Late to the Party: February 2014 Picks

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February was a month of really high high’s and terribly low low’s, but K-pop wise, this month was consistent in delivering some exciting new stuff from big names in the biz, as well as some awesome ones from the nugu side of K-pop town.

B.A.P “First Sensibility”

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This album came out shortly after the insanity that was Dream K-pop Fantasy Concert 2 (DKFC2) here in Manila. DKFC2 brought together six major boy bands, of which B.A.P was one of them. I’ve always had my radar turned part of the way to B.A.P even though I still don’t know what the hell “One Shot” was about. I was psyched for DKFC2 because they were on the lineup. Also, I have decided to put an end date on my embargo on liking Zelo because so many nugu groups have already turned up on the scene and younger guys have caught my attention.

The carrier single for the album is “1004 (Angel),” and the hook really reminds me of America’s “Ventura Highway.”  Because of that, I have a newfound appreciation for the latter and wish for some kind of mash-up. Listening to this album makes me feel there are three main veins to “First Sensibility.” There are a few sexy MOMOL-ready tracks on this album – like “Easy,” “Shady Lady,” “Body and Soul” – those are the sexy times stuff that “Coffee Shop” hinted at when it was released. Then there are a few tracks that lean toward the rock side of the group’s repertoire like “Bang X2” and “Save Me,” which I’m not sure I really like but suits the group’s more aggressive image. The last two songs, “B.A.B.Y” and “With You”-  bring the album to a sweeter ending. I wouldn’t say this is the most cohesive album, but the sexy, aggro and sweet songs somehow work side by side on “First Sensibility.”

BTOB “Beep Beep” 

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BTOB were also part of the DKFC2 lineup. As fans, we already knew then that a new concept will be rolling out in a few weeks’ time, but because the group hadn’t begun the new promotions cycle in Korea yet, were unable to promote the new stuff. In hindsight, what the Manila audience got was kind of stale because BTOB did all the intense leather and Goth “Thriller” stuff, which I’m not saying was bad but because the new mini-abum is so 180 degrees from the heavy dark vibes of the previous one, everything from “Thriller” now feels like it came from a different year. “Beep Beep” brings BTOB back to the brighter, happier, less stressful side of K-pop. “Beep Beep” may be bumper-cars cute but what stops it from being predictable is that its vibe is not super innocent. Like, it feels like a date in an amusement park replete with cotton candy and stuffed animals won from a dumb shooting game but it also feels like it’s about playing hooky from school, French kissing on top of a Ferris Wheel and maybe even getting to second base on a Roller Coaster. It’s cheeky that way.

BTS “Skool Luv Affair”

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I’m actually starting to think BTS are the EXO-killers for all the distraction they seem to keep providing as of late. I’ve already built up my own head canon – “Skool Luv Story” is actually the POV of those dudes that EXO had those warehouse throw downs with in the “Wolf” drama MV’s. Think about it. These are those guys. So while the EXO wolf pups attend their fancy schmancy academy for wolf boys, the Bulletproof Boy Scouts attend the worst public high school for hopeless delinquents. Think Suzuran High School from “Crows Zero,” which is my go-to reference for bad boys in gakuran flicks. So while I love me some good boys who do bad things, I kind of have a soft spot for dumb jailbait teen delinquents.

“Boy in Luv” is great great great – check out how they spell LUV (that’s L-U-V!) Some tracks I instantly like upon sighting the title, and this is one of them. This song is all about who the Alpha is (much like the way “Growl” was.) It’s a territorial “hey you get off mah girl” kind of song directed at the girl for show, not so much as the other guys who want her attention. It’s Cocks-out Pissing Contest time for sure. The middle eight makes this song; the sweet spot of “Boy in Luv.” Even in the MV, its aural shift is accompanied perfectly by a shift in lighting – transforming our hard time juvie hall veterans to sappy lovesick romeos. If that wasn’t a perfect audio/visual lock, I don’t know what is.

The implied violence in the MV has disturbed a few critical K-pop listeners, but coming from a purely fanfic mindset, this was pretty hot. In real life of course, no girl worth her K-pop merch wishes for harassment in the corridor even if the boy looks like Suga (at least I hope there aren’t any!) But let’s be real – as a fantasy this shit is hot.

It’s still always a bit jarring for me watching a BTS MV after listening to their music. They sound so cocksure of their skills as MC’s that seeing how young they really are on their MV’s is unsettling. No question about how legit they are – I have much respect for this group for coming up from the underground hip-hop scene. I like groups and members that prove their musical chops on top of having to develop another skill set as idols. I just hope that when that School Boy Throwdown happens, it won’t be a rap battle because my puppies are gonna get their asses whooped.

“Can’t Stop” CNBLUE 

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CNBLUE released two compilations prior to this comeback – one “Japan Best Album” and one “Korea Best Album”, both of which I listened to. The thing about these comp albums is they somehow manage to make the old stuff sound new again and get listeners excited for the new album that’s on the horizon. CNBLUE is one of my favorite groups in K-pop – I feel like everything they’ve released so far is great and I can’t possibly be disappointed in anything they have up their sleeves. I just dig their sound – like they’re an idol group, but they play instruments. They’re not rockers, but they’re legit musicians. I guess it helps that I have no real expectations from the group – I don’t have to over think what their next sound is or what they should be sounding like. I need to mention Yonghwa because since he got his hair cut late last year, boy has been looking really good. I don’t know why I didn’t super notice him before (*ahem* Jonghyun *cough* Minhyuk) but there you go. Yonghwa is my new CNBLUE bias. My favorite track from “Can’t Stop” is “Sleepless Night,” and I can easily picture this appearing on some kind of rom-com OST when the scene is like the 4D heroine walking alone some fancy sidewalk swinging her handbag and she looks up and spots her boy looking out in the distance in his bathrobe or matching pajama set thinking of her only he doesn’t see her and then the camera pans up and moonlight on the cobblestones, yo.

Girls’ Generation “Mr. Mr.”

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Interesting album art. Have SNSD kidnapped The Man and plan to subject him to revenge plastic surgery? Is he the Mr. Mr. being referred to in the title track? I dig this mini album more than I dig their last album. Track 2, “Goodbye” is my jam though. Really really really goodbye – yep. I like that bouncy backbeat and sassy bass line they got going. The track that comes after, “Europa” is hardly noticeable sandwiched between “Goodbye” and its sister wife song “Wait A Minute”. Those two tracks are cut from the same cloth and are my fave cuts from this mini-album. Both have a bit of a Sister Sledge “Frankie”/Sheena Easton “Nine to Five” vibe simmering on its surface. “Back Hug” is just girly giddiness that seems to be Girls’ Generation’s strongest suit. The thing about this whole mini-album is I like it because it sounds like a mini-album that f(x) might put out for all the electro blips and pixelated cherries they bring to mind.

2Ne1 “Crush”

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But here comes trouble…ooops, that’s what the other group said last year! YG is notorious for taking its time between releases, and even as a non-Blackjack I was anticipating this one to come out already. I didn’t think very much of “Falling In Love” when it came out last year, but I loved “Missing You.” I guess if it really came down to 2Ne1 vs. Girls’ Generation, I’d pick 2Ne1 in a heartbeat even though I am the biggest SMe groupie. 2Ne1 just have songs in spades over Girls’ Generation. Plus, when it comes to how they carry themselves, I prefer 2NE1 over GG. There have been a few reviews of “Crush” and a lot of them are mixed reviews, but I love this album. It starts out loud, aggressive and strong. It’s a call to action. It’s a battle cry. It’s brash and makes no apologies. “Come Back Home” is an instant dancehall jam. Its acoustic version closes the album, and I find both arrangements gorgeous. I’d have to say my favorite track out of the entire album is Track 4, “If I Were You,” which was written by CL. It powers forward on some serious pipes. “Happy” is really good too, so that’s one of my favorite tracks on this album. I get that it’s a song for an ex even without having to look up the English translations. Even the inclusion of an old track, “Scream” doesn’t feel out of place among the shinier tracks. Loop-ability of “Crush” is pretty high, and I’m gonna be listening to this one for a while.

AlphaBAT “Attention”

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A for Effort. When this group showed up on my radar about the time that Toppdogg did, it could have swung either way. It all depended on material and buzz. For some reason, AlphaBAT dropped out of the race early and Toppdogg came out with a pretty solid debut mini-album. The group’s name is ridic – like it’s almost a parody.

Don’t get me wrong – I love crap like dumb names (hello – SHINee,) but sometimes the actual output is not strong enough to transcend the absurdity of the group name. This mini-album kind of falls flat for me even if I do like the track that takes us from the letters A all the way to G.

Donghae and Eunhyuk “Ride Me”

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“Still You” is an awesome gorgeous track, so I was excited for this full-length Japan release from Super Junior’s Eunhyuk and Donghae. Then, news of its title came out, and most ELF were like, RLY?!? Add to that the track called “Motorcycle” – what the hell is happening? Honestly didn’t expect to get into this album but from the first track (“Bari 5!”) it was clear that “Ride Me” was an invitation to a party. A party with ROCKSTERS. It is freaking awesome, okay?

And “Motorcycle” is hell fun. I feel like “Ride Me” is just a fun album overall, and Eunhae sound like they had a good time making it. I have a hunch this album was released as some sort of contractual obligation to their Japanese label, but as far as that type of album goes, this one is pretty damn listenable. A strange, unexpected favorite.

Other Notable and Not-so-Notable Listens

Kris Wu‘s old friend uploaded a track of Kris Wu’s cover of “Lullaby” over on Soundcloud, which isn’t half bad if you don’t mind hearing sibilant Yifan whisper-rapping on Oedipal issues. Get on that, if that’s your thing. There were also the extra three tracks on the “Spellbound” repackage that weren’t on TVXQ’s “Tense,” but if you’re not too hot on ballads, then don’t even bother. The MV was a lot of fun even though it wasn’t my cuppa.

I found out that there was a huge Mercury Retrograde during Feb, and I don’t know if you folks believe it, but even if you don’t, I am so sure you all felt it. However, K-pop can weather all kinds of MercRet, as proven by the onslaught of awesome last month. I need to catch my breath for what this month will bring. If the prophecies are true -then EXO should be pushing through with their comeback later in the month, so I am girding my loins as early as now! Better safe than sorry!

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