I say this calls for a celebration, which we partially get in the form of all the great music we get to talk about again. Doramachan joins us for Week 8, when we review less rookie groups, two to be exact, a sibling duet, an established girl group, and a whopping three solo acts! Shall we?
This week's panel features permanent panelists:
Nikki @ Pop Reviews Now
Mel @ Melismatic
McRoth @ McRoth's Residence
And special guests:
Ree @ Colour Me Splendid
Doramachan @ Toronto To Tokyo
Two X - Double Up
After years of no new acts, J Tune Camp, the agency responsible for MBLAQ and Rain, have just debuted their first girl group, in the form of Two X. -- Nikki
Doramachan (2/5): The song starts off great and then becomes progressively boring. They sound great but nothing about this track stands out to me. They have potential and I hope that J.Tune Camp really invests in them and amps up the production unlike what has happened to their label mates.
McRoth (3.3/5): I watched this live recently and found Two X to be quite engaging. I love that they’re sexy without pushing it. To put it simply, “Double Up” is one of my favorite rookie singles to be released this summer. It’s not that strong, and it kind of munches off of She’z “My Way” in the chorus, but I like that it’s not treading through hell and high water to get stuck in my head. It’s a pretty jam and one that I don’t have any problem coming back to.
Mel (3.5/5): So many nugu girl groups! I like these girls because I don't feel like they are trying to hard to be one specific image. The song is catchy while playing, but a bit forgettable in the overall. I find the chorus harmonization more than a little bit grating on the ears (especially the high harmony bits). For a first time out, I can't say too much. The video was entertaining and they have a pretty slick style. The song itself doesn't rely on vocal hysteronics or crazy synth to get attention. A pretty great summer single choice. Interested in hearing what comes next for sure.
Nikki (3.8/5): I have mixed feelings towards "Two X", and it's not a mix of clear adoration and clear hatred either. On one hand, I actually really like the song -- it's B-list classy done right. You know it's a low-budget song, but it's like the decent stuff at Forever 21, there aren't a lot of them, but they're there and once in a while you chance upon them and maybe freak out. On the other hand, the girls cannot, for the life of them, pull it off -- while the song has class, the girls don't. Their presence isn't strong enough to carry a song that demands strong, consistent vocals and a certain, practiced, stage deportment. The girl who sings the most does have a voice, but it sounds cheap and her stage mannerisms do her absolutely no favors. She isn't like Hyorin in the sense that her voice is gorgeous but everything else about her career is just wrong, this girl really just sounds like a cheap, lounge singer. Which is a waste because she's the only one in the band who can actually sing through an entire live performance, and like I said, the song is really good.
Ree (3.5/5): All these girl groups sound... the same to me. I mean voice wise, they all seem to have the same set of voices. Weird. I actually like Double Up a fair bit, it's by no means perfect, but it's up-lifting in a very soft and understated way. The song is sure of itself and doesn't try and squeeze a bunch of little things into one song in hopes of getting it right somewhere. It's clean, simple, pleasant and stirring.
VIXX - Rock Ur Body
Rookie boyband VIXX are back with their second release after "Super Hero" last May. The video features SISTAR's Dasom. -- Nikki
Doramachan (3.5/5): I rarely like a song the first time I hear it, but I am loving this song. The guitar adds a nice accent to the otherwise standard synthesized sound of this song. It’s a fun track and though it is their second single, it is the first time I have heard of them, and proves to be a great introductory track. If I had to say anything negative about this song is that it is indistinguishable from anything else out there in K-pop. It easily could have been a track released by Infinite or B2ST, and I think Vixx gets the short end of the stick in terms of distinguishability. However, given that they are a rookie group they have time to establish a sound unique to them.
McRoth (3.5/5): Okay, this song is kind of awesome. I love the synth work paired with the light vocal processing. It blends together really well and it’s one of those examples where auto-tune is utilized for effect moreso than to fix bad singing. The second verse slaughters the dance floor, with that glitchy dubstep break down, and it works. The vocals themselves aren’t bad, either. VIXX has some decent singers and they get their moments proper. If there’s anything worth nitpicking here it’s the weak middle eight. Personally, I would have preferred the last seconds of this song to be the climax of the song rather than the nothing that occurred between the second chorus and the end.
Mel (2.7/5): Hey guys - remember a time when there were so many boy bands we were spoilt by choice? Remember? Such good times. Sigh. OK -- high points: they video concept was cute because it gave them a REASON to be in a random dancing box (are you listening, SuJu?). The song is more guitar and beat based than synthy dance (during the verses anyway). And...where else can I go from here? Yep, nowhere. The graphics? Skeeves. The outfits? Cringe. The choreo? We've seen it before. The X-Factor Charisma? Pretty much nonexistant. That chorus? So whiny, I had to turn you down. VIXX, I'm praying for your sake you'll learn from MBLAQ and U-KISS of yore and get better with age. Just saying.
Nikki (3/5): I couldn't even get past the first chorus when I initially heard this. Really, this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year, because I absolutely adored both the songs on their debut package and I was so excited about them being an even more obscure Infinite. Looks like I guessed wrong. It's not the worst song ever, and it gets points for having an actual melody, but it's a far cry from the sky, moon and stars I expected from them. And you know what's kind of making this even worse than it should be? They're starting to sound like B1A4 most of the time. The disjointed chorus, the messy chorus, and that dance break -- what the hell were they thinking? It's not messy in the "SPY"/Jun. K "Alive" kind of way that there are so many conflicting sounds, but it's messy in the internal way, where everything that sounds similar is just thrown in, regardless of whether it actually matched or not. Where did all the "we're classy but we can't afford to look like it so we'll just make do" go?
Ree (2.5/5): This song is so heavy, fragmented and shrill. Too many things are happening at once, there are moments where the instrumental is a total clusterfuck and I don't know exactly what I'm listening to. The chorus is the best part of the song but even then it's shrill. I I feel like there's a good song there, but it's overwhelmed by how completely clunky this track is. I really liked the guitar used, and I felt like had they not layered it with a bunch of intrusive synths and percussions later on and tried to keep it simpler, I would be a lot more appreciative of the song. And urgh, how GROSS is the dubstep break after the first chorus.
J-Min - Stand Up
J-Min has been pretty much non-existent in Korea, except for that one rare time late last year when SM gave her a Christmas gift, in the form of a track on SM Town's first Winter album in years. Though a proper release from her is still unheard of, she's slowly gaining ground in Korea with "Stand Up", which is on the sound track of SM's "To The Beautiful You". -- Nikki
Doramachan (3.5/5): This song is a bit of a departure from standard SM material and I really like it. The vocal arrangement and accompanying music remind me of Evanescence. I know that the idol system generates a lot of revenue, but why aren’t you peddling more of this SM?
McRoth (4/5): Uh, why doesn’t she exist more in my K-pop? This is awesome. It’s all kinds of Kelly Clarkson, but harder-edged. The rock elements shine like jewels and when we are lead into a killer middle eight by way of thick synths and heavy guitar action – I died. J-Min sounds amazing and her voice works incredibly well with this style of music. I want more of this and I want it nnnowww!
Mel (4.3/5): I really wish SM would take advantage of having a well-rounded group of vocalists in their corral. J-Min, not totally unlike SM The Ballad's Jino or even the guys in TRAX, gets stuck in the forgotten about pile of SM's brain while they pump up electro-esque drabble for their "main stars", not really caring if the songs are exciting or not. As much as I love my SuJu, SM dropped the ball by not giving J-Min more love. Not only can she sing circles around many of the KPOP stars of the moment, this song shakes off comparisons to other capable vocalists singing OST balladry by adding in rock guitar. SM...what are we gonna do with you, huh?
Nikki (4.3/5): I'm so proud of you, J-Min, SM finally let you out of the dungeon, even for just one song! I only noticed it now, but her voice really reminds me of a cross between Taeyeon's timbre and technique, and Krystal's whine that masquerades as "youthfulness". Which for the most part is a good thing -- until she sang it live and she sounded nothing like the recording (but that's a completely different story). "Stand Up" is stunning, and it's the kind of OST that can very easily transition from being plugged into random scenes, straight onto stage.
Ree (4.5/5): I LOVE THIS SONG. Perfect Pop Rock at it's finest, and had J-Min debuted in Korea with this instead of Japan I have little doubt she'd be moderately successful. When I first heard this during the drama previews, I completely fawned over it. Such a badass song, edgy, slightly dark, and so dramatic too. Bloody hell, now that Jay is going to the military, SM should just make J-Min the lead singer for TRAX.
Jessica and Krystal - Butterfly
If there's something SM is good at, it's putting as many gimmicks as possible into one release. As if it wasn't enough that majority of the songs on the OST for "To The Beautiful You", if not all, were done by SM acts, they just had to make the Jung sisters do a duet. Of course. -- Nikki
Doramachan (2.5/5): This song along with “Stand Up” are part of “To The Beautiful You” OST that has a clear pop-rock theme. Butterfly is a cute little song that fits perfectly in the soundtrack of a Korean drama about high school students. I am admittedly not a fan of the Jung sisters but I think they sound great on this track.
McRoth (3.3/5): The style of this song is really nice, all light pop-rock and shit, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the vocals are on point. Jessica sounds nice when she’s not trying to sing to the high heavens, which never happens here, so thanks SM. That’s where krystal rules over her sis, in my opinion. Since Krystal’s voice has always appealed to me, she’s my favored voice in this duet. On the whole though, this song isn’t bad at all and I think these two pulled it off with flying colors.
Mel (2/5): I'll save you the negative schlock by saying this -- this type of music is just not my thing. Add to that fact that it's sung by my least favorite voices in both Girls' Generation and f(x). So...yeah. It's not that it's bad. It doesn't suffer from the obvious "too cutesy" that both groups sometimes are victim to. And after all, it's just an OST single. Just...not for me. Too nasally. Too...clean.
Nikki (3.9/5): I grew up during the golden age of the Disney Channel, so while the internet was still gaining steam, especially in a place like the Philippines, my childhood comprised of listening to people like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, who all, at one point in time, went with the soft, girly but "girls rule so we're gonna bang our heads and sing with a band" pop/rock sound. That’s probably the only reason why “Butterfly” is one of my biggest guilty pleasures this year. Even if I hate Jessica and Krystal together and apart, and majority of the time I’m iffy about the drama this is for, the song itself strikes a nerve with me -- SM managed to capture that early Hilary Duff/"Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" Lindsay Lohan sound so well, all while effortlessly keeping the K-Pop in place.
Ree (4/5): Unlike Nikki, I'm really enjoying "To The Beautiful You" thus far, and I'm really looking forward to the next episode. That being said, maybe being a fan of the drama has influenced my decision, but I actually really really like this song. It's an OST song, and it more than serves it's purpose. They generally use this song during the playful/light hearted parts of the drama, and every time it comes on there's a smile on my face. Aside from that, I like this song quite a lot. It's really sweet and cute, without becoming saccharine and tasteless. I'll probably never be the biggest fan of Jessica and Krystal's voices, but their timbres are serviceable here. High, cutesy, thin, and girly, and it suits the ambience of the song to a T. The guitar and drums also give it a really big kick, preventing it from becoming one of your typically bland K-Drama OST songs (UNLIKE LUNA AND SUNNY'S :C).
KARA - Pandora
DSP's only relevant artist returns to Korea after continuing to slay Japan with their sexy new title song "Pandora" off their fifth mini album of the same name. The mini was released this past week. -- Mel
Doramachan (3/5): I don’t know how I feel about this song. There are some elements to it that I like- the rap break in the middle of the song, the first and second verses are great but then the chorus sounds messy. The song as a whole feels like the producers tried to tie in as many elements as they could fit in 3:30 minutes. The girls have never looked better. Their styling has matured and it seems like more than just a gimmick.
McRoth (4.3/5): Yes, yes, and yes. Everything about this song is so right, not just as a pop song but for KARA as a group. It’s consistent KARA quality, meaning it’s not amazing but still perfectly satisfying. The anime-esque instrumental circa 90s - think Sailor Moon (omo the nostalgia!) – is unique and exciting and I’m down with it 100%. What took it to the next level is the fast paced verses and engaging melodies. They hit their mark where it counts the most and grip you from beginning to end. This has always been the formula for KARA songs, from “Lupin” to “Mister”. They know how to twerq those hooks like nobody’s business and keep your attention. I love it.
Mel (4.1/5): With each single released, KARA continues to impress me. "Lupin", "Wanna", "Mister" and especially "STEP", and now "Pandora". What I like is with each era, the lead singles remain within the KARA realm but actually do sound tight, exciting, interesting and "new" within each "concept" idea, unlike say...a Girls' Generation (for the most part) which focuses more on being catchy and continuing their own style. Each single is very KARA, but with each new title song, they strive to provide a new variation of what we expect the KARA sound to be -- and this is exactly what a girl group should be doing. "Pandora" lacks some of that instant gratification given with "Lupin" or "STEP" but is still a great lead cut, and in a sense is a smokey fusion of both songs. Their sex appeal is also on display but isn't overt or too far exaggerated (After School). If I can't be a member of 2NE1, I'd be more than happy to be the sixth member of KARA.
Nikki (4.5/5): If there's something constant in K-Pop, KARA's strong lead singles would be one of them. The rest of their albums are filler/snooze-fests, but the lead singles are always really good, and from "Lupin" onwards they've been quite consistent. Yeah sure the live performances are always let-downs, but the recordings are always strong on all fronts -- arrangement, production, melody, etc. "Pandora" is no exception, even if it still isn't as good as "Lupin" and "Jumping". The song is stylish and trendy without completely forgetting substance, courtesy of the actual melody (We still have to work on your delivery though, KARA.), and as an entire package doesn't bore you to death or require you to think too deep into it. This is really a genuinely strong pop song, plain and simple.
Ree (4.5/5): Pandora sounds like Lupin and Jumping and just so, so KARA. I love the synths used, and the fast-paced verses. This whole song is so clean and well-produced, the brass is well balanced, and the song is catchy without being redundant. The only complain I really have is that it never really goes somewhere magnificent, but other than that, it's another enjoyable clean cut release by KARA.
Xia Junsu - Uncommitted
Requested by Junsu himself, instead of a repackaged version of "Tarantallegra", his first solo album, he flew to LA to record "Uncommitted" and shoot a video for it. With not one, but two female leads! This was released just in time for the American leg of his solo tour. -- Nikki
Doramachan (4.5/5): Being a rabid Junsu fangirl I was foaming at the mouth super excited upon the release of this song and it did not fail to disappoint. Great production value complements Junsu’s vocal colour. All I can say is that I absolutely love this song and wish his solo album had songs like this on it. The only problem I had with it was that it was difficult to understand what he was singing at times and I think that it detracted from the emotional impact of the song but otherwise it is a solid song. I swear he says “uncomirred” at the beginning.
McRoth (2.5/5): This needs a lot of work. Not in the English department, because that was expected to be lulzy. The song is just dull and I’m not excited at all by the mundane chorus that I’ve heard a trillion times by everyone on Earth. It’s basic and unoriginal and that goes for every detail of this song. It’s like the composer was scared shitless to challenge himself (and Junsu) to churn out something riveting and actually special for an Asian artist. I’ve heard better R&B jams for artists less than half as talented as Junsu, and that speaks volumes to me. I dunno. Am I missing something?
Mel (3.7/5): Handsome Junsu will always be handsome (but that hair color has got to GO, bb). The backbeat is a monster -- these are the types of R&B-soaked slow jams I dig, so the fact that Korea's best voice (undeniable) is getting to sink his teeth into something like this....oh yeah, Mel likey. The cinematography of the video is just plain beautiful. And a male idol interacting with a woman? WHAT? IS THIS REAL LIFE? While I quite like the song, my main complaint is does it really HAVE to be in English? Junsu's voice is glorious but his English still needs work and as an English speaker, it distracts from just how beautiful his voice is. Also -- could the lyrics be more Westernized? "Only good for one night/You'll never stay committed to me". ABOUT JUNSU? WHAT? Yoochun, sure. I believe that. But JUNSU? Really blonde lead actress? Really? Sigh. Honestly, it's the type of jam that'd be on the b-side to a uptempo Jason DeRulo or Chris Brown single (in fact, parts of it sound a bit like Brown's "Say Goodbye"). Not necessarily a bad thing, just not quite what I was expecting from our Junsu.
Nikki (4.3/5): Before I drool about the song, can I just say that OMG JUNSU'S INTERACTING WITH ACTUAL WOMEN NOW. I'M SO PROUD. Okay. I'm done. The song itself is actually a lot better than I expected it to be, but then again it's not as if I was expecting much after the let-down that was the entire "Tarantallegra". Although, the one thing I'm really happy about is that the production on this is such a step up from the rest of... that... "album". It's not the best, but at this point I don't think JYJ can get any better as far as production quality is concerned. But thankfully, “Uncommitted” has salvaged Junsu, even just a tiny bit. (We still have to talk about that ‘oriental’ version of “Tarantallegra” though, Junsu. Don’t think you’re off the hook.) I love the song -- I love it I love it I love it. Gorgeous melody, good choice of synths and accompaniment, and that middle 8 made me faint the first time I heard it, it’s such a natural contrast. Even if the song's generic around the edges and Junsu's English isn't exactly natural, the elements are pretty, the production is tight, and everything works together really, really well. And obviously, Junsu's voice is heavenly. But I didn't have to remind you because it's blatantly obvious. Did I make any sense?
Ree (4/5): I'm a lot less enchanted with this song now that I've had time to digest everything. Firstly, this kind of Pop/RnB Ballad suits Junsu to a T, and Uncommited would be the perfect solo song for him... had it been in Korean. I know music passes the boundaries of language, and blah blah blah. But let's be real, now that I can actually understand what's being said, it does take a hit on the song. My issue isn't with the lyrics, but rather Junsu's delivery. There are parts where the song is just really flat, and I feel uncomfortable listening to it. I'm pretty sure it's because Junsu is so preoccupied with pronunciation and doesn't really completely understand what he's saying but the song lacks a whole lot of conviction. When you listen to Junsu sing in Korean, his delivery alone sends a surge of emotion through you. In English, he loses a lot of that charm. It's the same issue I had with BoA's Eat You Up, how BoA was singing and what she was singing didn't completely match up with me. It's the exact same case. The only time Junsu sounds like he's singing about what he's singing about is when "I said baby, I don't really get". No, no you don't Junsu. Other than that, I love the song, it's so smooth and the melody is beautiful. It's kind of a typical RnB/Pop song and unfortunately Junsu lacked the amazing delivery to change that. Either way, I can see it fitting perfectly on US radio. Ne-Yo could release this and I wouldn't blink an eye.
Seo In Young - Anymore
In Young is best known for being one of the many former members of pop group Jewelry. She was a member for eight years before flying solo in 2010. Proving her own clout in the industry, she has formed her own label (IY Company) and released her latest solo single, which has achieved "all-kill" status. -- Mel
Doramachan (4.5/5): Yes, yes, yes! Seo In Young’s vocals + E.Knock and Kush’s magic touch = the perfect track for the end of the summer. It’s fun and right on trend with the international music scene. Instant love.
McRoth (4.5/5): Seo In Young has never really been on my radar as a remarkable pop artist, because whatever, but this song is UH-MAY-ZING. It’s not over the top, but it’s so well-crafted for Seo In Young the singer and Seo In Young the pop princess that I’m shaking in excitement. The way the kick drives the verses and then we are left to breathe for two seconds in the pre-chorus before all the glorious pop elements come together at the chorus ajklfjelkafjela it’s perfect. And then it gets better! The middle eight is all climactic and shit, and becomes the perfect release of energy that the rest of the song had built up. Ugh, I live for this kind of pop music. Seo In Young honey, you’re my winner this week.
Mel (4.5/5): First off, that couch wouldn't really fit in to my personal decor but I still desperately covet it. If only my apartment looked so cool in its disarray. Secondly - dang does homegirl know how to make a midtempo interesting! The song has a great and proper build up without using now cliched earworm benchmarks. The drumkit is fantastic. And Holy Vocal Display Batman, even the high notes sound lovely. Her style looks so purposely unpolished, she becomes hipster chic without even trying (Aladdin's Genie T-Shirt and all). Unnie, you show these rookie nugu chickies how it's done, BB. Rock on.
Nikki (4.8/5): I love this! "Anymore" sounds very B-list/non-big three -- from the elements to the production -- but this is where delivery matters, because this definitely doesn't sound cheap. It's such a gorgeous track, and while it's the kind of song that needs to be carried, Seo In Young definitely knocks it out of the ballpark, no questions asked. I know I was late in joining the Seo In Young bandwagon, because now I can't believe I once thought her voice was annoying, but that doesn't stop me from thinking that she's probably one of the best female vocalists K-Pop has to offer, partially because of her experience. Whatever she sings, whether it's a boring ballad or a trendy uptempo like this, she knows exactly how to carry it, and how to keep her identity in place. In turn, "Anymore" itself becomes laid-back without being boring, gutsy without being obnoxious, and really, with a melody like that? Come on.
Ree (3/5): AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE??? Alright, I'll say flat out that I don't like it and I put off listening to it a second time because I honestly couldn't be bothered. I just... don't find much interesting about this. I'm pretty sure the reason why is that I never loved her voice -- I still find it grating and annoying. I also just, don't like Seo In Young as a artist -- never have. Kush composed this? Heh. Anyway, what the hell Seo In-young, Two X managed to release a more likeable song to me. Alright, I mean it isn't bad, but it's just kind of... there for me. It's really flat as a song, diluted and it lacks a lot of kick. I get that it's meant to be airy but I feel like I've already heard this song somewhere but forgot it because it's so... meh. Once you really sit down and really listen to it, there's a melody worth appreciating. However, it doesn't make me want to sit down and REALLY listen to it. Okay, everyone can come at me with their spears now. I DON'T CARE. I'M BRINGING HER AVERAGE SCORE DOWN.
Well, the scores this week look a lot better than last week's, but the difference between the panel champ and the runner-up was still in the decimal points. It look's like Ree's efforts to bring scores down were in vain though, because this week's panel champ is...
Seo In Young
With a score of 21.3!!!
With a score of 21.3!!!
Comment away! And the poll will be up in a bit, so go vote for your favorites! See you next week. ;D