Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (2009)

So a couple years ago, a few of my friends were deeply in love with Mumford & Sons's debut album, Sigh No More, but being inundated with more music than I could reasonably listen to, I purchased the album and it languished in "The Stack" for years before I finally took off the plastic and gave it a play. And I instantly liked was I was hearing--the blending of folk and bluegrass Americana from this British band. That said, over the course of the whole album, the tracks do ultimately end up sounding just a touch too similar--it's still a relatively compelling listen, but it does make the album as a whole feel a bit long.

Most of the tracks on Sigh No More follow the same basic pattern: quiet or introspective verse, crescendo with the full band coming in on the prechorus and swelling to a pitch on the chorus. Acoustic rhythm guitar, contrabass, and drums holding down the rhythm section, ornamented by the banjo and occasionally, strings or piano. During all this, principal vocalist Marcus Mumford will express his grippy dramatic vocals from quiet to hard, raging alongside the high din of instruments and the rest of the band coming in to back him, either at the point of the chorus or occasionally to add texture to verses with close harmonies.

I can't blame them for doing this because they're actually quite good at delivering the formula across twelve variations, once in a while changing things up, most notably on the quieter "Timshel". The opening title track, "Sigh No More", is also an interesting case because it takes some time to really build up to that cathartic moment, introducing the Christian themes prevalent on the album. It's really with "The Cave" that the pattern for most of the album is set, although the group mixes things up in minor ways like switching to 6/8 time and bringing in horns for "Winter Winds" or an electric guitar and raspy angry vocals on "Dust Bowl Dance".

But that build and release is what Mumford & Sons clearly specializes and so I can absolutely understand why the vast majority of the tracks on the album follow the formula and the band fortunately keeps the lyrical matter broad, ranging from songs of hope like the opening track to more aggrieved positions like the realization of fault on "Little Lion Man". And perhaps that diversity and well as the smaller adjustments to arrangements is what keeps Sigh No More interesting throughout, because the if it weren't for those elements, it would be hard to pick out what song is what.

Producer Markus Dravs and the engineers give Sigh No More lots of clarity but without losing the warmth of the acoustic instruments in the mix and especially work to give the tracks the dynamic range they need for the kind of swell to catharsis that the band clearly aims for in their songwriting and arrangement. The result? A pretty solid listen for a single album. However, if the band is to continue forward, they would be wise to investigate what other kinds of songs that they could write and the greater potential of their setup as a second album that follows the first's blueprint might just be too much. 8/10


  1. Sigh No More
  2. The Cave
  3. Winter Winds
  4. Roll Away Your Stone
  5. White Blank Page
  6. I Gave You All
  7. Little Lion Man
  8. Timshel
  9. Thistle & Weeds
  10. Awake My Soul
  11. Dust Bowl Dance
  12. After the Storm


Saturday, February 28, 2015

영턱스클럽 - 정 (1996)

In the aftermath of the dissolution of Seo Taiji and Boys, the trio would go their separate ways, Seo Taiji himself continuing a successful solo career while Yang Hyeonseok went on to found the major Korean music label, YG Entertainment. The other one of the titular boys, I Juno, hasn't really managed the same kind of attention since the band's breakup, having a perennial solo career and teaching.

However, shortly after the band's breakup, I Juno, like Yang Hyeonseok, initially set out to create an idol group successor and the resulting group, Young Turks Club, turned out to have some decent success and surprising longevity, even releasing a single as recently as 2011. Granted, the dance pop group underwent many lineup changes over the years, but at least one core member of the original lineup has always been present to hold its legacy and in its debut album, Affection, the dance pop group proved itself a decent predecessor to the incoming idol pop boom.

The five piece co-ed group had everyone be a dancer, singer, and rapper and musically, the group ranges across a variety of styles of pop from R&B and balladry to light hip hop and pure candy pop. The album is admittedly a little uneven with two of the singles far outshining the rest and the tracklist is bloated a little by the inclusion of four remixes, making the strictly original material on the album two thirds of the tracklist. However, those two singles are admittedly strong enough to actually make Affection a tolerable listen.

The first single, "훔쳐보기", continues extending the New Jack Swing trend of Korean pop, building upon a rolling bass and drum machine with cool synths complementing the rhythm and blues vocals led by Im Seong-eun and Song Jina. It's an excellent start for the group, but the next track, "내 영혼 속에 너", loses some of that momentum by being a rather stale and predictable ballad. Fortunately, album track "서로에게 길들여 질때 까지" picks up by mixing up a variety of styles into the track, from group-chorus ballad to funky-lite hip hop. Granted, the rapping is admittedly quite weak, but the track remains interesting for managing to convincingly blend these two genres together somehow. I wouldn't call it successful, but certainly daring.

The biggest hit to come from YTC's first album is probably the title track, again going for a kind of cool like the opening single, but against a snappier pop dance beat, with funk guitar hits. The women again lead the singing on this successful song with the men contributing a couple short rap verses more successfully than their female groupmates on the previous track, but fortunately, that's also limited, keeping the focus on repeating the catchy chorus.

The final single on the album is the sugar pop of "못난이 컴플렉스" with the female duo trading off sweeter vocals as the music frequently reference "When You Wish Upon a Star" of all things against the sunny house production. It's a bit of a stark contrast considering the cooler tone of the rest of the album and for that reason I don't really think it's a strong fit on the album and doesn't quite have the dynamism to be as long as it is.

The proper closing track, "Rain (비의 테마)" repeats the group's weakness in balladry and the four remixes aren't terribly convincing. The best of the bunch is the club mix of "" and that's mostly because it doesn't really change much from the original version. This makes the last third of the album a bit forgettable and drags down the overall listen.

As such, in the modern digital single-purchasing age, I actually think most will probably be happy with grabbing the two better singles individually or in a greatest hits compilation as the album tracks and even the third single aren't really that convincing. Perhaps more serious fans will find more to like about the album and the variety provided does mean that it's not really a chore to listen through, but I don't know if it's quite enough to win over those that aren't ardent fans. Being a first effort by I Juno and this team, perhaps some roughness was to be expected. 5/10


  1. Young Turks (intro)
  2. 훔쳐보기
  3. 내 영혼 속에 너
  4. 서로에게 길들여 질때 까지
  5. 정 (위험한 이별)
  6. Don't Ask Me
  7. 못난이 컴플렉스
  8. Rain (비의 테마)
  9. 훔쳐보기 (funky mix)
  10. (club mix)
  11. 못난이 컴플렉스 (Ivy remix)
  12. Don't Ask Me (house remix)


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Crying Nut - 서커스 매직 유랑단 (1999)

Crying Nut's second album, Circus Magic Wanderers, represents a significant change from their eponymous debut, most evident in the opening title track. Not unlike The Clash, Crying Nut develops their punk rock sound on Circus Magic Wanderers by incorporating bits of other genres into their punk style, most notably folk punk, ska punk, and reggae. And the result is fantastic.

The opening title track demonstrates a folk punk influence that actually is appropriate to the greater relationship to itinerant folk performers referenced by the title and the lyrics. However, rather than using traditional Korean instruments, the folk aspect is primarily drawn from new group member Gim Insu's accordion and picking up some folk dance syncopation during the shout-along chorus. The actual track is pretty wild and is almost rhapsodic, having an incredibly raucous shout-filled build-up, followed by a quiet folk-like verse before that folk dance chorus and both an accordion and guitar solo, the latter blending a straight rock guitar solo with the bouncy dance rhythms. It's still probably one of Crying Nut's best works and almost worth admission to the album alone.

However, the second track, "신기한 노래", demonstrates the dip into ska punk, much more punk than ska with Bak Yunsik's ragged voice and the band's overall emphasis on intensity and speed over clean performance, but along with the syncopated ska rhythm, the track also features some bright horns before devolving into a hardcore punk shoutfest. The album returns to ska punk on "배짱이" as well as its reggae punk verses--the track speeding up more and more transitioning from the latter to the former.

However, the bulk of the album is built on Crying Nut's well established hardcore punk sound, from the blisteringly brief screamfest of "벗어" to the nearly seven minute long epic "다죽자", with its extended transitional passages and repeated chorus chants.

Once in the second half of the album, Crying Nut actually experiments a little more starting with slower, quieter "탈출기 (바람의 계곡을 넘어...)" that's part story-song that manages to go on for over six minutes, devolving its screams and shouts from Bak Yunsik towards the end while the band drives their music hard, but not fast. Another interesting experiment is "S.F", featuring an interesting alt-rock opening segment that might be right at home on a 3rd Line Butterfly album before opening up into a straighter punk rock chorus.

Finally, as a counterpoint to the many aggressive tracks and the trio of epic tracks, Crying Nut drops in the chill lounge rock of "브로드웨이 AM03:00" and closes the album out wonderfully with the more jangling and lighthearted "게릴라성 집중호우", which doesn't lose the loose punk ethos of the band, especially in the chant-along choruses, but also funnels it all into a simply enjoyable rock song.

In some ways the title of the album is almost perfect as the album has a surprising amount of variety, but presents it all with the kind of charming roughness that was prevalent in their first album. The bursts of folk punk and ska punk on the album keeps the sound changing up just enough that Circus Magic Wanderers doesn't feel like a wall of the same sound and the trio of epic tracks actually manage to create interesting musical journeys in themselves while still providing that ragged intensity that is the band's bread and butter.

The boys of Crying Nut are ambitious with this album, pushing the music harder, faster, louder, but also pulling it back into different kinds of sounds, even beyond the folk punk and ska punk into much more unexpected places. And while some of those places, especially the lounge rock track of "브로드웨이 AM03:00", might be scoffed at by purist guardians of punk rock, the ethos with which Crying Nut explores those places is no less punk, making those more experimental moments just as punk.

And I think Crying Nut's ambition is rewarded on Circus Magic Wanderers, which a highly engaging, satisfying punk rock album. One that not only sounds like a hell of a good time, but is a hell of a good time too. 9/10


  1. 서커스 매직 유랑단
  2. 신기한 노래
  3. 강변에 서다
  4. 배짱이
  5. 다죽자
  6. 더러운 도시
  7. 군바리 230
  8. 탈출기 (바람의 계곡을 넘어...)
  9. 벗어
  10. 브로드웨이 AM03:00
  11. S.F
  12. 빨대맨
  13. 게릴라성 집중호우


Friday, February 20, 2015

Deux - Deux Forever (1996)

Deux was one of the first groups to appear in the wake of the culture changing impact of Seo Taiji and Boys's debut. Like other groups that followed immediately in Seo Taiji's wake, Deux went deeper into exploring the Western sounds that Seo Taiji broke into Korean, specifically dance pop, rhythm and blues, and dance pop all with a heavy dash of the New Jack Swing sound that Seo Taiji broke into Korea.

Many of the groups that followed Seo Taiji's lead, all predecessors to the current idol group phenomena that is considered the genre of kpop, weren't terribly original and Deux is no exception to this rule, grabbing deeply from the Teddy Riley soundbook for their dancier or more hip hop sounds and then from Babyface as well as Korean pop for their ballad works. However, what really distinguishes Deux from some of the acts that followed is that, despite its liberal borrowing of sound, the composition, production, and performance still end up sounding quite authentic, no doubt due to all of those duties belonging to I Hyeondo, resulting in a unified and consistent sound.

Unfortunately, the duo, formed in 1993, only lasted a little over two years as Gim Seongjae suddenly died in 1995. However, their short time together was productive, releasing four full length albums and several hits among them. The following year, a compilation called "Best" was released, followed up with a double disc compilation called Deux Forever, which captures about half of the tracks they released on albums as well as including a new track by I Hyeondo, "친구에게", written in tribute of his late friend.

Overall, the compilation isn't too dense, keeping each disc's track time under an hour and while that might not be the best value, it does make each disc easy to listen to without getting worn out. In terms of the tracklist, it seems to follow a loose chronological concept, putting earlier tracks on the first disc and later tracks on the second disc, though not exclusive. It also mixes up the ballads, the hip hop tracks, and the dance tracks and disperses the singles around the whole experience, resulting in bursts of pop hits around the still fairly decent album tracks. Not terribly familiar with Deux's discography, I can't really say that there were any serious omissions from the release, but it's also not a huge discography to cull from and their third album, Rhythm Light Beat Black features a number of remixes so a large chunk of their songs are represented here.

In the end, I'm not entirely certain to whom this release caters to though. Casual fans would probably be happy with just the hits like on Best and more serious fans will probably go for all the albums. Perhaps the inclusion of the brand new tribute track might be enough to entice dedicated fans to pick up Deux Forever and it might also just be an opportunity for fans that missed out on the albums to get their music. Of course if those previous albums did include a number of duds, perhaps Deux Forever works to edit down their tracklists to a more consistently enjoyable experience.

And Deux Forever is largely enjoyable so perhaps that worked. Only getting a little weak on some of the schmaltzier ballads included, I suppose it's not a bad way to get at the midpoint of getting all four albums and getting a single disc compilation. So I guess those that like Deux enough that a single disc compilation won't do, but getting all the albums is too much, or the most serious fans that need the one new track will want Deux Forever. I certainly enjoyed my many listens of the compilation. 8/10


Disc 1:

  1. Deux Forever (intro)
  2. 나를 돌아봐
  3. 알고 있었어
  4. 그대. 지금. 다시.
  5. 無題
  6. 빗속에서
  7. Go! Go! Go!
  8. 힘들어
  9. 또 하나의 슬픔
  10. 그 때
  11. 우리는
  12. 여름 안에서
  13. 약한 남자

Disc 2:

  1. 떠나버려
  2. 영원의 노래
  3. 굴레를 벗어나
  4. 다투고 난 뒤
  5. 상처
  6. 意識魂亂
  7. Message
  8. 말하자면
  9. 너의 생일
  10. Hip Hop 精神
  11. 사랑. 두려움
  12. 친구에게
  13. 성재를 위한 고요함
  14. 사랑하는 이에게


Friday, February 13, 2015

Beenzino - 24:26 (2012)

Beenzino might have come an era too late. Not that his R&B, soul, and jazz-infused tracks don't work, in fact they work very well, but I say this because this is exactly the kind of sound that sold me on Soul Company, the label where Beenzino's labelmate The Quiett was a major player. But given The Quiett's more harder Southern-rap influenced style since founding 1llionaire Records with Dok2, it's interesting to see that label's mark on Beenzino's first solo release, 24:26. That said, the 1llionaire sound only manifests itself on a single track and, aside from that strange misstep, the album overall is of the quality that deserved its nomination for the 2013 Korean Music Awards.

The album begins with an ode to footwear in "Nike Shoes" with help from Dynamic Duo, who quickly took to featuring Beenzino on tracks from their Amoeba Culture label. Primary starts the track with a soul keyboard riff as Beenzino raps in repetition almost like a sample and the track rolls along in a head-bobbing manner through its end.

While the producers switch out, the opening track sets the overall tone of the album, shifting at times from soul to R&B and back again for the tone of the hip hop production, the G-Funk of Dok2's production, "진절머리", to the appropriately percolating water cruise soul of Jinbo's "Aqua Man", the latter featuring some smooth hip-hop singing.

As mentioned, there is a single track on the album that's a serious detour and that's the 1llionaire Records stamp track, "Profile", featuring Beenzino's labelmates: It's a thundering Southern Rap styled hard edged track much in line with Dok2's solo style. Beenzino adapts well to the sound, but I've got to admit that it's exhausting to listen to the repeated hook of "B**** check my profile" over and over again, the casual sexism of hip hop resulting in a disheartening listen, especially considering just how ridiculously catchy the beats and the spitting is.

What's more the track seriously doesn't fit in with anything that comes before or after it in tone or content, making its presence more than a little incongruous. I get that 1llionaire needs to make its presence known, but Dok2 and The Quiett's earlier contributions fit that need pretty well, so putting this track, which really feels more like a Dok2 track on 24:26 is a bit of a miss.

After the album proper closes, we got a bonus track, "Always Awake", coming from what I presume to be Beenzino's previous work with Jazzyfact and it demonstrates that Beenzino's primary sound is still deeply rooted in that project, even working with his former groupmate, producer Shimmy Twice, on the cool "Summer Madness". And not only is this mode seemingly Beenzino's core sound, it's also the most winning on the album.

Beenzino as an emcee doesn't have an especially distinct flow, but his slightly nasally raps are consistent and he deftly floats between monotone segments to tonal song-rap, adding a bit of charm to his style in the same kind of way that Verbal Jint often wins with. What distinguishes his sound is the combination of his flow with the soul and R&B laden production, which is why I feel "Profile" seems so out of place on this album.

24:26 is a little on the short side of an album, but perhaps too long to be an EP. The inclusion of "Always Awake" helps, but I think that it could have stood to have one more track to help fill out the texture or add some proper transition to "Profile". Still, with most of the tracks being pretty enjoyable, I think 24:26 is still a engaging listen, "Profile" excepted. 7/10


  1. Nike Shoes (feat. Dynamic Duo)
  2. 진절머리 (feat. Okasian & Dok2)
  3. Boogie On & On
  4. Aqua Man
  5. Summer Madness (feat. The Quiett)
  6. I'll Be Back
  7. Profile (feat. The Quiett & Dok2)
  8. If I Die Tomorrow
  9. Always Awake


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

H.O.T. - Wolf and Sheep (1997)

H.O.T. is an important group in the history of Korean pop music, especially idol music, as the boy band marks the first boy band to come from SM Entertainment, and is essentially the archetypal Korean idol boy band, establishing a formula that lasts to this day. Not only did the group become one of the most popular boy bands of the era and a household name in the Republic of Korea, H.O.T.'s success would even reach outside of Korea to other parts of Asia and many early fans of South Korean idol pop would claim H.O.T. as the initial reason of their fandom.

In 1997, one year after their debut, We Hate All Kinds of Violence... H.O.T. released their sophomore album, Wolf and Sheep. And like their first album and their market-querying genesis, Wolf and Sheep is an amalgam of a variety of popular pop genres, never all that original, but polished to a sheen, most of the time. The roughest track is the shout-laden opener, "Go! H.O.T.!", filled with group shouts, mediocre rap trade-offs, thumping hip hop bass and high hat and tiny bursts of pretty harmonized singing. It's a mess, but it's a high energy mess that sets up the hip hop sound of the album.

That hip hop sound is immediately followed up on the gangster-rap inspired first single, "늑대와 양", which itself is a highly derivative sound, reminiscent of Seo Taiji and the Boys' "Come Back Home" from their fourth album, which itself a direct rip off of Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Membrane". Yes, it has a couple boy band vocal breaks between the screechy rap segments, but you're pretty much listening to a retread of Seo Taiji's sound and it even courted controversy like Taiji did, but this time with warlike lyrics.

From there, the album changes its sound entirely, dropping the pretense of being hard hip hop and goes straight into the rather standard boy band ballad of "자유롭게 날수 있도록", complete with sing-along chorus. Fortunately, the boys actually have the chops to handle the singing, so the song is never out of their range. However, like the closing track, "너와 나", H.O.T. is again simply retreading the same songwriting format that Seo Taiji established many years before, itself drawn from 1980's American ballads. They are produced fairly well, but are ultimately a bit bland.

The album's second single, "We Are the Future", borrows the techno sound of EDM-pop forerunners like R.ef and Turbo with rapid rapping placed over high BPM generic techno beats, but distinguishing themselves again with their smooth pop vocals. I can see why it was chosen as a single because it picks up the popular trends of the day and broadens the pop appeal. But it's the third single, "행복", that really plays on a sound that's just pure pop without pretense, matching goofy sounding dance-rap sections with its "Gloria in excelsis Deo" derived chorus and sunny sound. I find it the album's most successful song--a joyful, bouncy pop song that, again, isn't terribly original--borrowing elements of various existing music acts--but executing it well and the straight pop sound is the kind of pure sugar you want from a pop album.

Of course this formula doesn't work as well on "12번째 생일", which is essentially a birthday song complete with the inclusion of a part of "Happy Birthday to You" at the very end. It's still a relatively likable piece, but the song construction stays in a minor monotone a little too long at times.

The album ends after nine tracks and thirty-five minutes, which feels about right, given the confection nature of the music. More would probably draw out the album too long and less would be unsatisfying, so like many of the other aspects of Wolf and Sheep, it feels just about perfectly engineered, which is also true of the actual engineering and production. Wolf and Sheep doesn't boast any of the particularly wack harmonic structures common to idol pop of the previous years, instead opting for the smooth boy band harmonies that drive their fans wild with their cool.

But at the same time, aside from their more unabashedly pop tracks, Wolf and Sheep really doesn't sound all that fresh or original, especially in the greater context of the music that came before it, almost sounding like it could be a cover album taking music of the previous years and applying a modern polish on it. This simply limits how well the music holds up to critical scrutiny. But SM didn't engineer the hell out of this album to no end--for all of its lack of originality, it's still a surprisingly smooth and even somewhat likable listen from its second track through its close. And it's easy to see how H.O.T. continued to build on their momentum with this album and retain their status as Asian superstars. 7/10


  1. Go! H.O.T.!
  2. 늑대와 양
  3. 자유롭게 날수 있도록
  4. We Are the Future
  5. 행복
  6. 열등감
  7. 12번째 생일
  8. Tragedy
  9. 너와 나


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Linus' Blanket - Show Me Love (2011)

Okay, so a lot of time passed between Linus' Blanket's 2005 single, Labor in Vain and their first official album, Show Me Love. And in that time a great deal changed about the group, including a nearly complete membership switchup leaving bandleader Yeongene as the only original member and adding Sangjun for guitar and vocal support. Even the group's sound has changed and matured, with Yeongene benefiting the most from the time in her much more assured performance. I wouldn't say that the group has entirely fulfilled their promise yet, but Show Me Love's iterative improvement overall makes it a welcome return for the long silent group.

Overall, the arrangements have moved a little away from the straight indie pop of the preceding releases, gathering a touch of genre to many included tracks, even the songs that were brought over from Semester and Labor in Vain. This is previewed by the opening instrumental, "Rag Time", which combines Dixieland jazz with a touch of ragtime on the piano work halfway through the piece and continues into "Show Me Love", which straddles the line between jazz and rockabilly due to the rockabilly styled guitars and the big band horns as Yeongene takes her sweet voice into some interesting places as she provides a hint of confidence in the prechorus as she rises to unprecedented volumes and hooks her delivery of the lines "Will you be here for me? / Tell me before I die", showing a previously unrevealed spunk. She's still got a bit of hesitance in her delivery as she swallows some of her notes instead belting where it would be more appropriate. But the track shows tremendous growth in delivery and confidence by Yeongene.

"Gargle" has a wonderful guest lead vocal from The Black Skirts' Jo Hyuil, it's being a country-music hall hybrid, with the bouncy horn line and piano trills blending with the country guitar twang and harmonica as Jo takes his vocals into a classic country territory, backed by Yeongene. It's a surprisingly winning tune. Other strong tastes of genre include the bossa nova rhythms that underline new cooler version of "Labor in Vain", the light reggae of the Korean language duet "순가의 진실", and the surprisingly successful glitchy dip into electropop on "Music Takes Us to the Universe". The latter probably pushes it a little too far since it sounds like nothing else on the album, so it feels a little out of context, but it's a pretty enjoyable piece outside of the context of the album.

I also appreciate that three revisits are new takes on classic Linus' Blanket songs with "Picnic" getting the other guest vocals in the form of backing vocals from a capella group Sweet Sorrow, largely keeping its original sound and "Walk" getting an instrumental jam extension to help close out the song and the album. As such, these inclusions don't really feel cheap since they are altogether new recordings that add to the songs in a significant way.

The rest of the album generally falls more into a polished version of the Linus' Blanket sound, "Misty" going a touch folk and "고백" adding in some pop post-production and an R&B groove. But it's proof that Linus' Blanket, while stretching a bit with the genre infusions on half of Show Me Love, is rooted well in its sweet charming pop style. The strongest tracks in my opinion are the folksier tracks, like "Gargle", "Misty", and "Stop Liking, Start Loving", which capitalize on Yeongene's sweet and reserved vocals, but I really love that she's pushing herself on some tracks, like the title track.

Sometimes the pushing is a little incongruous with the rest of the album, like on "Music Takes Us to the Universe" or "순가의 진실", but like the band's previous releases, Show Me Love is still a winning effort due to the abundance of sweet charm that has made every one of their releases enjoyable. With greater polish and performance than ever before, Show Me Love will please fans and newcomers to Linus' Blanket's sound alike. 8/10


  1. Rag Time
  2. Show Me Love
  3. Gargle (featuring 조휴일)
  4. Misty
  5. Picnic (featuring Sweet Sorrow)
  6. Labor in Vain
  7. 순가의 진실
  8. 고백
  9. Music Takes Us to the Universe
  10. Stop Liking, Start Loving
  11. Walk