[review] SHINee, Misconceptions of Us

Misconceptions of Us is a repackaged album with two new songs, Selene 6.23 and Better Off. I have previously reviewed Misconceptions of You (Dream Girl) and Misconceptions of Me (Why So Serious).

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Selene 6.23

Yiruma, a famous Korean pop pianist, composed Selene‘s instrumental. A bit about what I think about Yiruma: he’s not a classical pianist or composer, despite some people insisting on labeling him that way. He may play as well as a classical pianist but for me, Yiruma is the kind of music you’ll hear in the elevator five years down the road. It’s tired and true, and while it may be popular in the short run, it’s nothing new– and so it is with his instrumental for Selene 6.23. Some swelling strings and a spare piano melody; if the song is going to be any good, it has to come from SHINee.

This song is a little different than usual SHINee songs as each individual singer sings more lines at one time– e.g., we do not hear Taemin come in until the second chorus. The chorus is sung by individual voices– mostly Key, Onew, Jonghyun– without a blended “voice” as we usually hear on lead singles. It’s actually quite nice, you can really focus on each singer.

Both Minho and Key were better than they usually are. Minho still sounds carefully controlled but alas is no longer a frog; his voice color more or less blends in with SHINee but you can still tell he is uncomfortably holding himself in a higher register. His voice, for the most part, still sounds from the throat and floats through the head. It makes zero sense that they gave him the high parts of the song when he could just have taken a part from Onew or Taemin; Onew and Taemin would be able to handle the higher register just fine.

At times Key has a problem with ending his phrases– they’re abrupt and without any vibrato, so sometimes it sounds like you’re in front of a warm, crackling fireplace and then you are thrust in the cold. It’s still a problem in Selene 6.23. However, he surprised me in the second chorus, as he starts quite low and sounds eerily like Onew in his breathing, delivery and control (1.53s). I am divided about Key– sometimes he shows pockets of brilliance and then reverts to his bad habits; he’s been like this since debut, even more so lately. It’s like he cared a lot about his singing at debut but has been lax about it in the last few years. It’s troubling.

Jonghyun and Onew kill it, of course, when they trade back and forth and double up in the chorus, it is evident that they are the vocal souls of SHINee. It’s been a while since I have heard their voices so together on a recording– and only them two, explicitly. Selene 6.23 just confirms that their voices blend incredibly well; Onew’s voice especially, has aged well.

Taemin was a weak presence on this album as a whole and while his parts were non-offensive for Selene 6.23 and Better Off, that is all they were. Neither special nor bad. It sometimes puzzles me to see Taemin as a solo artist now because his presence on a SHINee song can sometimes even be less than Key, despite having more lines.

Better Off

Like Selene 6.23Better Off is an inoffensive mid-tempo ballad. Check out Reynah’s piano arrangement instead.

Key, two thumbs down.

Business as usual.

[review/kpop] ToHeart’s 1st Mini Album

This is sort of, kind of, most likely, the worst duo project I’ve heard since Eunhyuk and Donghae’s album RIDE ME. INFINITE’s Woohyun and SHINee’s Key, though they are great friends in real life and have great chemistry in the music videos, their singing and rapping do not mesh well. They do not complement each other: they neither lessen each other’s weaknesses nor strengthen each other’s specialties. To be fair, it’s hard to balance with a voice like Key’s. All too obviously, this mini-album fails the balancing act and even raises the question, did they even attempt to create balance?

The production also seems off-quality– I’ve been told that it’s not the usual slew of SM producers backing this, rather from Woollim Entertainment. I’ve never really enjoyed an INFINITE song, and I suspect it may be the unfinished and corny sound that that Woollim tends to favor. Rather than SM’s style of slick pop, Woollim gives off a safe-family vibe.

In this review, I will only be talking about the album and will not review the music videos or the lives, though I may mention them in passing. Be warned, this review is more crass than you would typically read because I couldn’t find much to like about this mini.

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Intro

I can hear it now, the waves of corniness with a big side of unnecessary piano and bass comping in the background. Can I make it through without gagging? $10 on me not being able to make it to the end.

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[review/kpop] S.M. The Ballad’s “Breath”

In 2014, S.M. The Ballad returned to the music scene. In contrast to the unit’s debut, 2014 S.M. The Ballad included women and released in three languages simultaneously (applause please, seriously impressed with S.M. gunning for the entire Asian market and not prioritizing Korea). The interesting upshot of releasing one song in three different languages is that I get to compare and lampoon everyone who is not Jonghyun. Just kidding, of course.

As this is a SHINee-centered blog, I will be primarily focusing on Jonghyun’s contribution to S.M. The Ballad, but I will briefly discuss all of the other singers and singles within this mini-album. I will also discuss the live joint recital videos that SM has posted on its YouTube channel.

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Breath

SHINee’s Jonghyun and SNSD’s Taeyeon sing the Korean version, and their success is ambiguous. First of all, Breath by itself is not a memorable ballad, just another sappy mix of a piano motive, synthetic strings and teardrop beats. Both Jonghyun and Taeyeon, while sounding controlled, are at times tight and thin-sounding; as Bilbo Baggins describes, it feels like “butter scraped over too much bread.” In the beginning, Taeyeon does have some beautiful moments in her lower register, but her octave duets with Jonghyun feel uncomfortable, sharp while Jonghyun is broad and relaxed. I wonder if they are truly singing a duet, or whether they are merely matching times. There is no real interaction between their singing, and no building off each other. Overall, I believe they are mismatched as a pair; in terms of aural match, Taeyeon and Onew would have been better. Overall, Jonghyun and Taeyeon’s version is not lead vocal material.

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Yuja Wang, technical brilliance, but..

Last Saturday, March 29, 2014, I had the good fortune to see Yuja Wang at Boston Symphony Hall play the fiery and technically demanding Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 2. If you are ever going to splash money on going to see a piano concerto, this would be it. Prokofiev no. 2 requires such finger gymnastics that it is spell-bounding to watch– which I did, with as-good-as-you-can-get seat in the orchestra.

Yuja is always very much in control, a fact that you quickly realize after the intense cadenza in the first movement alone. Yet, I feel this became her undoing at times. It was too intensely controlled and for me, this concerto is about veering on the edge and pulling back, reckless and heady at some points. Even though my companion said it was the fastest piano playing she had ever seen, when compared it to Li Yundi’s recording, Yuja played slower. Despite her technical prowess (godliness), sometimes there felt to be something lacking, though being an amateur musician, I confess I cannot point to any specific causes.

There was just one other minor drawback, and again I could not pinpoint exactly what it was– Yuja herself, the piano, or the acoustics. All together, the piano was softer than I expected, and the top register seemed flat and unable to project, which is terrible since Prokofiev requires a steely ring at times, but some upper notes melted into the background instead of ringing. However, Yuja adjusted and especially during her solo parts, she was able to thunder and create an entire orchestra just within the piano. It was incredible.

The third movement was also spot-on, I could see her enjoyment and (ironic?) humor shine through the mass of accents and syncopations. It is easy to play Prokofiev aggressively but hard to add delicacy and lightness. Yuja has remarkably “fleet” fingers, able to draw out incredible subtle nuances, yet still ring clear against the mass of heavy bass notes and strings.

With Sir Andrew Davis, the orchestra itself, must again deserve a round of applause. It never dragged and highlighted some incredibly poignant dissonances I had never heard before and the coloration was fantastic. The orchestra never dragged and kept Yuja in very respectable pace, though I wish they egged her on a bit.

SHINee 2013 retrospective & Gayo Daejuns

2013 has musically been the busiest year for SHINee thus far, releasing three LPs (Dream Girl: Misconceptions of You, Why So Serious: Misconceptions of Me, Boys Meet U), one EP (Everybody), for a total of six singles. Excepting Jonghyun, all of the members have grown as singers– I would say that the most promising is Minho, with a close second place to Key, who is returning to and developing his original sound in Love Like Oxygen. Improvement of SHINee as singers and the concurrent increase of ballads sans rapping released gave us B-side gems like Beautiful, Password, Symptoms, and Excuse Me Miss. 2013 is easily the most consistent and technically advanced year we have seen from SHINee yet.

Outside of SHINee’s music, Taemin featured on Henry’s Trap (and visually on BoA’s Disturbance). Jonghyun composed and featured on IU’s Gloomy Clock and Son Dambi’s Red Candle, as well singing an OST for The King’s Dream. Key participated in two musicals: Catch Me If You Can and Bonnie and Clyde.

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On television, as a whole unit, SHINee appeared little: Weekly Idol and SHINee’s Wonderful Day were the high notes. While entertaining perhaps to SHINee fans, SHINee’s Wonderful Day was quite boring as the members are never as funny and wonderfully cohesive as when they are together as in Hello Baby. In the spring, Taemin was cast on We Got Married with Apink’s Naeun. However, together with the bland angelic “personality” of Taemin and the constructed fabrication of We Got Married, this was incredibly boring for most other than fans of Taemin and Naeun. A much better casting would have been Key or Jonghyun, who are much less guarded about their words and enjoy hamming it up for the cameras. Next, Onew and Minho both had their own turns at acting, with former with much-panned Welcome To the Royal Villa and the latter with Medical Top Team and Let’s Go Dream Team. Continue reading