Thursday, April 10, 2014

Glen Check - Disco Elevator (2011)

I didn't discover Glen Check until I got my ears on the 2011 Soundholic Label Sampler where I was pretty instantly captivated by the track "60's Cardin" which was produced as the band worked their way towards their first studio album, Haute Couture. I didn't realize that they had previously produced an EP called Disco Elevator the same year until I went back to check out their performances and found a performance of the title track that caught my attention. And while I don't normally buy releases in digital format, Disco Elevator had gone out of print and the digital version was all that was still available, also providing a remaster and a couple additional track. So despite my general distaste for digital only, I bought Disco Elevator. And then I listened to it over and over again because it was that enjoyable.

The EP opens with "Addicted", which might be describing my reaction to the chorus. Taking its sweet time to get into the song, "Addicted" opens up with a synth soundscape before the guitar starts up and the duo crash in with the interwoven electronics, guitar, and drums. It's quite effective as an intro track thanks to the build-up but the verse and chorus plus the pretty synthpop arrangement help it stand up as a single as well. And each track on the EP is easily strong enough to stand as a synthpop single.

"Disco Elevator" is the track with the strongest edge with its more-guitar centric drive, using synths to reverberate the song while Kim Junwon sings through some vocal processing that is fortunately not auto-tune, but instead giving his singing a softer, more ethereal aesthetic. The transition between the verse and the chorus builds up towards the post-chorus instrumental breakdown well, giving space to encourage dance.

This is followed up with the most pop of the tunes on the EP, "Metro", chock full of handclaps and French pop influenced melodic construction and shimmering synths. The EP closes with the similar attuned "Dressing Room", just as perfect synthpop as the three tracks that had preceded it, with Kim's digitally processed falsetto perfect parts sensitivity and encouragement.

The later digital release also includes acoustic versions of "Metro" and "Dressing Room", which only serve to prove that the songcraft of Glen Check is quite strong, the tracks holding up their most addictive qualities even in absence of the electronic production.

The four tracks on Disco Elevator are quite possibly perfect examples of the joys of synthpop and exposes Glen Check as having clearly mastered the form on their inception. The music is beautiful and sweet and work well in the EP format, never wearing due to excessive length. The band has since found more depth in even these simple pop songs, giving "Disco Elevator" a series of harder contrasts in live performance, but such is the flexibility of a good pop song. And Glen Check's Disco Elevator is perhaps a sterling example of excellent pop songcraft on an EP. 10/10.

Tracklist:

  1. Addicted
  2. Disco Elevator
  3. Metro
  4. Dressing Room
  5. Dressing Room (acoustic)
  6. Metro (acoustic)

Links:

Friday, April 4, 2014

2K14 Seoulsonic USA Tour, March 20, 2014 at Brick & Mortar Music Hall, San Francisco

For the last three years, I've been grateful for that the DFSB organized their annual Seoulsonic Tour, bringing some of the best music in Korea to America for some live shows at select locations around the country, with a stop at South by Southwest ("SXSW"). Los Angeles was usually the last stop on the tour, but thanks to Seoulsonic I'd been able to see some of the bands that I'd been a fan of for over a decade live and in person.

In 2014, now in their fourth year, Seoulsonic and several other Korean musicians suffered major setbacks with the USCIS and performance visas were delayed or rejected for several artists. At SXSW, Jang Giha and the Faces got hit especially hard and were forced to cancel their showcase at KOCCA's K-Pop Night Out. Seoulsonic's tour schedule also got heavily disrupted as only Love X Stereo got their visas unscathed. Unfortunately, Rock'N Roll Radio and Glen Check suffered visa issues as well as ended up unable to perform at any shows aside from the showcases at South by Southwest.

What's more, due to the lack of visa issuance, Seoulsonic was forced to cancel most of its shows including its Los Angeles show. However, one show that didn't get canceled was the show in San Francisco, held in partnership with CAAMFest 2014. Not wanting to miss my chance at catching one of the best selected lineups in the tour's history including the red hot Glen Check off of their second Korean Music Awards win, I decided that a five and a half hour drive isn't so bad. When I got to the venue I discovered that Seoulsonic would be reorganizing for a fall tour after sorting out the visa issues, but at CAAMFest 2014, I also got the benefit of seeing Smacksoft live for the first time and getting to dance my butt off to Idiotape a second time, so I really couldn't regret the drive up and back down.

I arrived at the venue, the Brick & Mortar Music Hall and realized that this was probably the best venue that I've seen for a Seoulsonic show yet. It had a spacious standing room, a small stage, but with great sounding tech that filled the room well and good acoustics. While it didn't have the benefit of extra space for people to wander and talk like Dim Mak Studios the previous year in Los Angeles, I think that helped keep the focus on the music. One downside is that the show started at 9:30pm and with five acts to go up, it was going to be a long night and having taken the BART in, that meant that I would have to find a ride or take a cab back out to Berkeley where I was staying.

San Francisco Bay native and rapper-producer Kero One, whose music I really like, was given hosting duties for the night and while he was a little more appropriate than the idol-pop oriented radio deejays at 2013's Los Angeles stop, given the locale, he still wasn't really up to speed on the artists and named a couple of the artists incorrectly.

The show started pretty close to on time with Rock'N Roll Radio taking the stage first. While it didn't seem like the audience knew what to expect from the rookie group, they easily proved to me how they nabbed the New Artist of the Year award at the KMAs by instantly opening up their New Wave groove. Like the New Wave Revival of groups like The Killers, Rock'N Roll Radio takes a lot from synthpop acts from the 1980's, with sometimes snappy, sometimes shimmering guitars from lead guitarist Gim Jin-gyu and New Romanticism influenced vocals from Gim Naehyeon. Being the act to warm up the audience is difficult, but the band's energy was able to get a handful of people at the front of the stage dancing and Gim Naehyeon's banter was pretty charming, opening up by asking is there were any women in the venue and then asking how everyone was doing. A woman asked back how he was doing and he responded with the classic English-learning script, "I'm fine, thank you."

The band featured some excellent harmony work between the band members, excellent energy, and the crowd really ate up the extended instrumental bridges, cheering as the band dug deep. The live set really highlighted the band's capacity for instrumental ornamentation with dexterous bass work from I Minu, diverse guitars, and rich vocals. When the band announced their final song, a woman in the crowd shouted a big, "Nooooo!", which drew an amusing "Thank you" from the band frontman.

After their set ended, DJ Relic took over and mostly played older-school hip hop jams, which was honestly a bit jarring to me considering the kind of music we just came from. It suited the crowd pretty well however and several were dancing to the music.

Next up was Smacksoft, who probably qualified as the biggest outlier of the evening in terms of musical style. While most of the other groups were firmly rooted in the spectrum of electronica or dance-oriented pop and Smacksoft did have some amount of electronics and synths in their music, Smacksoft was foremost an experimental rock band, with a dosage of post-punk and post-grunge alternative and a musical style with a link to Sonic Youth, or digging further back, The Velvet Underground.

But that's not to say that Smacksoft didn't rock the house. Frontwoman and veteran of the Korean music scene, Hwang Boryeong, was instantly and deeply charismatic with a devil-may-care sense of humor. The band explored many different spaces, digging from their long history and Hwang going from husky vocals to room shattering wails throughout the night in a stunning display of power and the music ranging from thundering post-punk to dream pop. Hwang got into the music like few performers I've witnessed live, establishing an almost confrontational onstage rapport with her bandmates, seemingly synching with and then pushing them up close and personal.

And Smacksoft proved a talented unit surrounding Hwang with Rainbow 99's guitarwork being quite exquisite, opening up with some amazing chirping that I originally thought was a programmed track from the computer. At one point, Hwang gets so into the music that she stumbles into one of the amplifiers and knocks it down, getting set back up between songs. And those in the audience that Smacksoft resonated with were clearly enraptured by the performance.

Unfortunately, not all of the audience was sold on Smacksoft's experimental sound and the level of chatter audible during some of the quieter performances proved just a little distracting. But it was clear to me that I had witnessed perhaps the most powerfully artistic performance of the evening.

Love X Stereo sets up next and it takes a bit of time. I don't know if they weren't able to do a soundcheck before the show started, but they definitely had to spend a little time adjusting their microphone levels. In fact, perhaps as part of the sound check, the band began performing one of their songs and so I thought they had finished, but it was a false start as they stopped in the middle of that first song and started over.

But once Love X Stereo got going, they really managed to capture the crowd. Frontwoman Annie Ko, like Hwang Boryeong before her, is a bomb on the microphone, exploding on some of the songs in a way that you simply couldn't expect from listening to their studio recordings. Furthermore, she's got a great range of singing, not unlike Debbie Harry of Blondie, growling deep and sulty one minute and going ethereal the next. Similarly, the band also adjusts tone and texture of their sound, playing around the edge of New Wave influenced synthpop and into '90's style alt-pop, with Hwang Jeongsik's guitars something ringing and skittering in a way that would make The Edge proud.

Although the band suffered a slight goof in the middle of their set as Hwang accidentally reset their computer, as soon as they got going again, they got bodies moving on the dance floor, which is another thing you never quite get from listening to their studio recordings: Love X Stereo's music really does inspire bodies to dance. Also, Annie Ko shakes the maraca like no one else I've seen. A truly winning performance from the band that surely won them new fans after their set.

Then, once Love X Stereo had broken down and Glen Check had set up, Kero One took to the stage and performed a mini set of three songs, emceeing on stage as DJ Relic dropped the beats to a highly receptive hometown crowd. This was actually the most enthusiastic response of the night as Kero One easily got the audience to respond to his calls and the whole of the floor were jumping and waving hands to the beats. Combined with how the crowd tended to respond well to the tunes that DJ Relic was spinning, it was clear that hip hop was the language that the vast majority of the attendees could speak and for two or three short songs, Kero One was speaking to everyone. It certainly makes me believe that a Seoulsonic tour with an emphasis on Korean hip-hop artists would not only be viable, but would be very well received.

Between songs during Smacksoft's set, a young man overheard my conversation with a friend that I had driven up from Los Angeles and was impressed. He himself had come knowing nothing other than that his cousin in Korea insisted that he attend the show, because he absolutely had to check out Glen Check. Indeed it would turn out that Glen Check was the reason why many of the gathered crowd attended the show.

Playing mostly from their also New Wave synthpop powered dance-friendly Haute Couture, the duo and their session drummer had the crowd's attention from the moment they begin with one of the two tunes from Youth! that they played. But the moment the chorus of "Vogue Boys and Girls" hit, half of the bodies on the floor were dancing and jumping wildly with the crowd eating up the following pairing of "Battaille!" and "French Virgin Party" and yet again when Glen Check reached "60's Cardin".

Glen Check were the biggest crowdpleasers of the evening and managed to charm them over during the few moments between songs when band spokesman Kim June One amusingly asked the crowd to buy some merchandise and especially copies of their latest double album, Youth! so they wouldn't have to lug it back home. After their performance, I saw a number of patrons sporting the admittedly awesome Glen Check snapbacks and knew that June One's request was at least somewhat granted.

Another thing that was of particular note to Glen Check's performance is how well the video element was incorporated into their show. Each individual song had a specific video piece that was projected on the curtain behind them that corresponded to and was perfectly timed with the song, including instructive and synchronized calls to clap along with the addictive handclaps in their arrangements.

By the time that Glen Check had finished their set it was already past midnight on a weeknight, so most of the attendees actually took off after Glen Check's set finished and because of a lengthy take-down and setup time, in addition to the late start time for such a long showcase, it was hard to hope for much of an audience to be left for Idiotape.

This is truly unfortunate as the twenty five or so diehards that remained got to experience what was undoubtedly a fantastic set by Idiotape. Drawing principally on the tunes from their album, 11111101, once Idiotape got going there wasn't a butt left unshaken on the floor, not a body with limbs flying. Not one member of the band said a single word until their set was over and they just made music, but their music spoke volumes. Idiotape sounds great on their album, but you truly haven't experienced quite how impressive they can be until you see them live, feel the music physically blasting through your body, and find yourself dancing because that's simply all you can do when confronted by their electropunk sound.

I had the great fortune of catching Idiotape at the inaugural Seoulsonic Tour's stop in Los Angeles and no matter how late it was, I knew how much of a treat I was in for, so I had to stay through their set and regardless of the reduced audience size, Idiotape delivered. One thing that became apparent to me during their set is that Idiotape are truly masters of building up musical tension and then blowing it up their audience with a fury of crashing drums, electronic beats and grinding synths.

Though they had a shorter set at Seoulsonic's CAAMFest stop and we didn't get to hear reputedly awesome gems like their remix of Beastie Boys's "Sabotage", hardly a second went by in their set that didn't leave the remaining audience feeling like staying up late for the band was completely worth it.

After Idiotape wrapped up their performance about half past one, the audience quickly made some final merchandise purchases and got going, myself included. I had just driven for six hours and then walked around for three more in downtown San Francisco and I was seriously tired, but after that glorious four hour show, I truly believed that it was worth it. Although the tour was unfortunately wrecked by visa issues, the stop at CAAMFest was fantastic and the DFSB truly arranged for a perfectly synergized trio of performers to make up the core lineup, the CAAMFest stop clearly benefiting from adding on two more excellent acts.

After seeing just how many in the audience loved Kero One's mini-set and were bobbing along to DJ Relic's tunes, I can't deny that the two were an effective addition to the show, but as a music fan, I still felt that the change-up of tone between hip-hop and New Wave influenced electro/synth-pop was a little jarring and I wished that Kero One as a host would have had better informed introductions to the performers as well. But these are limited criticisms for what was really a great night of music. The venue was great, the tech was (mostly) great, the performers were all excellent, and it's hard to argue that the core lineup was anything but perfect. And this makes Seoulsonic at CAAMFest 2014 one of the best stops of their tour I've experienced yet. 9/10.

Special thanks goes to friends Chris Park of Korean Indie, Shawn Despres, and hjkomo for each playing a role in making my attendance of this show even more enjoyable.

I look forward to Seoulsonic's return in the fall as well as to what the tour might have cooking for 2015.

Links:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Natty Dread (1974)

Natty Dread marks a point of transformation for The Wailers as it is the first album released after the departure of founding band members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The trio did work on a couple tracks on the albums, but all of the songs were written by Bob Marley and the group's name was accordingly adjusted to Bob Marley and the Wailers with this album.

Musically, there is a notable change in the band's sound: Natty Dread feels just a bit more spare in the arrangements compared to Catch a Fire and Burnin'. With much of the vocal leadership now with Marley, the large band choruses of previous efforts are less prevalent although the inclusion of the I Threes does help add some chorus backing.

Lyrically, Marley stays on track with the band's previous focuses, although without Tosh the message of spiritually-based unity seems less at the forefront. However the call to resistance is still prominent like the prophetic "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)", the story of injustice of "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)", and the appropriately titled "Revolution". The latter also demonstrates that Marley continues to integrate the message of social resistance with a spiritual one, further reflected in tracks like "So Jash Seh" and the title track. Natty Dread also spreads back out to other integrated themes like partying ("Lively Up Yourself") and romance ("Bend Down Low").

Two of my favorite tracks on the album include "No Woman, No Cry", which most people will be familiar with from the compelling live version that made its way to the Legend compilation. In its original studio incarnation, the track is a bit more peppy, but is as much a reflection of Marley's youth in the slums of Trenchtown and carries the weight of that nostalgia well. "Talkin' Blues", later in the album, is part blues and part political statement, the blues part being the majority of the lyrics, but in just two lines in the middle, Marley eviscerates church corruption and a call to arms, elevating the seriousness of those who are in a state to sing the blues.

This all comes together in an album that's almost like Catch a Fire in terms of laying down a broad musical blueprint, one that is also powered by the excellent rhythm section of the Barrett brothers, but this time with only Bob Marley in the band's driver seat. And it very much does become more his own album, the Wailers becoming a bit more of a still integral supporting unit to that sound. What Natty Dread proves is that Bob Marley has plenty of talent in just himself to continue the legacy of the Wailers and produce a complete, compelling album. While it might not quite have the same reach as the last two albums with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, it's a clear statement of politics, faith, and music from Marley, who is as impressive a songwriter and performer here as he was with his bandmates. 8/10.

Tracklist:

  1. Lively Up Yourself
  2. No Woman, No Cry
  3. Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
  4. Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)
  5. So Jah Seh
  6. Natty Dread
  7. Bend Down Low
  8. Talkin' Blues
  9. Revolution
  10. Am-A-Do

Links:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crying Nut, March 18, 2014 at Cafe NELA, Los Angeles

In 2012, I had the pleasure of catching Crying Nut performing with that year's Seoulsonic North America Tour. This was a pretty big deal for me since Crying Nut was one of the first Korean bands that drew me into Korean music, courtesy of the soundtrack to the Korean film, Who Are You?. This year, the band made their way again to South by Southwest ("SXSW") in Austin, this time on their own, although they hooked up with fellow Korean musicans for the KOCCA/DFSB-produced K-Pop Night Out show.

Originally, Crying Nut was supposed to stop by Los Angeles to play on March 8 and 9, prior to going to SXSW, but problems with getting their visa forced them to scuttle the shows prior to SXSW. Fortunately, the band was able to keep their post-SXSW date in Los Angeles and arrived on a quiet Tuesday night of March to Cafe NELA for a short set, performing between Swords of Fatima and Cat Museum.

Cafe NELA is kind of a dive bar (technically a beer parlor) with a stage and has a history of supporting the punk and hardcore scene in Los Angeles. It's a really small venue with the stage area probably being able to fit maybe fifty people and the acoustics aren't great, but it's a cozy enough atmosphere with holiday lights strung about and a checkerboard floor. When I arrived, Swords of Fatima were in the process of packing up their gear from the stage and I noticed that after us followed a small influx of people, including a number of Koreans that I would imagine were not regulars of Cafe NELA as well as several people with cameras that I imagine are involved in the English-language K-pop oriented press. Unfortunately, being late on a weeknight, the assembled crowd was probably around fifty people total, which is certainly much less than the band would be able to do if they could somehow book a weekend performance with a strong lineup partner.

The crowd gathered quickly when Crying Nut started going up for what I guess was a sound check of sorts. Unfortunately, there were major problems with the sound setup as the band could not get any sound from their keyboard or their microphones. After about fifteen or sixteen minutes into their set, they finally were able to get their microphones working and abandoned the keyboard to begin performing. Their first song was also still kind of a sound check as during the song, it was clear that several of the microphones still weren't working right and so their vocals were almost entirely drowned out by the instruments, with the guitar and the drums eating up most of the mix. Some of NELA's sound techs came up and replaced the microphones which resulted in the vocals finally coming through, but we were about twenty minutes into their set by that point.

The boys played a number of their hit songs throughout their career, including one song from their latest album, Flaming Nuts called "레고", which was wisely picked for their easy-to-singalong chorus. It was apparent even during their second song, the Celtic punk of "마시자", that at this point the tech problems would simply go unresolved for the rest of the night as the only time you could actually hear any vocals was when the whole band was shouting in unison or when the guitar and drums weren't playing. This is truly unfortunate because vocals, especially in harmony, are one of the band's strengths. Furthermore, it interfered with audience participation at time because it got difficult to hear what the band was calling for the audience to repeat, like on the chorus of "Luxembourg", which the frontman, Park Yoonshik, called "world peace".

Despite the near inaudibility of the band's vocals, they were not at all deterred and hit every song with unbridled enthusiasm and the audience, too, would not be deterred either. There were clearly die hard fans that came out of Cafe NELA as you could hear them singing along with the choruses, sometimes filling in the gaps where the stage mics failed the band. Every hit the band played, from "말달리자" to "밤이 깊었네" had fans in the audience singing along and a handful of the regulars also really got into Crying Nut's infectious performance. Due to the small stage the band was a bit limited in their antics, with Park Yoonshik discarding his guitar and mic stand to get a bit more movement room and Captain Rock getting in a kick or two. Accordionist Kim Insoo was again the wild man of the band, leaving the stage with his accordion and running through the assembled audience as well as performing from the floor. And through sheer force of performance, the band clearly won over the audience.

Unfortunately, having lost fifteen minutes to non-starter tech problems and still having to end so that Cat Museum could set up, the band was making to wrap up a shortened set, but calls for one more song were heeded and the band ended with one last song to please the crowd. And while I can imagine that the band and fans were a bit frustrated the the frequently inaudible vocals, the boys put on such a kinetic and charismatic show that it was hard to not get caught up in the energy, with one NELA regular complimenting the band profusely at the end of the show. Much of the audience was clearly at Cafe NELA to see Crying Nut as after some of them purchased some merchandise and chatted with the band, the crowd quickly dispersed, leaving Cat Museum with mostly regulars and the hardest slot for a weeknight at 11:00pm.

Although not at all the band's fault, Cafe NELA's tech problems really capped how much I could enjoy the show because it not only cut into a chunk of the band's time, making the show abbreviated, but it seriously damaged one of the band's strengths, their enthusiastic vocals. But that Crying Nut would not let that deter them from putting on the best show that they could shows just how impressive and irrepressible the band is. When Kim Insoo started his kazoo solo at the top of "명동콜링", the crowd erupted in cheers and on the song's chorus, Crying Nut fans in the audience joined in with Crying Nut, myself included, making audible what the mics could not. So as frustrated as I was throughout the show because of the tech problems, the strength of the band's performance was able to overcome those problems enough to make it a still enjoyable show.

That said, I hope that next time Crying Nut visits Los Angeles, the show will have better publicity to draw a bigger crowd, have a better venue, a better time, and share a bill with an act that would have a good crossover audience, either a comparable local rock unit or a Korean band of similar or greater stature to help draw a bigger crowd. The way that Crying Nut performed in the limiting conditions at Cafe NELA shows that they would be able to take advantage of every improvement in tech, venue and audience and provide an even more killer show. And they have the discography to headline a show, perform for much longer, and please an audience of any size with their energy, showmanship, and musicianship. Tragic that such an amazing act was limited by the constraints of the venue. I hope they come back to Los Angeles soon. 7/10.

Links:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Burnin' (1973)

Confrontation seems to be the main theme of Bob Marley and the Wailers' sixth album (second with Island Records), with many of the tracks urging the listeners to band together and resist the authorities that oppress the people. I think the title comes from the album's fourth track which is very clearly in this theme, called "Burnin' and Lootin'", describing the riot that Marley is calling for. And the unity of theme, the presence of purpose, and the excellent performance is what makes Burnin' an undeniably excellent album and a fitting swan song for the original incarnation of the band as Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh would move onto solo careers in its wake and the band would becoming known by its frontman.

The album opens up with the now classic rallying call for resistance in "Get Up, Stand Up", putting Burnin's theme front and center, following up with the also classic story of confrontation, corruption, and injustice on "I Shot the Sheriff". Of course, Burnin' doesn't abandon the themes of unity and spirituality that were more prominent on Catch a Fire. The second track, "Hallelujah Time", is a straight spiritual and just as "Get Up, Stand Up" combined it all into a unified track, "Small Axe" shows these themes colliding again.

Burnin' is very explicit in its call for unified resistance as well, as it's a call for people to band together to fight the man. The lone resister will get chased down like on "I Shot the Sheriff" and the album makes lots of use of group vocal choruses, with the band and additional vocalists demonstrating the very unity that it is calling for on tracks like "One Foundation". It's a convincing musical thesis and the arrangement and the lyrics enhance each other seamlessly.

The emphasis on these interwoven themes is further displayed by a lack of romance tracks like "Stir It Up" from Catch a Fire, but the actual music in terms of arrangements and performance follow suit with Catch a Fire only notably more militant and the resistance focused tracks, with the Barrett brothers' bass and drums stopping harder on those tracks, giving them a bit more edge than The Wailers' previous efforts.

This all comes together in a highly impressive effort and a worthy follow up to Catch a Fire. By focusing on specific themes, the album is highly distinguishable to its predecessor, but the quality of performance and lyricism is not at all diminished. It might not have the broader, more accessible appeal of Catch a Fire, but in its focus, it finds The Wailers in tight and powerful form, easily cementing their appeal to fans of reggae. And that makes Burnin' a fantastic album, an essential album for the reggae fan and highly recommended for those who like Bob Marley or The Wailers' work. 9/10.

Tracklist:

  1. Get Up, Stand Up
  2. Hallelujah Time
  3. I Shot the Sheriff
  4. Burnin' and Lootin'
  5. Put It On
  6. Small Axe
  7. Pass It On
  8. Duppy Conqueror
  9. One Foundation
  10. Rastaman Chant
  11. Reincarnated Souls
  12. No Sympathy
  13. The Oppressed Song

Links:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dear Cloud - Take the Air (2010)

Although I'd long heard of Dear Cloud and even listened to a few of their tracks, I never really got around to really listening to any of their releases. However, with a lot of praise for the band coming from friends, I thought I really owed the band a listen and picked up a copy of their 2010 EP, Take the Air to get a taste of the band's music. The music that I found on the EP wasn't earth shattering or immediately attention grabbing, but after several playthroughs of the EP, I think I started understanding what makes the band appreciable, which is assured the songcraft and performance of warm-toned modern rock and frontwoman Nine's gorgeous, full-throated vocals.

At six tracks with the opening track being an intro, Take the Air is short, but it is packed with quality songs, so it's still an enjoyable listen. The opening track, "You're Never Gonna Know", is instrumental with a focus on the ringing guitarwork of Yongnin, which actually leads well into the first main track, "그때와 같은 공간, 같은 노래가", which features more of that guitarwork from the intro, combined with the rhythm section creating and appropriately soaring musical field upon which Nine provides her voice. It's a subtle thing, but Yongnin's guitarwork really lends to a sense of flight, particularly in takeoff and probably resonates the most with the title and the cover imagery as birds fly away and return, which thematically matches with the song's lyrics.

"Last Scene" adds in some electronics and the keyboards are a little more apparent in a track that glides along pretty well, but it's "무너져" where the album really finds another side to show, this heartbreak ballad being restrained in the arrangement emphasizing Nine's vocals as the track slowly builds in emotion to powerful bridge where Nine lets go of her previous vocal restraint and finds a moving moment.

The EP's penultimate track is its final original track, with a crystalline keyboard line provided by Jeong-a upon which Nine sings in a manner that at times evokes I Sora in another ballad. It's pretty good, although doesn't quite have the unleashing factor of "무너져". The EP closes with a demo of "어떻게도", which appears to be a previously unreleased song. It's not a revelation as it sits well on the EP and shows that the band's sound has stayed pretty true since 2005 when the demo was recorded.

The pleasures of Take the Air come in the subtleties, like the arrangements of "그때와 같은 공간, 같은 노래가" and "Last Scene" lending to the sense of soaring or the performance by Nine on the two ballads. But the one limiting factor of the EP is that it does sometimes feel a little too restrained. While Nine's voice leaves quite an impression and her timbre is one of the reasons why the band exudes a comforting warmth, she only really finds a strong point of dynamism on "무너져", leaving some of her sung passages feeling just a little stock at times, leaving the arrangement to have to provide that dynamism, which works at times and less at others.

Part of this might just be a result of oversmoothing by the engineers as the band has shown a good degree of dynamism in live performances I've seen, but it takes a little of the air out of the EP. Not to say that the band doesn't manage to take off on their tracks, but just that Take the Air sometimes seems to fall short of soaring. A good EP with a good set of tracks. Nothing groundbreaking for Dear Cloud, but I think it will likely please fans of their sound. 7/10.

Tracklist:

  1. You're Never Gonna Know (intro)
  2. 그때와 같은 공간, 같은 노래가
  3. Last Scene
  4. 무너져
  5. 사라지지 말아요
  6. 어떻게도 (January '05 demo)

Links:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Catch a Fire (1973)

The Wailers were already a successful band in their native Jamaica before the release of their fifth album, Catch a Fire, but it was the release of Catch of Fire, representing their first release through Island Records, that the band had a significant international impact. The legacy of Catch a Fire remains potent today as it is frequently lands at the top of not only greatest reggae album lists, but often on the lists of albums of all time. And putting ear to the album even now, it's absolutely no surprise that it retains such a legacy or won The Wailers an international following. It's immense from the opening track to its close.

It's apparent from the moment that the opening track, "Concrete Jungle", begins, with its fantastic beats laid down by the rhythm section and bandleader Bob Marley's plaintive reflection on the harshness of urban life, backed by the band and then immediately looking at the history of slavery on "Slave Driver". But rather than being beat down, the music is clearly rebellious as Marley sings that the "table is turned".

But the album isn't just full of powerful ruminations on urban life and injustice, with a trio of fantastic love songs in the peppy "Baby We've Got a Date (Rock It Baby)", the romantic "Stir It Up", and the rapscallion "Kinky Reggae", the second of these making an appearance on the iconic compilation Legend.

The rhythm section, powered by the Barrett brothers and Bunny Livingston is tremendous, with Aston "Family Man" Barrett's fat bass grooves creating memorable channels for the songs to flow. This would prove to be the final album for Peter McIntosh and Bunny Livingston, but each leaves a potent impact on the album, whether Tosh's soulful organs that provide a melody for "Stop That Train" or Livingston's timely percussion hits on "Kinky Reggae", Tosh providing songwriting to a pair of tracks on the album.

There simply doesn't appear to be a fault in this album and if any non-compilation album can make a reggae convert out of a music lover, I'm pretty certain that Catch a Fire would be the one. Marley is soulful, romantic, and zealous on this album, with hints of the socio-political and religious themes he would later embrace being hinted at on this album as well as a streak of idealism that would mark even his most critical albums with hope present here on "No More Trouble". Catch a Fire is simply essentially listening, not just for those that like reggae, but music lovers of almost any stripe. 10/10

Note: The 2001 remastered edition of this album includes two additional tracks, "High Tide or Low Tide" and "All Day All Night", which were originally recorded in the same sessions as the other tracks on Catch a Fire. They are fantastic and so it's well worth getting the more recent version if you're going to pick up a copy of Catch a Fire.

Tracklist:

  1. Concrete Jungle
  2. Slave Driver
  3. 400 Years
  4. Stop That Train
  5. Baby We've Got a Date (Rock It Baby)
  6. Stir It Up
  7. Kinky Reggae
  8. No More Trouble
  9. Midnight Ravers
  10. High Tide or Low Tide
  11. All Day All Night

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