Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: EXO-M's "XOXO [Hug]" (Repackage)

EXO-M – XOXO [Hug] (Repackage) (2013, South Korea/China)
Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Baby, Don't Cry, Black Pearl, Heart Attack, Growl

First, everyone who is tired of hearing about EXO, whether positive or negative, please do not leave your trolly little messages on this review. I don't care if you're sick of them getting attention or they don't deserve any sort of praise. Second, I am not reviewing the Kiss version of this album (a.k.a Korean version), so don't request it. Third, thanks for putting up for this late reviews. I truly appreciate it. I've been really looking forward to reviewing this album. Similar to G-Dragon's One of a Kind and Big Bang's ALIVE reviews, I'm going to be including videos with each appropriate song. Some may be the Korean version as some of the songs were used in their gajillion teasers. When you watch the [Korean] teasers, keep in mind that I might not have the same opinion about the sound while you're reading this review. So, let's jump into it!

"Wolf" is the first promotion track to EXO's first full length album. Some liked it and others hated it. I actually like this song. I don't remember my initial feelings toward it when I first watched the video, but I listened to this track quite often. I can admit that this song (and video) has its problems, but the pure enjoyability for me is not one of them. The beat is kinda heavy, in weight not in sound, and the pronunciation is laughable at times, but not too distracting. It's a very dubstep driven song with some pretty good vocal variations in it.

"Baby, Don't Cry" is a big shift from the booming dubstep sounds of "Wolf" and let's the vocals shine with some piano accompaniment. I really, really like this song. It's soft, beautiful, and has enough energy to keep my attention. The lyrics are sweet and simple and delivered in that same way with tons of heart poured into every long note. Surprisingly, the rap section doesn't sound out of place either. It has good transitions and everyone gets to shine.

Looking back at this teaser using "Black Pearl", there's way too much dubstep and it totally makes this song unappealing. Listening to this on the album is quite the opposite. It has a nice gradual build up from the subdued introduction and hints of violin during the verses, then the music bursts through for the chorus. I really like this song. It has a good balance of beauty and energy. The musical and vocal transitions are very smooth and the dubstep break isn't too harming to the ears. Maybe because they calmed it down some and put the rap part over it.

"Don't Go" is a song I hear too much, at least that pseudo-piano intro, from TV appearances. The song is pretty standard and sounds a little awkward after hearing partial artificial sounds of "Black Pearl". It's almost too natural. It's not a terrible song. It has good vocals and it is refreshing to hear some actual instruments, it's just a track I don't listen to that often.

"Let Out the Beast" is more processed music. It mixes some booming electronic elements with orchestral elements. It's interesting that they start off with the rappers of the group and they seemed to have more of part in this song while the quickly delivered vocals bridge the gap between the parts. At times, it feels like they're struggling to keep up with the vocal pacing set for this song.

"3.6.5" is an upbeat pop song. So far, it stands out a lot compared to the electronic mixtures, dubstep drives, and beautiful piano songs. It reminds me of a One Direction song, which isn't a compliment coming from me. It still has heart, but too cute for me.

"Heart Attack" is a surprising track that I couldn't help but repeat over and over again. It has a pretty simple hip-hopish beat. You would think the rap section would take over this, but it's mostly singing and it works pretty well. The chorus is moderately catchy and the overall transitions, musically and vocally, are smooth.

"Peter Pan" is a simple, slow pop song that doesn't quite fit with everything else like "3.6.5". It just seems too...basic. It does kinda have this whimsical feeling around the chorus, but something doesn't quite stick for me.

"Baby" slows things down with this vintage 80s R&B leftovers. There are random keyboard drum beats and sound effects litter the background. The vocals are pretty strong, but this song is kinda bland and the chorus is cringe-worthy generic.

I remember hearing "My Lady" in one of the various teasers and it sounded pretty cool. It was one the teaser tracks I was kinda looking forward to hearing completely. It starts off minimalistic with a nice guitar melody, rhythmic snapping, and strong vocals echoing, then a stronger beat kicks in for the remainder of the chorus and verses. It just went downhill from there for me. The beat began to drone a bit and I didn't enjoy the vocal arrangement.

"Growl" brought on a repackaged version of XOXO and also more discussions of whether it was good or not, similar to "Wolf". Well, I liked this song slightly more than "Wolf" and on somedays I like it about the same. Aside from the creative film style of one of the videos, it has a simple R&Bish, pop sound to it. It's one of those beats you can't resist. The transitions are nice from the upbeat parts to the more softer sections to highlight the vocal section. It sounded like a better group bonding effort compared to "Wolf".

"XOXO" is another addition to this repackaged version was kinda unnecessary. It's not that exciting. It has a standard beat with pounding bass and a sprinkle of piano during the verses. The rap sections are a little lazy and the singing has this sweet sound to it. It's not bad,, I don't like.

"Lucky" is the last addition to the repackaged album. It's a more upbeat sound than "XOXO". It's a fun track and the vocals reflect that in this electro-pop tune. It could easily be a fun little summer song. Despite the exciting, happy tone to this song, it doesn't create any sort of spark for me. It's not a bad song. I can easily see a lot of fans enjoying this, especially live.

Despite my lack of description for some of these tracks, I enjoyed this album and it had some really good songs. When they're good, they're really good and addictive, but when they're bad, it's usually painfully boring or generic. Nonetheless, I think this was a good start for a first full length album, which I was surprised that they hopped on so quickly. I hope their next release is a little more solid and shows more growth, variety, and cohesiveness.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Quick Music Review

San E - 'Not' Based on the True Story (2013, South Korea) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: 더 불행했음 좋겠다, 전 여자친구에게, 어디서 잤어

You have no idea how happy I was to see that San E was finally releasing something, especially after his departure for JYPE. This release starts off with a phone conversation skit and proceeds to a very blunt track called "더 불행했음 좋겠다". This is a really good track and you can definitely feel that lyrical freedom soar away in this seemingly sounding break up anthem. "전 여자친구에게" takes a more somber tone with a little dialogue interlude and rain and traffic sound effects in the background. This shows a more pain filled side to San E with Seon Woo Jung Ah enhancing the tone and story with her soft, beautiful vocals echoing for the chorus. I also really enjoy this song and I enjoy the emotional shift in San E's delivery as the song progresses. If you don't listen to any other track on this album, I urge you to listen to at least this one. "지영이 어머니" pulls out of the sorrowful mood with some upbeat acoustic guitar and quick rap delivery. It's a fun sounding song and a stark contrast from the previous two tracks. "어디서 잤어" was used for promotion for this album. It mixes the fun side of San E and his sarcastic style in delivering insults or, in this case, accusations. It keeps the beat up from the previous track and brings a little more hip-hop feel to the sound. Also, there's some good contributions from Verbal Jint and Swings. "이별식탁" was another choice used for promotion. It utilizes the beautiful, soulful vocals of Phantom's Sanchez and gives more of an R&B feeling, which is a nice change up and transition from the previous track. "아는사람 얘기" closes off the album with more smooth R&B acoustic guitar, piano, and bass while continuing the whole theme of this album. There are three instrumental tracks included as well. I must say that this release was worth the wait and San E's departure was a good move on his part. This is definitely a solid release.

AYABIE - Kakusei Syupurehicoru (2012, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Kakusei Syupurehicoru, SICs

"Kakusei Syupurehicoru" is a high energy, electronic track that comes at you right off the bat. It has a good bass line, catchy melody, and fun vocals. You could easily bounce around to this song with a big grin on your face. "HERO" continues that fun, upbeat sound, but takes away the electronic sound for a more pure rock sound. It has a simple, familiar sound and is easy to dance or rock out to. "SICs" steps away from the light, fun rock sound that "HERO" has and goes all in for something more heavy with a mix of traditional Japanese elements. It reminds me of original Ayabie's "Brownie". I could definitely see myself doing furi to it with a tambourine or something.

Rain - Rain Effect (2014, South Korea) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: 30 Sexy, LA SONG, Marilyn Monroe, 30 SEXY (East4a deeptech mix)

Most of you know I've been dying for a release from Rain and I finally got it, around my birthday no less. XD "Rain Effect" gives a little sample of an intro to what we're getting into, that's when "30 Sexy" transitions in. It's a very electronic/R&B driven song with a subtle alluring melody weaving in and out of the beat and claps. Rain's vocals definitely tests itself out with mid to high range vocals, which I'm sure took some time to exercise back to a comfortable position. "LA SONG" takes a different direction with a brass driven party sound that's unique to kpop. The lyrical delivery is admittedly a bit sloppy in the verses, but you can't resist how fun and simple the chorus and beat are. I know a lot of people don't like this song, especially the video, but I enjoy it for all its carefree silliness. "어디 가요. 오빠" is minimalistic trap song with way too much bass and an annoying guitar whaling in the background. The song would be decent if Hyuna's breathy voice of try too hard sexiness wasn't trying to milk out the "oppa" vocal fantasy. It makes me feel icky listening to her beg this way. "Marilyn Monroe" cleans up the sleaziness of the previous track for something more mature and sophisticated. This is the Rain that I'm familiar with. Deep, adult sounding R&B beat and smooth vocals that feel a little more natural compared to "30 Sexy". "차에 타봐" continues that mature musical sound with some unnecessary pounding drums...or something. It's an okay track, but it feels like there's something missing to make it jump a bit more, mostly in the beginning. The build up is good, but meh. "SUPERMAN" experiments with some electro-pop, but doesn't go too crazy to sound like the younger groups. There's not much lyrical substance and I wish I could forgive it as easily as "LA SONG" as it feels like the same vein of delivery, but it just doesn't stick, especially with those high notes. "알아버렸어" mixes electro-pop and funky fresh sounds of the 80s together. It's not all that exciting, but it is different. I have a feeling I would've enjoyed this beat if it was set up for this song a lot more with actual instruments. "DEAR MAMA DON'T CRY" is a more heartfelt song with a very simple beat. It kinda works for this song, but I wish there was a little less bass and more soul in the melody. "30 SEXY (East4a deeptech mix)" ends this album with a surprisingly fun and more danceable beat. I don't know whether I like this remix more or less than the original. I find myself alternating between the two. Added recently was "사랑해" for the special edition version of this comeback album. It's nice to hear some real instruments on this, assuming, tribute/thank you track. It's sweet and the vocals are pretty good. Unfortunately, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by this comeback, but not completely let down at the same time. I'm happy it's something new, but it wasn't quite the sound I was looking for Rain's catalogue.

Dir en grey - SUSTAIN THE UNTRUTH (2014, Japan) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: SUSTAIN THE UNTRUTH, 流転の塔 (Acoustic Ver.)

Similar to Rain, I was really looking forward to this single. Well, mostly the full version of the title track. I've already expressed my love for "SUSTAIN THE UNTRUTH" and surprisingly [or unsurprisingly] I got a new feeling and enjoyment while listening to it without the visuals. The melody, transitions, and vocal shifts sink into my ears very naturally that it instantly stuns my heart to stop beating. Upon listening to it for maybe the third or fourth time, I noticed that Kyo utilized splitting up certain vocal parts from one speaker to another, which I love when it's done right. [ex. deadman's "bodybag NO."] At the moment, I can't help but be drawn back to this song and lose myself on this musical journey. "流転の塔 (Acoustic Ver.)" was an interesting choice to include on this single as this song isn't that old and there's an unplugged version that already exists, but you know what, I really don't care. Not because I love Dir en grey, but because it's a really good and well composed acoustic track of an already great song, whether you're listening to the original or the unplugged version. I would say this was a rather bold choice on their part. One thing that hasn't changed about the recent Dir en grey singles, live tracks. This single features a live track of "凱歌、沈黙が眠る頃". It's just as good as the studio version, if you're a live track fan, or hearing it in person.

B2ST - Sad Movie/Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa (2013, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Sad Movie, Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa

It's rare to find a good Japanese release from a kpop group, so I gave this single a try. "Sad Movie" is upbeat track that immediately starts off with its chorus. It has an interesting melody and annoying whining that comes in and out of the track. Despite the weird voice and odd placement of violin noises, the song isn't that bad. The beat is simple and the vocals are deliver well. "Christmas Carol no Koro ni wa" somehow mixes the sounds of kpop with the subdue sounds of jpop. Something about it makes me want to demand parapara choreography to this melody. When I pay more attention to the structure of the music, it does sound a little odd in places, but I can look past it and enjoy it for what it is. The vocals are nice and a bit too soft that it tends to occasionally get drowned out by the music. The only other track on this Japanese single is an instrumental version of "Sad Movie".

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quick Music Review

The Dirty Youth - Red Light Fix (2011, UK) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Fight, Ellen, Last Confession, Feel

If you like bands like Icon For Hire, especially their latest, self-titled album, then you'll enjoy this album. They have a fairly similar style musical, but the vocals are different, which is a plus. You might find this rock sound a bit generic, but its at least a good generic that is easily enjoyable. There's plenty of energy and feeling poured into each and every track. My only complaint is that I wish the vocals and music were balanced better. Sometimes it seems like the vocals are trying to yell over the music, but it's really just the levels being uneven. If you're looking for a decent female fronted rock band, please give these guys a chance.

AlunaGeorge - Body Music (2013, UK) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Your Drums, Your Love, Best Be Believing, Diver, Body Music

I found this duo on a blog formerly known as The Prophet Blog and I thought it was a solo act. Upon further research, it's a duo...obviously, since I just stated that earlier. Anyway, this isn't a pure electro-pop, dance fest. This album contains a more intricate form of electronic music with beautiful, sweet vocals. There's prominent bass lines, experimental vocal effects, and a mixture of elements of pop, R&B, and ambience from track to track. No track is the same and brings something new and refreshing to the ears. The vocals and electronic effects might take some adjusting to, but eventually it sounds as close to natural as possible as you progress forward and repeat tracks.

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions (2013, USA) Rating: 2/5
Favorite Tracks: Radioactive, Tiptoe, Hear Me

Like most people, I heard "Radioactive" first and took interest in checking out the rest of their material on this album. It took me a while to actually watch the video for said song, but, on a side note, it's pretty creative. Unfortunately, "Radioactive" is the best track on the album. The tracks range from "clearly this is an indie band" or "this is some good Starbucks music" and "I see you're trying to recreate that bombastic sound of 'Radioactive' and failed" or "we're gonna borrow a few elements here and there from other bands and see what happens". It's sadly a very dull album and it was really hard getting through every track, excluding "Demons". I completely skipped that overplayed soulless track. If you want the best of the best, or in this case, the okay of the okay, just stick to my favorite tracks and move on.

T-ara - NUMBER NINE (Japanese ver.)/Kioku - Kimi ga Kureta Michishirube - X'mas Edition (2013, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Yayaya, Lovey Dovey, ウェイロニ, 初めてのように

As much as I would like to talk about this track by track, it's a collection of hit songs that any T-ara fan would enjoy. All the tracks are remixed in a smooth transitional style by DJ Takao Fukushima, so it's a little hard to listen to one track without listening to the whole thing. This is quite genius actually. I don't know why they didn't do this earlier. Some of the remixes are surprisingly better or even just as good as their original counterparts. So, if you're a fan of T-ara or just need a good dance mix, check this album out!

the GazettE - Before Deformity (2013, Japan) Rating: 3/5

The GazettE is a band I normally would put all this time and effort into explaining what I like and dislike about each track and what it sounds like. This time around I'm just gonna save myself the trouble of trying to think of things to say about each song. The band has really become a one trick pony in my eyes, or perhaps I should say to my ears. I feel more or less the same about this album as I did the one before, I suppose. I honestly don't remember as the band's music has becoming increasingly forgettable, except a few tiny gems that make me want to backtrack, repeat, and absorb. "LAST HEAVEN" is a track that gives me that feeling, but "DEVOURING ONE ANOTHER" pumps me up in a good way too. Overall, there's really nothing different lately. Same sound, same tricks, same annoying female vocals carelessly thrown into songs here and there. I don't dislike this album, but I'm not blown away like their devoted fans. Maybe one day, the GazettE will surprise me.

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