very generic. The single closes with an instrumental track of "Break Down".

Zwei - Kaze no Senritsu (2011, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Kaze no Senritsu, Sora no Shizuku

It's been a while since these two released anything, even it was just an anime's something. This is pretty much the same, but more impressive. "Kaze no Senritsu", I believe, was used for an anime opening or something. The song is pretty upbeat and fun, but you can hear Ayumu's impressive vocals and Megu's prominent basslines. "Sora no Shizuku" is probably the best track between the two. It starts off pretty low and makes you curious what will happen next. It's pretty powerful sounding song and I can listen to it over and over again. It has a dramatic arrangement and it sticks to their original sound with growth. The remaining two tracks are instrumentals. I really hope the girls will put an album and/or PV soon, because it kills me when they go silent between releases.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rant: South Korea's Music Video Bans

I've been contemplating on starting a new topic to feed my guilty pleasure of picking on South Korea. I seriously have no real problems with the country, but some things that they do make me say "wtf, Korea!?". One thing that has bothered me about their musical acts presentations, whether it be on stage or in a music video, is what is appropriate and what isn't. This little question has popped up quite a few times like when I heard that G-Dragon was being fined for his live performance of "Breathe" or when YouTube's Simon and Martina recently reviewed Teen Top's "No More Perfume on You" video and also answered a question about appropriate clothing in Korea.

It's been expressed many times that I'm not a kpop fan, simply a listener of Korean music. Also, the fact that I have no problem with the fandom or the country or anything related, but there's so many questionable things that go on in this industry and, in this post, I want to focus on the whole musical ban issue.

Now I must point out that every country has different standards of what's appropriate for the public to see. Surprise, surprise, there are videos that have been banned in this fine country called the U.S. of A or even subjected to late night broadcasting. Back in the day when music videos really mattered with promotions and kept up with the trends, BET had a segment called Uncut which featured low budget and/or raunchy rap videos such as Nelly's controversial vid of his remix of "E.I.". MTV also had to do the same with some of their videos and even dedicated a countdown to the most controversial videos such as Nas's "Hate Me Now" and, one of my favorite music videos of all time, the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up". Japan also has standards for what they can and can't air, although some of their choices can be a little questionable at times. In the beginning, Dir en grey had to edit PVs for it to be aired like "Mazohyst of Decadence" and "Obscure", but lately I've seen sexual (yet somewhat tasteful) things like a good portion of Koda Kumi's PVs be aired [check out her latest PV for "Koso Koso"]. Even though there's conflicts on the censor business in both countries, Korea throws me off the most.

Let's start the topic with one of the examples mentioned above, G-Dragon's live performance of "Breathe". After releasing his first solo album, Heartbreaker, the Big Bang leader went on tour and one of his performances caused some concerns among parents and the Ministry (or whoever dictates what's inappropriate for the kiddos of South Korea). During the live, there is a part where he's expressing how he sees the girl of his dreams or something and he climbs into a bed with one of the female dancers. Through the eyes of the parents and dictators of all things appropriate in South Korea, they saw this as a sexual demonstration for the younger audience...therefore inappropriate. Apparently, the problem was so serious that there was a possibility floating around that G-Dragon could've gone to jail for it or simply pay a high fine for the display. Along with the live, the public pointed out mature content from the album which was already explained in the beginning. It's amusing to me since Koki Tanaka of KAT-TUN can get away with his performance of "MAKE U WET ~Chapter 2~" in Japan that also involves and, as a bonus, highly sexual lyrics. I guess a bed is going too far for a live performance in Korea, but humping the air and floor is perfectly fine.

Not good enough of an example? Alright, here's a few more inappropriate actions from some other kpop artists. Sistar's "How Do You" was brought to attention due to the presents of poles that they technically danced next to as opposed to twirling around them like a stripper for about 10-20 seconds. Rain's "Love Song" video had to be edited for airing due to violating traffic regulations for running down a street as oppose to his shirtless little Chippendale's dance [not that I mind]. Lee Hyori refused to edit her video for "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". The Ministry wanted to ban the video for the fact she didn't wear a seat belt while driving and the dancers danced on a bus and in the middle of a street. DBSK's "Before U Go" was placed on the hit list of controversy for supposedly promoting gambling and violence.

Aside from physical acts, there's also been lyrical debates. Most of them seem ridiculous and are very tiny things that can be misinterpret by idiots who would take it literally. Some examples are Block B's "Freeze!" for the lyrics, "Send all your friends home/I'm waiting for you right here" as some eschewed interpretation of a one night stand when it really doesn't mean anything. B2ST's "Rainy Days" and Kim Hyun Joong's "Please" have faced the same problem of strange, nitpicking lyricism. Then there's the use of slang that corrupted the minds of South Korea's youth through GD & T.O.P's "Knock Out" and 4Minute's "Heart to Heart".

Now not all of the Ministry's concerns are nonsensical, some of them I can really understand why they can't be aired or have to be broadcast later due to the content of the video or lyrics. Bang Yong Guk's "I Remember" is a violent video, but it is a tad graphic and even Sunny Hill's latest video "Pray" could possibly be a little too much.

But sometimes sexual or violent material gets aired and no one says anything until after everyone has seen it...or it simply slips through the cracks like Teen Top's "No Perfume For You" that displays underage guys being in a bar that serves alcohol, dating older women, and practically encouraging cheating in their lyrics. HyunA's "Bubble Pop" had sexual choreography, yet no one really said anything until after the fact. I'm sure Rania had some issues with "Dr. Feel Good", but everyone was already exposed and it seemed pretty pointless to say anything.

I guess in some ways it's nice the Ministry doesn't want South Korea to be "corrupt" like Japan or even worse the U.S., but some of the things they let go or ban are just a little too much. I wonder if the artists are tempted to sugar coat everything to some nursery rhyme. At least some of them have commented on the banning issue. In my opinion, it's a noble thought to protect the citizens, but sometimes they really need to stop turning every little thing into something negatively influential. And if they want to ban stuff, they need to be more consistent with their claims rather than letting one group go while another before them is suffering the consequences for an equal or greater offense. Now I don't want the Ministry to go on a banning spree because of my opinion, because, honestly, music is a way of expression to connect to the audience through thoughts and feelings. You can't censor life. There will always be sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence scattered somewhere and the public can't escape that. Seriously, I'm pretty sure western culture will not contaminate the innocence of kpop, so relax and don't overthink the content.