Thanks to a hectic work schedule, concerts and a rather filthy cold – I’m just getting down to reviewing my purchases for last year and in some cases – listening to them! The final list of five are as follows:
Nell Vol. 5: Slip Away
– released 10 April 2012
This 5th album is the first since returning from army duty and the time away has not blunted the musical artistry of Nell’s Kim Jong Wan. Composing and writing lyrics for the whole album ensures a sense of wholeness and a personal touch. The melancholy style which is uplifting and melodic is as good to listen to as ever and this album is one of the best releases of this last year. With Nell, even if I don’t understand the lyrics I feel I am being told a story, an anecdote of something that happened. You can also hear the songs work well as acoustic numbers without the electronica and I will always hope the four members will come to the UK to perform a set one day. ‘Slip Away’ the album’s title track was a big hit and rightfully so. Starting with a piano intro and stringed crescendo for chorus its a beautiful sound-scape on the regret of losing someone you still care about. Standing in the Rain feels a bit more experimental with a background of claps and Chinese dialogue, but its a favourite of mine along with Losing Control.
Another Nell album is in the works to be out this year and I don’t doubt they will appear on next year’s list!
Tablo: Fever’s End Vol 1
– released 4 Nov 2011
I was keen to see what Tablo produced as a solo artist now that he has moved from Woolim to YG. I was captivated by the first track Home which features the crystalline soprano vocals of Lee SoRa to brilliant effect. The track sent shivers down my spine with its soft rap and haunting melodic chorus. Tablo has a way with words – one that even if you don’t understand them you get a feel for the flow and poetry of the words in a song and with the sweet melodies he produces you can still enjoy the rhythm and sound of the song.
Track six, Tomorrow, features the distinctive vocals of TaeYang of Big Bang and sounds a lot more like a traditional Kpop R&B song focusing more on melody than rap, and whilst good it lacks the balance the other songs have. Tablo’s songs can focus on rap without feeling imbalanced however!
CNBlue: MTV Unplugged
– released 27 June 2012
CNBLUE are the only Korean band to have done an MTV unplugged set, so it was irresistible to me to find out how well they did and I was not disappointed. It’s one thing to perform with lights and giant speakers at a concert or in the flash studio environment of a weekly music show, but another to do an unplugged session, and the boys do well. The songs they have in their repertoire being more indie/rock style than other groups makes them easier to transfer to an acoustic setting.
Big Bang: Still Alive special edition
– released 7 June 2012
Bought specifically for the track Fantastic Baby this extended edition contained 2 extra tracks compared to the original release.
Looking at the credits for the songs its easy to see the driving force behind Big Bang is G-Dragon who was involved in the lyrics and composition of every song. Catchy, upbeat and often melodic it’s a pretty good mini album with a very modern global appeal that has followed the trend of electro-dance/rock without missing a beat. Tracks like Monster and Fantastic Baby are easy to pick up and join in with the chorus. Fantastic Baby is the strongest track on the album and it’s hardly surprising when you see that Teddy Park was involved in the composing and the final arrangement. His years in the industry as a singer and now a producer serve him well when involved in a group like Big Bang (that’s an article for another time though).
Blue is a really nice melodic track which uses some nice minor chords to emphasise the more melancholy tone of the lyrics. Bad Boy is a bit more fun when it comes to romantic songs, while Love Dust with its disco beat is really pure pop. Still Alive grows on you after a while as does Ego.
The packaging is pretty decent with extra photobooks and a YG Card and a small design breakdown which would have had more impact if they hadn’t misspelled ‘arranged’ as ‘arraged’ throughout the lyric book. Considering their proven international appeal I am a little surprised they don’t provide translations for the lyrics, but perhaps that will change in the future.
2AM – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Way Of Love
– (CD + DVD, Taiwan version) released 1 October 2012
If ballads are your thing like they are mine, then this mini-album will be appreciated by you! I picked up this and the first 2AM album after watching ‘Dream High 2’ and hearing one of the quartet singing. It’s not as strong an album as Saint o’clock was, but I wonder if you Hurt like me is a really lovely number that stands out from the rest. A Chinese version is included in this version of the album as well as a DVD for some extra value for money. It’s not as exciting as the Big Bang one for beats and electronica, but it’s very relaxing to listen to and I was surprised by how much I liked their blend of voices. I definitely like their style better than 2PM.
Honourable mention goes to Trouble Maker, the HyunA & Hyun Seung duet album which has the catchy title track and and an excellent Ballad Time in its four tracks. It’s definitely more style than substance when balancing out the packaging to the content, but for those two songs alone it deserves a mention.