Late to the Party: January 2014 Picks

The first quarter of the year is through in thirty days, and so far so steady in terms of comebacks and debuts in K-pop – if by “steady” you really mean “break-neck speed.” New releases cannot come any quicker for our faves and raves, but that’s par for the course in K-pop where the demand is mighty and the thirst is real. As someone who previously didn’t care for newness pop culture-wise, I’ve had to adjust my mindset from getting into an artist months or years after they come in vogue (and sometimes even way past their sell-by date) to frantically keeping up with those who haven’t even been born yet. I thought it might be a good idea coming up with a semi-regular thing on this blog where I dig out from under recent faves and new faves that have been there for a while that I’ve just gotten into.


January music dls

TVXQ! “Tense” 

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I was psyched for this album! The tail-end of 2013 made me review my consumption of K-pop so far, and I had to backtrack to TVXQ! As detailed here, I found it a bit of a challenge getting to know and appreciate this group because of its history and extensive discography. Plus the fact that I don’t really listen to ballads.

The video was exciting, and the album to me was pretty solid in that I listened to it straight through, and its loop-ability rate was pretty high. My appreciation of it is pretty shallow though, and I suspect I am missing so much in context because I’m no Cassie. “Tense” sounds “age-appropriate” – the album doesn’t try to bring things down to a teeny-bopper level and instead focuses on the longevity /maturity of TVXQ!’s career, though perhaps maybe SMe was too successful doing that because some elements on the album made TVXQ! sound middle-aged – I’m talking about the disco, Take That-esque beats that show up in tracks like “Your Man” and “Moonlight Fantasy”, though as far as arrangements go, the absence of dub-step was really refreshing.

Rain “Effect”

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Following closely on the heels of TVXQ’s release was this one from Rain. I froke out seeing him perform on the 2013 MAMAs, and was looking forward to his reality show (did that even happen?) I never really got into Rain when I first started with K-pop, but his release from the military promised such an intimidating comeback it was impossible not to start paying attention. I mean, this was Rain. I was kind of expecting that with him back, he’d crush all the young ‘ins and claim back his place on the throne, but now I’m not so sure. Caught him on the weekly music shows like M! Countdown and he felt like a de-toothed, de-clawed Hallyu King.

I liked “30 Sexy”, though. I read somewhere that someone misheard the lyrics and thought he was saying, “Dirty Sexy,” so that’s pretty much how I refer to this one particular song. Rain doesn’t try to reinvent the Hallyu wheel with “Effect,” which was what I was expecting him to do, comeback and all. Was I wrong to expect that? As far as songwriting goes, “Effect” just comes out average for me. It could have been released by someone less of a star than Rain, and it could have worked just as well with the right push. A lot of the tracks on the mini-album had repetitive motifs that sounded lazy to me. I think Rain needs to have a real serious talk with his people if he’s set to take back what’s his.

2A.M. “Nocturne”

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So I didn’t have any 2 A.M. on my playlist because of my thing with ballads, again. But I caught the MV for “Regret” in between programs on Channel M, and I liked it.

I find myself barely tolerating slow tracks, but r&b ballads are all right if they catch me on a good day. Liked this a lot. I don’t actively seek it out on my playlists, but I don’t wonder what this album is doing on my iPod when it comes around, either. In fact, when “Nocturne” comes up on iTunes,  I end up asking myself why I don’t listen to it more often. It’s one of those little albums we tend to overlook but appreciate on clear, easy-going Sunday afternoons.

B1A4 “Who Am I”

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Okay. I LOVE THIS ALBUM. I love this album and I must have it in its physical form. I was looking forward to the fact that the group had a lot of creative input in terms of songwriting duties for “Who Am I,” and from the moment that I put it on, I knew I was experiencing something of a different flavor. Somehow it reminded me of the Belle and Sebastian soundtrack for the Todd Solondz film, “Storytelling.” I think the harmonica in the intro track had something to do with that, but it set the mood for the album, and I was imagining it as the soundtrack for a teen hobo looking for love in a mega city.

How I LOVE “Lonely,” even if its opening evokes so much of Milli Vanilli’s “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You,” which as a child of the 80’s, I hated. But the “OOOH”s and the “LONELYLONELYLONELY”s save it from being the tragedy it almost becomes. Easily my favorite track of January.

Gary “Mr. Gae”

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Only someone so secure in his own masculinity would call his album this. I’ve only seen one episode of “Running Man” but I knew there was something sexy about Gary. I saw this gif of him making the moves on this female audience member once, and I thought he needed to bring out more of that hidden sexy. So cut to my mind being blown finding out he was one half of a hip-hop duo called LeeSsang and has been making music since 2002.

Then, imagine my delight when I found out that Gary is one of the few males in K-pop that I can legitimately call oppa. (I have some dumb reasons for liking K-pop, and this is one of the dumber ones.) The MV for “Zotto Mola” was banned on several T.V. channels for its racy content. Naturally I am all over that shit. I’m reminded of the music video for Radiohead’s “No Surprises”, in which the main ingredients are an empty tank, some water and a dude slowly being submerged in his own feelings.

Gary got a lot of flak for another MV – this time for “Shower Later.” It’s got some objectifying images, which I would admit is problematic, but it rolls out like a fantasy that Gary has so of course it’s objectifying – what fantasy isn’t? In particular I enjoyed the look on Gary’s face as he’s pushing down that see-saw. To his credit, any guy that talks about taking showers in relation to a woman’s pleasure knows what’s going on.

Got 7 “Got 7” 

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There are EXO-killers, and there are those that wish they could be. It’s a bit too early in the game to say for sure, but Got 7 would like to apply for the position. Got 7 are brought to us by JYPe, and for some fans, a new boy group from JYPe is just what K-pop needs. Got 7 is a new group consisting of seven guys, two of which aren’t exactly new playas on the K-pop scene – JJ and Jr. were part of JJ Project. However, as far as nugu groups are concerned, Got 7 got me. I was compelled to spend twenty or so minutes under the Got 7 tag on Tumblr to know their names.

I mean, Jackson. Going by names alone, this was a sure thing.

I like schoolboys, okay. To me, that never gets old. So I don’t care if this has already been done by EXO and I don’t care if the next two and a half boy bands nugu or not take on the schoolboy concept for their next comeback. I liked that compared to my EXO pups, Got 7 has this bit of an edge going for them. In the “Girls, Girls, Girls” MV, they look like they’ve cut class and have lured this ordinary schoolgirl to this secret lair where the too-cool-for-school kids hang about. Clearly a bad influence. It’s the middle of the day – where are you off to with so much eyeliner, young man? If I had a teen daughter, I’d be horrified, so thank god I am childless.

Other Notable and Not-so-Notable Listens

I liked Royal Pirates a lot, which was why my review for their debut mini-album “Drawing The Line” wasn’t late to any party. I liked Toppdogg‘s second mini-album less, and thought their debut was the stronger release. I also tried to get into U-kiss, and found out that “Stop Girl”‘s ear worm factor was so high, I didn’t even need to have listened to it for the song to come sneaking into my consciousness.  A friend hipped me to most of LeeSsang’s discography, and some albums were stickier than most. “Hexagonal” pretty much hit the spot, though “Asura Balbalta” was less fun for me.

Pretty solid month for new discoveries and cuts on heavy rotation. I like that one of these albums is a strong contender for my 2014 Best Of, setting the bar pretty high for full length releases. The Battle of the School Boys is pretty much on, and I’m still waiting for it to go down in a fiery “Crows Zero” type throw down in the middle of an M! Countdown stage. Never know. It could happen!

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