Thursday, March 26, 2015

Uhm Jung Hwa - 005.1999.06 (1999)

I surprised myself by loving Uhm Jung Hwa's third album, 後愛 and so perhaps my expectations were a little high when I popped her fifth album, 005.1999.06, into my computer, especially given that the two singles from this album in part served as the soundtrack to my summer in Korea in 1999. Now, while the album isn't quite as packed full of strong tracks as the third album, it's still a largely decent listen.

The music on 005.1999.06 largely follows the dance pop stylings that Uhm Jung Hwa practiced on 後愛, running a gamut of pop genres. At its peak, 005.1999.06 matches that previous album, but 005.1999.06 struggles with having its album tracks be particularly memorable even if certainly listenable in sequence.

The album certainly opens with a bang, the house-style vocals, four-to-the-floor bass thumping alongside those '90's dance synths of "몰라" laying the groundwork for Uhm to transition from verse to yet another catchy chorus led by the title words. A product of Clon songwriter-producer Gim Changhwan, it bears all of that groups trademark style except adjusted for the main vocalist to be Uhm Jung Hwa. I heard this song playing all the time when I was in Korea in 1999.

The other single that was all over the place that summer was "Festival", a bright summer party song by Ju Yeonghun, who was also known for producing some of Turbo's hits. The song is punched by horns and perky vocals from Uhm as well as the constant presence of handclaps. It's an infectious, but lightweight tune, that wins by the merit of its chorus and extremely positive outlook.

But the whole first half of the album all works quite well. The second track, "유리의 성", from mega-hit songwriter Yun Ilsang even changes up the expected sound by opening with and accentuating the track with a classical guitar, a cool bass line driven that keeps Uhm singing on an even keel, moments of brightness coming from oscillating pitch on the chorus. It's a surprisingly sedate track and one that even breaks the mold, though it doesn't quite have the hooks to make residence in one's ear. In that sense, it's a solid album track that links together the hits and adds texture to the overall listen.

Also adding texture (and classical guitar) is "Scarlet", another Ju Yeonghun joint that registers a speedier BPM and takes Uhm's voice into her comfortable dance rhythms. It not a hit, but 005.1999.06 does actually boast a third track that could be considered a single, "Remote Control & Manicure", which half sounds like it's going to be an Ace of Base track because of the hollow synth and reggae rhythm arrangement. It drifts off into its own identity thanks to its more original songwriting and shows Uhm Jung Hwa working well in a slower paced pop environment, but I think part of what made it work so well is that arrangement.

In fact, Uhm also performs pretty well in the ballads she has on 005.1999.06, holding her own across from her duet partner Jeong Jaehyeong on "긴 오후" and even finding a good, not overly sappy solo ballad with "나눌 수 없는 사랑". Both of these works are fairly predictable, but Uhm Jung Hwa's music doesn't win because it surprises us, rather it gives us highly polished pop formulas.

And that's pretty much what 005.1999.06 is. A stable of top Korean songwriters makes sure that even the album tracks are all quite enjoyable and Uhm improves on her ballad singing so that even those have become stronger on this album. The hits are solid, though they don't quite have the drama factor of her past hits which makes them slightly less memorable. But only slightly. Even separated from the summer of 1999 by over a decade, I could still recall the choruses of both of 005.1999.06's singles. And with the album getting from start to end rather enjoyably, I'd have to say that Uhm Jung Hwa's fifth is a solid Korean pop album. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. 몰라
  2. 유리의 성
  3. Festival
  4. 긴 오후
  5. 마지막 기회
  6. Remote Control & Manicure
  7. Scarlet
  8. 내 안의 그대
  9. Forever
  10. 나눌 수 없는 사랑
  11. Spy

Links:

Friday, March 20, 2015

EE - Dear Door (2015)

I've been aware of EE for a while now as it's I Yunjeong's project post Pipi Band and have caught a few of their singles as they got released on YouTube. However, ahead of EE's performance at SXSW this year they released a new single album featuring three songs and also dropped a music video for their lead single from the release.

Now, when the husband and wife team showed up in 2008 with their first single, "Curiosity Kills", they were producing a kind of 80's inspired synthpop and dipping into electronica, that's what the duo's concept was through and a little after their first album, dipping a bit into experimental aesthetics as their total art concept drew them.

Six years after, EE dropped a curious new video with a new sound for them: hip hop. Now, this wasn't unprecedented as I Yunjeong was never a straight singer and the bridging single "가위바위보" has her rapping at times with her trademark helium vocals, but last August, EE went in deep. They released their single "Banging Til I Die" which transitioned the group into a hip hop aesthetic, complete with rap, hip hop production and, on the music video, hip hop influenced dress and dance, all through that curious EE arty lens.

Now, EE is an art-driven group and are known to adopt different aesthetics for the sake of their art, but while 80's New Wave and synthpop doesn't really have any pressure to be authentic, hip hop does: it's built into its ethos. And so I was struck that EE might just adopt the style of hip hop and import it into its style and it left me with a bit of distaste. Authenticity is critical to hip hop and cultural appropriation, which EE might be practicing if their use of its tropes is just another dressing for their sound, is especially disagreeable.

In interviews, EE does seem to lean towards this view but hasn't said it outright, which leaves me a little uncomfortable with this direction for their music. Were they just hip hop lovers that decided to incorporate it into their music or wanted to push the art envelope of hip hop, but as it is, EE's new direction puts them in the same questionable territory as South African's Die Antwoord.

This is the context in which I put Dear Door to my ear. The lead single, "Wiggy Dawn" opens with a pretty effective dramatic hip hop synth beat by Reno as I Yunjeong sings and raps into auto-tune in her helium timbre before handing the mic to I Hyeonjun for his deeper voiced raps. The duo adopt some of the language of hip hop, but are also a bit playful with I Yunjeong's "ooh la la la"'s and high-pitched shouts of "mum shicky mum mum shicky".

The second track, "Knock the Door", features a rolling beat with an almost primal beat with I Yunjeong talk-singing, rapping, shouting and giggling throughout the track, I Hyeonjun providing a consistent contrasting rap. While the overall track isn't hip hop, it does feature some turntable work. But, possibly by being their own production, it also sounds more like what I expect from EE, which is much more experimental in its tone. It's probably the most interesting, though least accessible, track on the release.

The final track, "No. 417", is a electronic mood piece utilizing an even one-two kick-snare beat and, combined with the synths, borders on industrial influence. I Yunjeong changes vocal styles again for actual singing rather than talk-singing or rapping, tho not giving up her affected timbre and Reno chops up her vocals a few times for some mild glitchy effect. This effort is probably the most successful on the album because it reaches into the accessible nature of an existing genre like "Wiggy Dawn", but there aren't any concerns about authenticity and the piece is void of many of the more experimental aspects of "Knock the Door", making it easier to listen to. I still like "Knock the Door" the best, but "No. 417" is clearly the most potential for broader success.

Not that EE is particularly interested in mainstream success. While "Knock the Door" demonstrates their playful experimenting, the presence of the latter two tracks kind of breaks the idea that the hip hop presented on "Wiggy Dawn" is authentic. On "Knock the Door", the turntables are a borrowed texture from hip hop, but on "Wiggy Dawn", the whole track is premised on a hip hop beat and hip hop aesthetics--were the rest of the single in line with that sound, then one might perceive EE to be wholesale adopting the sound as their own, but since hip hop is merely used in the second track and not at all a part of the third, hip hop becomes disassociated from the record, as though it were just a costume worn for a particular track.

But this is also a costume built from the tropes of a particular cultural and ethnic group and so if it's not done authentically, it really can look like EE is just having a "let's pretend to be Black or Latino hip hoppers and dress the part" moment. And while I can't say that's EE's intent, the playfulness by which they approach the music doesn't help sell the case that they are actually invested in the genre's movement. And with the intent being uncertain, it kind of sours an appreciation of the overall listen.

Don't get me wrong, I like EE outside of their seeming hip hop appropriation and "Knock the Door" is definitely an interesting musical work, but in the context of the single and sharing space with the ambiguous "Wiggy Dawn", I can't quite recommend Dear Door. Perhaps you might not be as bothered by "Wiggy Dawn" (and "Banging Til I Die") or might be able to read a more positive context to it and if you can find such a context, I'd love for you to share it with me. But as it is--and it's sad that I feel this way--Dear Door is unfortunately problematic. 5/10

Tracklist:

  1. Wiggy Dawn
  2. Knock the Door
  3. No. 417

Links:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Uhm Jung Hwa - 後愛 (1997)

While I have always been aware of Uhm Jung Hwa, even appreciating "Festival" from 005.1999.06 as the soundtrack to my summer in Korea in 1999, it wasn't until I encountered her as an actress in Marriage Is a Crazy Thing that I really payed any attention to her. But in reaching into the back catalog of Korean pop CDs, I thought visiting Uhm's music was necessary to see how the woman made her pop culture ascent. The first album of hers I came across was 後愛, so that's where I started. And now I'm not only a fan of her acting, but also her pop music.

Uhm Jung Hwa is a pop singer with a bit of range. Her album includes dance tracks, mid-tempo rhythm and blues, and ballads, put together by a cadre of the hottest songwriters in the Korean pop music business at the time and while not every track is flawless, the album almost reads as a collection of singles from the moment it opens to its close. A lot of this is due to the excellence of her producers, but Uhm's vocal chops are certainly up to the task and the songwriters clearly take in account her limitations, and as a result there is not a track where Uhm's performance feels lacking.

The party begins with "만취 기행기", a New Jack Swing touched rhythm and blues track with a nice funky strutting bassline and a fantastic chorus that Uhm and her backup singer execute well. It's also not really indicative of the sound of the rest of the album, but it's a catchy enough tune with its hip hop inflections that it leaves you ready for what's next.

And what's next is the album's first single, "배반의 장미", a house-infused disco tune with a persistent four-on-the floor beat and a classic Korean pop melody line that culminates in a dramatic and ear-catching pairing of pre-chorus and chorus. The thumping beat and the impassioned delivery by Uhm Jung Hwa sell the track well, but the punchy brass hits should also get credit for giving the arrangement a lot of kick.

"Mystery" pumps plenty of energy into an almost electro-trot beat, like "배반의 장미" taking advantage of Uhm's impassioned delivery, adding synth flutes flourishes, hip hop chants, Bobby Kim on the rap breaks and a relentless combination of vocal delivery and drum machines for an engaging 3:48. Uhm then moves back into house synths for "위험한 변신" which again follows the same glorious pop melody patterns, but utilizing a cooler tone with both Uhm and the background vocals, leading to a nice contrast within the song.

The first break in the album comes with the ballad single "후애 (後愛)", where Uhm does a decent job on the synth laden tune. This is kind of your typical ballad, but the production degree is actually pretty high, aside from the cheesy 80's synths, and Uhm articles well the upper registers of the melodies. From there its back to the dance floor with the super catchy disco workout "3자대면", boasting perhaps the best chorus on the entire album. I do kind of wish the arrangement utilized real horns instead of synths, which would have probably given the track even more punch, but between the exemplary melody lines and Uhm's great proficiency with delivering drama in dance tempo, it's yet another track worthy of its single status.

"이별느낌" is probably the most album track on the album, but it still manages to retain a bit of energy thanks to its wall-of-synth crashes, turntable and vocal hits, and Uhm breathy delivery. From there we get the horn driven funky disco run of "Scandal" which again recaptures the energy from the better tracks on the album. It's not quite the stunner of the early tracks, but keeps the party going until the closing ballad of "쉬운이별", which is a fine, though again predictable close to the album. The production on the final track really ups the reverb, giving it a bit of a spacey feeling. It features a nice bassoon solo and violin solo, but I kind of was hoping for a bigger vocal climax that was never delivered--which I suppose is for the best if Uhm's chops aren't up to it.

And ending the album on the calmer note of a ballad is probably for the best because most of the rest of the album hardly lets the dance energy stop except for the title track at the center. But that's also where Uhm Jung Hwa shines the best--her capacity to deliver strong vocals at faster tempos and probably while dancing, gears her well to dance pop. Her ballads are a little more limited than other popular ballads of the time, but play to her strengths and are necessary breathers on an otherwise bumping tracklist.

But 後愛 gets almost everything right for a Korean dance pop album of the '90's. The songwriting is strong and the arrangements never overindulge in the popular genres of the times, but incorporate just enough dance and hip hop stylings that they stay relevant to contemporary the musical landscape. This injects the core disco pop with even more energy and this is topped with largely polished production, although there are still a few lingering cheap 80's synth elements on a few tracks. Finally, the album doesn't overstay its welcome, neither exhausting us with too many dance tracks or slowing its pace down too much with ballads, instead opting to just hit it and quit it after nine tracks and thirty five minutes. That is how you do lean, efficient pop.

Although I haven't her earlier albums to compare to, this is clearly an Uhm Jung Hwa at the top of her game and 後愛 is pretty much everything I didn't realize I wanted from a '90's Korean dance pop album. Well done, Uhm Jung Hwa and company. You just retroactively made a fan of me. 9/10.

Tracklist:

  1. 만취 기행기
  2. 배반의 장미
  3. Mystery
  4. 위험한 변신
  5. 후애 (後愛)
  6. 3자대면
  7. 이별느낌
  8. Scandal
  9. 쉬운이별

Links:

Monday, March 16, 2015

YB, March 14, 2015 at Whisky A Go Go, West Hollywood

Although I knew of YB for a while, I didn't actually start listening to the band until 2010, when I picked up Yoon Dohyun's second album, which existed prior to the official formation of the band. However, I did eventually develop an increasing appreciation of the man-become-band and by the time I laid ear to their seventh and eighth albums, I had become of a fan of their frontman's powerful vocals and varied rock sounds.

I watched their documentary of their time on the Warped Tour and cheered when they were revealed to be on the original lineup of "I Am a Singer" and almost paid some high ticket prices to see the band drop by the annual Korean music festival in Los Angeles. However, I refrained when I learned that each act only had a few songs and I didn't want to sit through a pile of second or third tier idol groups to get my YB live.

Now YB isn't a stranger to the US, but this year I would get my chance. En route to SXSW, YB decided to stop by and hold a show in Los Angeles at the Whisky A Go Go. Having a chance to see the band perform a full set live, I was definitely on board. I will say that I was curious about how successful the show might be as other Korean acts, even ones with the relative fame of Crying Nut and No Brain didn't quite pack the smaller clubs that they played at when I saw them, but YB is probably just a touch more mainstream than those bands, especially thanks to their presence on the hugely popular first season of "I Am a Singer". I was wondering how well the word got out about the show and whether the many Korean fans would head up to the unfamiliar Sunset Strip to catch the popular Korean band.

When I got to the venue, the line to enter wrapped around the building. And that was after I had parked that they had already let much of the crowd in.

Word got out. Not only that, but the predominantly Korean crowd included a fairly wide age range, from what I supposed were college students to men and women who probably had college-aged children. It's a rather uncommon sight on the Sunset Strip, but it was heartening to see that YB would be playing to a packed house. Inside the Whisky, the floor was packed, as was the balcony and there was little wiggle room, bodies pressed up against each other like a Seoul subway car during rush hour.

Now, the poster for the show did feel a little like false advertising because it made you believe that YB was the headliner for a full length show. However, it turned out that YB was merely the first act of the evening with three more acts of no relation following, Sariah being the more prominent act on the bill. This meant that we'd only get YB for the first hour and I have to admit that the packaging wasn't very good as Sariah's dance-pop doesn't really go well with YB's 80's and 90's style rock. Plus, the predominantly Korean audience was very unlikely to stick around for an act they had never heard of. If the Whisky had booked other similar rock groups or other Korean acts, perhaps it might have made for a better overall night, but this is how things go at a lot of club shows.

Anyway, about half an hour past the show's official start time, the band took the stage to great cheering from the crowd. There was a lone heckler out-shouting the crowd, but he was mostly ignored. Instead, YB got busy with an instrumental and then got the whole crowd jumping when they got to an aggressive English version of "Cigarette Girl", which was their English single.

I think Yoon Dohyun was prepared to perform for a mostly non-Korean audience, but seeing the predominantly Korean crowd, he performed most of the rest of the set in Korean even though he had enough songs in English for an all-English language set if he wanted. He did try to address the audience in both Korean and English about half the time but Yoon's English was a little awkward at times and towards the end of the night, he struggled a little to translate his thoughts. This, however, did not affect the musical performance.

I wasn't able to identify every song on their setlist, but YB performed a variety of songs both new and old, including a yet unreleased English language song called "Stay Alive", as well as standby favorites like "Flying Butterfly", the latter of which got the whole crowd singing along. Yoon, for his part, had good rapport with the audience, asking them to participate from nearly the start as he would turn the mic towards the audience to sing along. He didn't banter too much with the audience, although he did take a moment to talk about alcohol before introducing a drinking song and Yoon Dohyun was quite charismatic and affable, even when he was swearing in a rock and roll manner, perhaps something he picked up from his long-time hosting duties. Yoon did seem to have a bit of a fixation with his portable bullhorn simulating mic, which is a little sad because Yoon's voice really soared on many of his songs and was pretty much everything I remember from the albums, but a whole lot more in person.

The aforementioned "Flying Butterfly" was their last song in an approximately fifty minute set, which got the crowd chanting for an encore and YB certainly came back for an encore. This was perhaps the most amusing part of the night because they started with one of their well known slow rock ballads, (possibly "너를 보내고", but I'm not entirely sure), but as soon as the crowd was singing along, Yoon Dohyun goes "stop stop stop!" When the confused audience stopped, he said, "that's not rock and roll. Too sweet."

He then went on to note that it was too sad a song and that he wanted everyone to have a good time and rock! The band then proceeded to perform their version of Nami's "빙글빙글" of all things. It's not quite a rock song, but it was received incredibly well when they first unveiled it on "I Am a Singer" and turned the pop song into a rock rhapsody. It wasn't quite the same arrangement as the show, but the band definitely took the Whisky audience for a similar ride with multiple fake out endings, including a moment when Yoon was lamenting that the night had to end and that he was sorry only to burst back into the chorus mid-speech.

Yoon noted during the night that as of this year they had been performing together for twenty years. But performing at the Whisky had a bit of a significance for him because he was a big fan of The Doors, who built an audience at the club. YB even performed a short cover of "Riders on the Storm", with Yoon leading the crowd in a call-and-response of the chorus lyric.

Those twenty years haven't dulled the band at all and while not every song was a hit with the audience--they did appreciably lessen in their cheering for the more moody tunes--the veteran showmen took their multi-generational audience for an enjoyable ride through their brand of rock and roll. As YB was performing "Flying Butterfly", it was clear that the crowd, young and old, could have easily gone another hour in the presence of the band, so the set came to a close what felt far too quickly. And as soon as the show ended, the predominantly Korean audience pretty much emptied out of the Whisky, leaving a relatively tiny presence on the floor for the following performer.

The people came for YB. They enjoyed their brief, rare moment getting to see the popular band live and witnessed a strong show. And it proves that with the right publicity and names, Koreans of many ages will go to unfamiliar places to catch one of their acts live. YB at the Whisky A Go Go, might have made history with Saturday night's performance and while the price was high and the show was short, none of that made that hour and change any less enjoyable. 8/10

Setlist:

  1. 짝패
  2. Talk to Me
  3. 담배
  4. Stay Alive
  5. Weather
  6. 잊을게
  7. Half Game
  8. Riders on the Storm
  9. Real Man
  10. Jungle
  11. 나비
  12. Encore: 빙글

Links:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Young Turks Club - 3rd Album (1997)

Young Turks Club's second album was overall a disappointing mess so I was a bit concerned going in to listening to their obviously titled 3rd Album. However, change was in store for the group on their third album. Released in the same year as their second album, the group's lineup didn't change, but one major change was that I Juno, producer of the group for the first two albums took a step back from the mixing board and gave the reins to Do Wonjun. Without I Juno's egregious compositions in the lineup, the third album becomes much more consistently enjoyable. Although it never quite hits the highs of the first album, Affection, it also doesn't stagger as much on abysmal tracks either.

The album opens with the acceptable "Dream", a track that features the mix of rapping and singing to a pop track that is the group's staple. The production is a bit of a melange, with funk guitar, bass, and horns; some hip hop beats; and rock guitar on the chorus. Being so many things, but not strongly any of them and having a rather uninspired melody, it doesn't quite leave that strong of an impression even though it's relatively pleasant. Which I suppose kind of sets the tone for the album as a whole.

Like the past albums, the third album also features a couple event songs and the album's primary single, "하얀전쟁", is pretty much another winter holiday song with an arrangement appropriately drawing from Christmastime production sounds as the album released in December. It's a peppier and brighter track than the preceding one and even the rapping is more enthusiastic and merges its dance rap sound with the pop electronica sound that was popular into a candy-coated track. It's a pretty appropriate single.

The group returns to winter themed pop on "그해 겨울은 따뜻했지" with its "La Cucaracha" horns. Interestingly enough, this is just the first of a number of thematically paired tracks on the album. While it can't precisely be read as intentional, the other pairs include the ballads "넌 더 이상 친구가 아니야" and "친구가 될께", both of which demonstrate an improvement for the group's ballads with a greater improvement in the songwriting. While these tracks aren't classics, they both feature decent choruses giving the primary weight of the singing to whichever guy that has the strongest singing voice.

The final pair are the fun disco-funk track "Come Back to Me", doing well to get inspiration from Earth Wind & Fire, and the similarly titled New Jack Swing effort "돌아와", which features some interesting tempo and tone change-ups.

The other event song on the album is the nostalgic "졸업의 눈물", which opens with students from the Yeoido Elementary School and sings to students and graduates alike, looking pat at sweeter times. It probably leans a bit too heavy on the side of being overly sentimental and with production to match, but it's the only such example on the whole album.

And unlike the past two albums, the third actually reaches what feels like a full album length, with twelve new songs going to forty seven minutes and not an unnecessary remix or junk track added in. The testament to the album's improvement lies in the fact that it remains pretty listenable throughout the whole length of the album, hardly stumbling at all, which might be faint praise, but it's something that Young Turks Club had yet to do. That said, the consistency is evened out by the last of any truly memorable tracks outside of the single. So while YTC finally have a real album, in terms of the pop scene, it's still just mediocre. And I'd still prefer listening to it all the way through, even without any real hits, than its predecessors. 6/10

Tracklist:

  1. Dream
  2. 하얀전쟁
  3. 우연이 준 선물
  4. 졸업의 눈물
  5. 어느 프로포즈
  6. 넌 더 이상 친구가 아니야
  7. The Day
  8. 친구가 될께
  9. Come Back to Me
  10. 그해 겨울은 따뜻했지
  11. 돌아와
  12. 1004

Links:

Monday, March 9, 2015

Crying Nut - 下水戀歌 (2001)

On their third album, Sewer Love Story, Crying Nut finds themselves largely following the blueprint set by their previous album, Circus Magic Wanderers, but also push themselves a little in terms of expanding the range of genres they play with in their music. And I think it's that push as well as their continued intensity that results in Sewer Love Story being an enjoyable listen.

Interestingly enough, the album coincides with the release of Looking for Bruce Lee, an indie film starring Crying Nut themselves in a goofy almost Beatles movie-esque murder mystery, which shares a number of tracks from this album (including the movie's title track at the album's start). The movie was a commercial and critical flop, but none of that stops the album from being good. In fact, the mild injection of pop into a couple tracks really adds a dimension to the album that would otherwise feel like it's treading on the same ground as Circus Magic Wanderers. Granted, the boys of Crying Nut execute their punk rock well enough that it would have been a fine album had they done so, but Sewer Love Story adds to the magic with broader genre exploration.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this exploration is "밤이 깊었네", a mid-tempo rock song with a surf-rock melody where you would expect the boys to explode into their usual aggressive hysterics, but instead, they actually manage to maintain their tempo, add a lovely little guitar solo and fantastic bridge that adopts a bit of classic Latin rock before going into the sing-along chorus. This is completed with excellently rendered lyrics capturing the yearning to make one wonderful evening last, cracked just a little with that Crying Nut sense of humor towards the end where bandleader Bak Yunsik asks comically to be held.

The adoption of folk punk and ska punk from Circus Magic Wanderers also comes back on this album on "지독한 노래" with an energetic organ powering the ska beats and manic vibe. It's a hell of a good time and that continues on "웃기지도 않는 이야기" with its folk punk fiddle and group laugh built into the song. Straight punk rock isn't neglected either on the opening track and the following "만성피로". The band even reaches a little bit into alternative rock on "붉은방", but with some classic Korean melodic sensibilities and the return of future bandmate Gim Insu's accordion and the band closes the album out with the over eight-minute-long epic "몰랐어".

One final track of note is "Honey", which is a kind of a bouncy rock song with Bak Yunsik trading vocal lines with guest singer Gim Seonhui. It's just pop enough in its catchy melodies but rockabilly punk in its rough ragged delivery that it manages to be a surprisingly catchy tune.

As can be noted, the tracklist is quite diverse, bouncing around different subgenres of rock, but Crying Nut is still at its core a punk band and that reflects in the band's performing aesthetic, with the band always seeming at the edge of bursting into aggressive punk energy even when they are performing more controlled or reflective music and Bak Yunsik's vocal delivery frequently rough and joined in shouts by the rest of the band. This unifies the whole album together well, whether the group is more hardcore like on "불놀이" or more sweeter like on "Honey" and the diversity of subgenres that the band infuses with punk make the nearly hour long album never feel long. And all that makes Sewer Love Story another fantastic album in Crying Nut's discography. 9/10

Tracklist:

  1. 이소룡을 찾아랏!!
  2. 만성피로
  3. 밤이 깊었네
  4. 지독한 노래
  5. 붉은방
  6. 양귀비
  7. 웃기지도 않는 이야기
  8. 금환식
  9. Honey
  10. 불놀이
  11. 코미디의 왕
  12. 하수구
  13. 몰랐어

Links:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

영턱스클럽 - 2nd Album (1997)

I have to admit that when I first heard Young Turks Club's descriptively titled 2nd Album, I actually found it rather grating at first, especially once you got past the decent opening single. However, it's a short listen so I managed to spin it a few more times and I ended up warming up a tiny bit to its simple pop charms with the exception of one truly abysmal song right in the middle of its tracklist. I don't know if I could call it good, but half of it is relatively appreciable.

The second album was released in a middle of a transition for the idol band, with Im Seong-eun leaving the group to be a solo act. However, the album actually contains a launch for her in the solo rhythm and blues ballad "아쉬움 (성은의 노래)". It's a tolerable song mostly due to its funky bass line as melody is rather plain and plainly delivered by Im. But as she was no longer part of the group's lineup, it seems a little oddly placed on this tracklist and I can only guess that it was added to help pad it, as even with the bonus track, the second album only numbers eight tracks and just under half an hour.

The bonus track, "Dance Beat", is an instrumental by producer I Juno and again doesn't quite seem to fit into the overall idea of the idol band, but at least stays true to the sound of the group, even if it has some curious samples, including a "Black power" callout. Like with the first album, I Juno also provides perhaps the worst track on the whole listen, the truly irritating "Happy Birthday", that manages nothing more than hyper-saccharine, but painfully dischordant songwriting and some really painful synthwork. It's only 1:41 long, but not a single second of that listen is bearable.

Sans those three tracks and the weak closing ballad "우리들이 있잖아", you'd be left with four actually decent tracks, the opening single "타인" being the best of the bunch. In a flip of the first album's "", the track features a male lead vocal and the women handle the primary rap duties, but "타인" retains the cool flavor, slowing down to ballad pace and even throwing a "hey ho" group chant towards the end. It would end up being one of the group's biggest hits. Closer to "정"'s tempo and tone is "Love Designer", which is a modestly enjoyable album track.

The remaining two track are both peppy sugar pop, with "Summer Love" providing a perky synth-driven arrangement and light, hopeful vocals. It's not compelling stuff, but it's also exactly the kind of fun-loving summer track that seems well crafted for radio, complete with an escalated bridge and group-sing-along section, although the arrangement is rather spare. Finally, in the same vibe is what I imagine is the album's second single, "질투", boasting a much fuller arrangement with the help of filling background vocals and the constant presence of a synth on the melody line. The rapping is made of the growling style that was popular in '90's Korean pop, but I think all the vocal choices on the track are deliberate to provide a series of contrasts in timbre to help the track stay popping.

Unfortunately, the four decent tracks aren't quite enough to save the listen as the rest of the tracks don't quite hold to to their admittedly modest standards of entertainment. Yes, the album does contain some highlights for the group that will definitely make a greatest hits album, but not only are you only getting only six tracks that you could really attribute to the band, but only half of the album is actually worth listening to. And the caterwauling "Happy Birthday" right in the middle of the album made me want to stop playing the disc altogether every time.

As such, Young Turks Club's second album is another one where you might want to just find the singles separately or find a greatest hits compilation. It's not that the whole thing is bad--the better tracks are actually pretty enjoyable--but it's short and so short on decent tracks that it's probably not worth suffering the worse tracks to enjoy the modest good ones. 5/10

Tracklist:

  1. 타인
  2. Summer Love
  3. Love Designer
  4. Happy Birthday
  5. 질투
  6. 아쉬움 (성은의 노래)
  7. 우리들이 있잖아
  8. Dance Beat

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