Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Linus' Blanket - Labor in Vain (2005)

I noted that Linus' Blanket's debut ep, Semester, struggled with some production and performance issues, but still managed to provide a set of well written, arranged, and adorably cute songs. Two years later, the group released a single, Labor in Vain, and with it, cleaned up a lot of the production and performance roughness of Semester, resulting in a clean and enjoyable bite-sized musical confection.

In addition to two versions of the title track, the single also boasts two more original tracks. It starts with, "Signal Waltz", which opens with chiming keyboards, instantly recalling the sounds of childhood, and on top of a simple waltz rhythm, the track layers in YeonGene's childlike vocals, a melodica, keyboards, and some echoing background chorus to gently ease the listener into the dulcet world of Linus' Blanket.

Of course, with a title like Labor in Vain, Linus' Blanket isn't just pure candy pop, but instead carries a tone of ennui that gives the sweetness of the arrangement and songwriting a bit more weight, the title track referring to the push-pull struggle of loving someone. This is all built upon what seems almost like a samba rhythm, the chiming keyboards and Yeongene's backed vocals from Signal Waltz transforming into words, while the guitar team providing a little texture with some ringing effects. But the weighted, yet sunny composition's internal contrast serves it well and the result is winning.

Finally, the last unique track is "Walk" which accordingly begins at a nice jaunt, the band singing "ba-da-ba-bams" in an instantly inviting manner--you want to sing along. The single verse easily preparing for the chorus which lovingly floats up into the sky alongside the freeing lyrics. It's a lovely, if brief tune, lasting only eighty two seconds.

The single closes with a more acoustic reprise of "Labor in Vain", an acoustic guitar bouncing along as the vocal arrangement of "shoo-be-doo-bops" helps give the song a bit of swing. It's an enchanting variation of the title track, but it highlights the fact that while the production and the performances have largely become much tighter on the single, YeonGene's vocals still seem just a touch shy, wavering on her notes. Her vocals have noticeably become stronger on these tracks, so she's clearly becoming more confident in her singing, but that might be the only element of the single that stumbles at all.

Granted, Yeongene fares excellently in terms of songwriting alongside her co-writer, MinSung, so the single is still a winner and certainly has enough sweetness and sunshine that it leaves you wanting more, yearning for the day that the group might release an album. But with two very complementary tracks alongside two equally enjoyable versions of the title single, Labor in Vain is certainly a single that fans of early Linus' Blanket will want to put ear to. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Signal Waltz
  2. Labor in Vain
  3. Walk
  4. Labor in Vain (reprise)

Links:

Friday, January 23, 2015

R.ef - Rave Effect!! (1995)

In my review of Turbo's 280km/h Speed, I actually neglected to mention another popular electronic dance music group that reached mainstream success: R.ef. R.ef (pronounced arr-ee-eff) debuted in the mid-nineties around the same time as Turbo and was just as invested in producing electronic dance music--with pop songwriting--and had some amount of success as well. Granted, despite its billing as rave music and its largely appropriate house or techno arrangements, I think the success of the group and the album comes from its pop songwriting, which leans the whole effort a little towards dance pop. And their debut album, Rave Effect!!, is pretty much that. Which means that it's not far from the kind of music present on Turbo's first album and, honestly, it's just about as appreciable.

The electronic dance orientation of the album is immediate: the techno synths and drum machines that open the album on the intro track "서곡" are right in genre and the intro bounces around to three different kinds of beats and one really awkward English-language rap before transitioning into the first track and main single, "이별공식". This is where the underlying pop becomes apparent as despite the four-on-the-floor rhythm and synths, the opening verse is the kind of continuous, attention drawing melody that puts the beat in the background--the chorus following the rap breakdown with even more hooks. This is also where we find that R.ef suffers from some of the same weaknesses as their pop music peers of this age: shaky vocals and rough production. The trio that compose R.ef sing together in a sometimes screechy very slightly out of sync way and the production quality of the instruments is a little weak.

The vocal weakness is even more apparent on "상심", which is probably the strongest pop composition on the album as the singers sometimes have trouble keeping breath through the end of their melody lines. Fortunately, the track is saved by an aggressive pulse in the arrangement and a well crafted melody line, again more pop than deep in genre dance. And if you listen to the remix of the track included at the end of the album, which replaces the techno arrangement with an acoustic guitar variant, it's apparent that the composition is more about the song than encouraging dance as it's almost stronger as a straight pop song.

There are times when the compositions stretch beyond the singers' abilities, like the stretch into upper registers on "연인 아닌 사이" and "엑스트라". There are times when it's clear that the vocalists are straining to hit their notes and even on calmer tracks like the pop ballad of "슬픈 오해", the singers struggle to keep their singing clean, although the somewhat off-toned arrangement doesn't help things.

Still, there are some album tracks that really work in Rave Effect!!'s favor, like the aggressive synths that run most of the intro of "고요속의 외침", which are pulse pounding enough techno that's it's easy to imagine it being actually played at a tamer rave and "친구잖아" is catchy enough, despite the often screechy overstretched vocals, that it's still entertaining house.

You would expect an album with a title Rave Effect to be more rave-oriented, but we are talking about recontextualizing a foreign music into the Korean mainstream music scene, which is why there is a strong blend with Korean-style pop, especially with the emphasis on melodies. By the album's final straight track, "도화지"--which is an a cappella pop tune--it's pretty obvious that the trio made the pop compromise, perhaps because that is simply how Korea absorbed house and techno music. And it's interesting to hear the kind of sounds that R.ef absorbed, which is really the straighter house and techno of the 80's rather than the genre pushing contemporary electronica of the mid-nineties.

And, in the end, I think Rave Effect!! works in its context--it's certainly not exemplary music, but it does happen to be a forerunner in bringing dance-oriented electronica to the mainstream, like their rival, Turbo, and that's still something worth noting. I don't know that Rave Effect!! has enough merit in itself to make for an intrinsically worthwhile listen, but Rave Effect!! does remain a significant footnote in the diversification of Korean pop music, especially in how effectively they blended Korean pop into old school electronica. And that's something. 6/10

Tracklist:

  1. 서곡
  2. 이별공식
  3. 상심
  4. 연인 아닌 사이
  5. 슬픈 오해
  6. 고요속의 외침
  7. 엑스트라
  8. 친구잖아
  9. 도화지
  10. 고요속의 외침 (remix)
  11. 이별공식 (remix)
  12. 상심 (remix)

Links:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Soran - natural (2012)

I was drawn to pick up Soran's first album, natural, on the strength of two singles: "미쳤나봐" and "살빼지 마요", the former featuring Gwon Jeongyeol of 10cm and capturing the kind of bouncy acoustic pop that made 10cm such a success and the latter winning with its contrasting smooth verses and hook laden chorus, complete with catchy cute background vocals. What I got was a pretty well polished set of pop rock songs that fits right into the Happy Robot Records sound, but also a sound that gets a little generic pop rock at times.

The singles are still pretty solid, mind you, but they are also the brightest points on the album. It's apparent the kind of sound that the band is going for on their opening track, "돌아오는 날", with its light, mid-tempo pop rock that is the many shades of pleasant that labelmates like EZ Hyoung and Serengeti trade in and bandleader Go Yeongbae's mild vocals throughout the album reverberate those echoes.

It's with the fourth track, "가장 따뜻한 위로", that it becomes apparent that Soran is content to work within the pop rock and modern rock genres with Go Yeonbae's smooth vocals opening over an acoustic guitar, piano twinkling in before the track builds to its full band modern rock workout. Everything you expect from the genre is there, but Soran never really manages to move beyond hitting all those familiar notes--they do it pretty well, but the band doesn't quite seem to establish a specific character. It could be any other pop/modern-rock unit making this kind of music.

I think they realize this which is why they follow with the album's lone upbeat track, "연애의 재구성", featuring a curious interpolation of "Für Elise" as a guitar riff. But despite the energy put into the rhythm section and the rock guitar solo, the effect still feels so cleanly polished that it never transcends genre expectation. And again, none of the tracks on natural are at all bad--in a vacuum, they all satisfy at the most basic levels, with clean production and performances. It's just that it's not clear that Soran has quite established a unique voice.

And perhaps this is why the pair of singles dominate memories of natural: the first one features a guest artist that swings the whole track to his distinct sound while the second single earns its stripes primarily on having the second best pop hooks in the album and having the character of cuteness on the chorus. That said, if you like Happy Robot Records' particular kind of polished pop and modern rock sound, then I'm pretty sure the music on Soran's natural is going to make its way into your regular music rotation.

As for me, I think natural is a decent starting place--I certainly found myself hooked on the album's two singles--but I hope to see the band grow and better establish its identity on future releases. 6/10

Tracklist:

  1. 돌아오는 날
  2. 미쳤나봐 with 권정열 of 10cm
  3. 살빼지 마요
  4. 가장 따뜻한 위로
  5. 연애의 재구성
  6. 내꺼라면
  7. 시간의 노래
  8. 벚꽃이 내린다
  9. 차라리
  10. 가을목이 (acoustic version)

Links:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Linus' Blanket - Semester (2003)

It's surprising to think that Linus' Blanket has been around for over a dozen years, having released their first album, Show Me Love, in 2012. Almost ten year prior, Linus' Blanket issued their first release, a six-track EP called Semester and establishing their cute pop sound. And while the group's membership sound has evolved since their first semester, some of the core elements of their sound, their sunny pop tone and bandleader Yeongene's vocals remain the same.

The pop tone is immediately established with the opening "Signal Song", which starts with sunny guitars, a slightly funky guitar, a bright xylophone, and Yeongene's non-lyrical singing--nearly an instrumental and with particularly charming guitars and vocals almost drawing influence from 1960's sunshine pop. The following track, "보라빛 향기" is actually an instrumental with Yeongene playing flute to accent the primary guitar melody.

But Yeongene's flute performance in this track is surprisingly indicative of her vocal performance throughout the album, which is cute, but almost timid. This timidity comes out in the quivering of her voice and her breath, which seems almost swallowed. It's an almost fragile shy lead vocal she provides, which does lend to the cuteness of the overall songs, but sometimes it almost threatens to turn in to faltering background sounds, just like how the flute in "보라빛 향기" doesn't always provide clear solid notes, sometimes seeping clipped or short of breath. In Semester, it's as much as strength as it is a weakness as it adds to how adorable and youthful the music seems, even if at the cost of an especially memorable vocal performance.

That first major vocal performance shows up on "Christmas Song", Yeongene at nearly a whisper at times, but backing herself up with memorable layered chorus vocals. It's an accordingly adorable song, but something about it seems tenuous, like I Yonghui's drums are just one step away from flying off into the space, as their urgency seems to increase throughout the track, almost impatient with the band and driving them to perform faster and faster. And the song does so pretty well at its tempo for most of its length, but at the end it feels a little rushed, in part because of the incredibly rapid fills from the drums and the seeming increase in tempo from the band. Even when the drums pull away, that pressure seems to still be on the track as it goes spare towards its end.

This rhythmic tension extends a little to the following "담요송", where it seems like the acoustic guitar is a little rushed by the drums, hurriedly plucking its bossa nova rhythms as Yeongene sings her swaying melodies that are just short of lingering long enough. "Picnic" shares the most with modern Linus' Blanket with its rockabilly guitar and twelve bar blues backing--the arrangement has good hooks and shuffle from the drums and guitar--and is paired with children's song vocals in English from Yeongene as she declares that "I can take you around the world / hi hi happy shiny day", her keyboard taking over playfully when she's not singing.

The final track, "Summer Has Gone By", has Yeongene in duet with one of her bandmates as it shuffles along--Yeongene herself appropriately a little more mellow than the superbrightness of "Picnic" and the arrangement punched up by the inclusion of some nice horns. But there's admittedly a roughness to this track that seems to extend over the whole EP, as though the group was short on studio time and these were the best takes they could manage. The occasionally faltering in Yeongene's voice, the roughness of some of the instrumentals, and even the apparent tension between the drums and the rest of the band stand out.

Granted, being a self-produced independent album, some of this is to be expected and the final result is still more polished than a demo. And perhaps some of this roughness does add to Linus' Blanket's childlike charm, but at the same time, it does make Semester seem like Linus' Blanket was clearly still a work in progress at the time. The songs and arrangements are fantastic--with lots of charming hooks and sunny playfulness, everything you want from this particular brand of indie pop--but it often feels like the recordings are often just shy of the potential of the compositions.

That doesn't make Semester a bad, or even weak, EP. In fact, it almost makes it a bit more charming in that childlike way. At the same time, that childishness in performance and production also threatens to make it almost too slight at times to be appreciated. But I'd say that if you like adorably cute, childlike pop, the set of songs included on Semester are still enjoyable enough that they will satisfy. I only regret that the band couldn't add a little more polish overall to their production. 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Signal Song
  2. 보라빛 향기
  3. Christmas Train
  4. 담요송
  5. Picnic
  6. Summer Has Gone By

Links:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Humming Urban Stereo - Sparkle (2012)

Humming Urban Stereo's 2008 EP, XXXX, marked a number of changes for Lee Jeereen's project, embracing more direct use of electronically synthesized sounds in addition to splitting with Pastel Music. Humming Urban Stereos' follow up album would take four more years to produce, in the meantime releasing a handful of singles.

And in the time leading to the release of Sparkle, an unexpected change would occur: the passing of Humming Girl, who, along with Shina-E was a longtime collaborator on the Humming Urban Stereo project. Although her presence on HUS releases were limited after Baby Love her loss clearly impacted both Lee Jeereen and Shina-E enough that they came together to produce a tribute track on Sparkle, which also happens to be both Shina-E's lone appearance on the album and consequently, the one real throwback to the old Humming Urban Stereo.

I say this because Sparkle represents a real embracing of the synth-pop sound that Lee Jeereen was toying with on XXXX as well as straightforward dance music. That's not to say that Sparkle is devoid of the sound that Humming Urban Stereo built an audience off of, but instead has incorporated chunks of the worldwide return of synth-pop into his songwriting and sharpened his electronic dance production skills as well, but keeping core elements of the sound that defines Humming Urban Stereo.

One of these core elements is his regular use of female guest vocalists, which continues on Sparkle with single appearances by everyone except Lee Jeereen's Instant Romantic Floor cohort, Sugar Flow, who headlines and provides vocal support on multiple tracks, including opening the opening track, "Hey You". This track instantly signals the greater shift in sound as it opens up with energetic synths and a classic electronic drum machine, highlighted by the kind of bright synth hits you'd expect from synth pop and synth-driven electronica.

Lee Jeereen himself even shows growth as a vocalist on the following track, "굉장한 미인" and on "Love & Sex", letting himself waver, bounce into his lower registers, and get as husky as he can in his Brown Bunny persona. This track also features bits of softer synths and trumpet samples that tie back to Humming Urban Stereo's older sound, but the grippy synth bass and Brown Bunny's brasher vocals are clearly signs that Humming Urban Stereo is changing. Brown Bunny even drops some rap verses on "Sugar Daddy" and while he's not going to make a career of being a rapper, it works well in context and demonstrates Lee Jeereen's growth.

Sparkle is pretty much non-stop fun from the moment it starts to the point that it ends. The earliest peak is the album's first single, "Love Jam". Its softer toned approach is pretty reminiscent of the classic Humming Urban Stereo sound and Bebop, the girl group tasked with the vocals, capture that cuter vocal delivery accordingly. But the arrangement, including the bright synth string hits, the gurgling synth bass, and the more propulsive drum machine represent that embrace of electronic present all over Sparkle. The result is ridiculously catchy song.

Even greater evidence of Lee Jeereen's deeper dive into dance is the straight house track of "I Want You Back" with its straight four to the floor beat, repeating, sometimes stuttered, vocals from JC지은, complete with a breakdown and acceleration and classic dramatic house synths. It's almost like taking a time warp to '90's house dance floor, but it sounds contemporary and JC지은's vocal timbre and melodies are what keep it hooked into the rest of the album.

I could probably go in depth on every track here, but suffice to say that the more synth-pop driven songs are really engaging, from the cute call-outs from Yoari to "put your hands up / hands up / hands up" to the title calling chorus of "Sugar Daddy" which has those aforementioned light-hearted rap breakdowns against the simple snappy synth beats, almost carrying the soul of Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" into Humming Urban Stereo's sound.

And then there's "Venus Hotel", an instrumental that probably has the most classic Humming Urban Stereo arrangement, a samplefest that is kind of like "Goldie" from Purple Drop, but more playful and bouncy with its weaving string samples and short rhythm loops. Alongside the more funky "Love & Sex", they offer a nice lower energy, but still sexy, close to Sparkle.

And Sparkle this album does. It's a much more bolder step forward than XXXX and while there are times, like with "I Want You Back", where the track threatens to pull too far from the core album's synthpop revival sound, it doesn't do so for too long and retains just enough Humming Urban Stereo character that when the album snaps back to its primary sound, it ends up acting more as an exploration of musical boundaries than a full diversion. But as with most of Humming Urban Stereo's releases, Sparkle is fantastic, sexy, and stylish. And quite possibly even more straightforward fun than before. And that makes it a worthy addition to the project's discography and a must-buy for fans. Also worthwhile exploring for those that like the more electronic and dance side of the contemporary synthpop revival. 9/10

At the end of the tracklist are two bonus tracks, "D.D.D" and "봄날의 사케", B-sides from previously released singles in a slightly different edit or mix; a nice little bonus at the end.

Tracklist:

  1. Hey You
  2. 굉장한 미인
  3. Love Jam
  4. You & I
  5. I Want You Back
  6. Oh Yeah!
  7. Waltz Sofa #4
  8. Jina (Humming Girl)
  9. Sugar Daddy
  10. More & More
  11. Venus Hotel
  12. Love & Sex
  13. D.D.D
  14. 봄날의 사케
  15. Hidden Track

Links:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Humming Urban Stereo - XXXX (2008)

While Humming Urban Stereo made some of its best works using a lot of acoustic instrument samples, Lee Jeereen's aptitude with blending synthesized and electronic sounds has been getting subtly more sophisticated over each release and while there was a little bit of electronic overload at the beginning of Purple Drop, with XXXX, it seems like he's really finding an organic mix for the two branches of his sound, resulting in a typically stylish and catchy listen.

It all starts with the lounge instrumental of "La Barrosa 14Horas", built on Latin rhythms and a lovely warm horn sample. It oozes the more trendy stylish side of Humming Urban Stereo and perfectly transitions to the similarly Latin-rhythm-fueled "Fetish~ piel~", voiced in a whisper-song by Dahlia. It's not terribly original, but Dahlia's vocals in particular make this a distinctively Humming Urban Stereo take on the accordion-powered dance track.

The third track, "No No No", is probably my favorite on the album, opening up with humming and rolling synths before the drum machine starts and is joined by Uta's voice on the verse. But it's the title-repeating chorus that's insanely catchy, Uta making a lot out of the lone word in a chorus, the arrangement gripping thanks to the low burning synth and series of bleeps.

The next pair of tracks unfortunately always connect my brain to Basement Jaxx due to shared lyrics with two of their singles. The title track, "XXXX" starts with a voice sample calling "jump and shout" with an accent, which instantly makes me think of the Jaxx's track, "Jump N Shout". Granted, the rest of the track really fits more under the lounge-dance of Humming Urban Stereo rather than the wild house of Basement Jaxx, but this is a more energetic effort by HUS and a decidedly more electronic one, with longtime collaborator Shina-E adding a layer of stylish vocals almost as an instrument.

The following track is appropriately titled "Electronic Girl", which builds on a series of programmed drum machines and whirring synths, again adding a lot of energy to the EP. And while this is again lounge-dance, the chorus-call of "plug it in / plug it in / plug it in in in" can't help remind me of "Plug It In" by Basement Jaxx. It's not obvious whether it's a direct reference, a borrowing, or a strange coincidence, but despite its electronics, the track actually transitions into a fun Latin-rhythm driven instrumental bridge as Sugar Flow scats.

"Sophie Marceau" follows and is the EP's main single, which makes sense given that it's the most rooted in Humming Urban Stereo's main style, complete with arpeggiated crystal synths and winding guitar licks permeating the arrangement while the ridiculously cute duo of Humming Girl and Yozoh trade vocals. The result sounds a lot like a classic Humming Urban Stereo party, complete with a lower-pitched breakdown that I could imagine Jeereen himself singing. But like his early hit from his first album, "Bob줘", the percolating vocal samples on this track are fated to stay bubbling in your head.

The EP closes with "Ayurbeda Swimming", which is a pleasant relaxed instrumental, piano, woodwind, and synths creating a beach-like scene, with punctuations of electronic beeps and bloops floating through its sunny electronic wonderland. It's actually an excellent way to close the album as its progressively tones down its energy from the more charged dance tracks in the middle, the samples of waves and birds guiding us out of the overall listen.

It's true that nothing on XXXX stands out in the way that Monochrome's best tracks deserved another showing on Baby Love, but Lee Jeereen has been on a roll with Humming Urban Stereo and XXXX expands the project's sound oh-so-slightly deeper into electronic dance while fully retaining its core character. And I think that makes the EP a welcome entry into its discography--stylish, cute, and a little more rambunctious than past entries. But highly enjoyable in that same Humming Urban Stereo way. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. La Barrosa 14Horas
  2. Fetish~ piel~
  3. No No No
  4. XXXX
  5. Electronic Girl
  6. Sophie Marceau
  7. Ayurbeda Swimming

Links:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Lonely Christmas and Happy New Year (2010)

When I first discovered Pastel Music back in the early 2000's, I found myself quickly attracted to the label's sound, snapping up many of their artists' releases. Since then my taste has broadened and so what was a regular schedule of purchasing Pastel's releases became more of an occasional purchase. However, several of Pastel's artists remain in regular listening rotation for me. Then I discovered they released a Christmas compilation album.

Now, I'm not immensely fond of Christmas music. It's often too syrupy or saccharine to appreciate and my typical reaction is to be turned off of the holiday. However, friendz.net and their duo, J Rabbit, actually managed to make a Christmas compilation albums that I liked, so my distaste for holiday music appears to be borne from how the music is arranged and delivered. As such, and with a tendency to like Pastel's artists, I ordered a copy of their album.

I was especially relieved because of the title, Merry Lonely Christmas and Happy New Year, promising that the compilation won't dive deeply into the overly sweet sentimentality of common holiday themed music. And it doesn't. While there are some more cheerful and traditional moments on the album, the Pastel artists retain their own aesthetic over the double album. It's actually more of a double EP due to the brevity of each disc, totaling just under an hour of music total.

Each of the sixteen tracks are represented by a unique artist, fourteen of which are from Pastel's main roster as of 2010 and two of which, the boy least likely to and arco, that Pastel distributes. Fifteen of the included tracks are covers of Christmas or spiritual music and three are originals, spanning several genres but tied together well both by the holiday theme and the greater Pastel aesthetic.

Most of the music tends towards acoustic sounds, even the usually electronic leaning Sentimental Scenery actually drives his arrangement of "The First Noel" with piano, using breathy synth hums to pleasantly flood the backchannels. And while you have covers of common Christmas carols like "Yungjin's lounge pop take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" or Herz Analog's a cappella rendition of "Winter Wonderland", some of the inclusions are more atypical.

Covers that I didn't expect include Hee Young's cover of Matt Thiessen and the Earthquakes's "I Hate Christmas Parties", Lucia's rendition of A Fine Frenzy's "Redribbon Foxes", and Taru taking on "Sally's Song" from A Nightmare Before Christmas. The most unexpected of all would be Bulssajo's buzzing adaptation of "Somewhere in My Memory", the theme from Home Alone, which actually manages to inject a bit of fun onto the album, where most of the included selections appropriately run a little moody.

I especially like the original tracks presented here: Sumiara & Phonestuber's nightclub lounge R&B is almost cacophonous with its falsetto title calls, but holds together well with its groove. The Boy Least Likely To presents a surprisingly lovely little story about George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! having a moment together in a pub. And Trampauline manages to balance her distanced downbeat tones and rap with a warm and optimistic chorus on "Dreaming of a White Christmas (In Summer Days)".

Some tunes, like Taru's rock-laced "Sally's Song" and I Jinu's maudlin "Feliz Navidad" undergo some real transformations in arrangement, adjusting the tune to fit the compilation's greater theme. However, I don't think that the melancholy of Merry Lonely Christmas and Happy New Year is really a downer as the acoustic arrangements retain an element of warmth, reflecting the second part of the title, "Happy New Year", suggesting healing or optimism despite the loneliness, loss, or hurt of the present. I think this is best reflected by the closing tracks, "I Believe in Father Christmas" and "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)", both making positive declarations in face of the negative.

And it's this delicate balance that Merry Lonely Christmas and Happy New Year traverses so well that makes it a surprisingly enjoyable listen. Yes, this is a Christmas album that avoids some of the worst pitfalls of commercialized Christmas music, embracing that sometimes Christmas isn't so bright for everyone but keeping an undercurrent of necessary hope in the cold of winter. This is precisely the kind of Christmas album that I'd expect from Pastel Music and that also happens to be exactly the kind of Christmas album I'd go to Pastel for. Aside from some of the hard to comprehend pronunciations of English by a couple of the performers, this is as good a holiday album as I've ever heard. I really like it! 9/10

Tracklist:

Disc 1:

  1. Sentimental Scenery - The First Noel
  2. Hee Young - I Hate Christmas Parties
  3. 심규선 - Redribbon Foxes
  4. 융진 - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  5. the boy least likely to - George and Andrew
  6. 어른아이 - Oh Happy Day
  7. 수미아라 & 뽄스뚜베르 - 왜 내게 묻지 않나요? 사랑하냐고...
  8. 이진우 - Feliz Navidad

Disc 2:

  1. 한희정 - Blue Christmas
  2. Herz Analog - Winter Wonderland
  3. 타루 - Sally's Song
  4. Trampauline - Dreaming of a White Christmas (In Summer Days)
  5. 박준혁 - What Child Is This
  6. 불싸조 - Somewhere in My Memory
  7. arco - I Believe in Father Christmas
  8. 짙은 & friends - Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)

Links: