[review] SHINee’s Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You.

I hope you are all as excited as I am to analyze the SHINee’s Dream Girl comeback. I will split this review into four main parts: album, music video, lives, and overall assessment. Let’s get on it.

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ALBUM

(1) Spoiler. This song begins with the opening synth to Sherlock. As SHINee has said, Dream Girl: The Misconceptions of You should be viewed as a continuation of Sherlock. Moreover, this introduction mentions each song in the album; establishing a very clear connection between Sherlock and Dream Girl. In fact, the instrumentation used on this track is not unlike Sherlock, except a little lower and sultry. SHINee is definitely back but it is definitely in a more understated, sexier fashion. Case in point, we have wonderful chants of mostly Jonghyun singing “Tonight, tonight, tonight…” at the end of the song. In fact, this song– verses and chorus– is mostly dominated by Jonghyun’s voice. The biggest disappointment is this track is Key. There are times he does sound lovely, but often the endings of his singing parts stick out and seem largely unfinished compared to the sultry croonings of Onew and Jonghyun, and yes, even Taemin.

(2) Dream Girl. Praise lord that this is not “acid electro funk,” as described to the music critics who received a preview of Dream Girl before it officially released. This is just electro funk. If it were “acid,” it would be much more sharper and higher, and the electro part of the song would not be as full. Think Dream Girl on heroine and slowly wasting away but crying out for more to feed an addiction; now that would be “acid electro funk.”

Dream Girl is amazing electro funk. The tricky problem with funk is that if not done well, the novelty of the funk can overpower the singers– so, in essence, the audience is thinking this song is really weird and no matter how talented the performers are, they simply cannot ignore the weirdness of the funk. The song was assiduously mixed with this in mind: the funk elements are there but not in your face– we get treated to beautiful falsettos mostly sung by Onew and Jonghyun (heavy on the Jonghyun for the most part), and “funky” synths like guitar riffs and interesting bass lines, while present, are kept minimal in the background. These funky moments are likewise paired with minimal electro synthy tricks; the choruses are all our familiar Sherlock electro with a light percussive beat, so the track itself cannot be categorized as just plain funk, hence the electro funk. Dream Girl strikes the correct balance, which is what makes it such an exciting track to listen to.

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[kpop] best rookie groups 2012

This very biased selection is based on quality of members–mostly dance and singing, but looks are considered as well, debut track(s), and live performances.

EXO was easily the most anticipated group to debut this year. Though not of epic proportions, their tracks are slickly produced and the groups are well-balanced with many talented individuals in each. At any rate, their debut was more solid than f(x), Super Junior, and even, SNSD. If SM plays their cards right, 2013 could be a very large year for EXO.

NU-EST played their cards extremely well, despite holding a few weak cards. A well-written debut song, one of the first to capitalize on the ‘new’ europop invasion, and including one very intriguing member, Ren. Dancing and lives are unspectacular though, and the shock of a pretty face will not last forever.

Regarding true singing talent, Lunafly and Busker Busker, in this respect, are both promising.

I hesitate to include BAP, but I see way too many BAP fans around me to think of them as a minor rookie group. They did have a nice, unified concept in debut; but alas, their track to me was stuck in the 2005, way too brassy and heavy, trying out a 2PM concept that barely fit.

A.cian‘s whole debut album is a beautifully crafted imitation of europop. That’s about it. Due to the constantly changing nature of kpop, I doubt they will release a europop album like this next time– if there is a next time.

Like A.cian, Cross Gene delivered an amazingly crafted imitation of europop for their debut. The facts that they have Japanese, Chinese, and Korean members and released simultaneously in Japanese and Korean are very nice bonuses. Another great bonus? Their live singing is A-OK (but please hire another choreographer).

Rounding out the last of the europop imitators, we have A-JAX. Someone fetch them a new stylist.

classical music is stuffy? pshaw! classical recs for fans of pop/rock/electro/…

In my experience, people tend to think of classical music as one huge, static genre. Far from it– there is some classical music I love to death, others, meh, not so much. In a lot of ways, classical music can be very similar to the popular music that most people listen to nowadays, but it can be hard to find that particular classical music you click with.

Thus, in alphabetical order, I have listed popular genres and based on the genre, underneath I wrote some suggestions of classical music for you to listen to. Of course, being a pianist, this will be a little heavy on the piano side. If you have any suggestions for me or would like me to add a category, please let me know!

Country
In popular music, country is a genre which can encompass many idomatic sounds of the American region– but true country has a deep soul; nonetheless, it also has levity and is loose and free. Personally, I am in a mature stage of loving American composers, so this corresponding genre of classical music is very dear to my heart. Though to European ears, the American sound may be uncouth and very loud and brassy, but it is so adorable and kitschy it is hard to fight back a smile.
(1) An American in Paris, George Gershwin. A perfect summer piece to dip your toes in.
(2) Rodeo: Hoe Down, Aaron Copland. This. This piece is amazing live. If you ever get a chance to see the Philadelphia Orchestra play this, you must go. In fact, if the Philadelphia Orchestra is playing anything remotely American, just go. They are the best orchestra in the US where American music is concerned.
(3) Piano Concerto in G major, Maurice Ravel. An impressionistic composer, Michelle? Really? Yes. This piece was heavily influenced by jazz, and its presence in this concerto is whimsical and floating and altogether very beautiful.
(4) ‘American’ String Quartet, Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak composing in a field in Iowa. Best idea ever. Also one of the pieces the Emerson String Quartet played when I saw them.
(5) Excursions Suite: no 1, Samuel Barber. Every piece in the suite hearkens to some American idiom. When I listen to the first piece, I think of trains. What do you think?

Dance / Electronic
Unless you get into the really hairy avant-garde in classical music, classical music does not use much electronic elements. However, I am interpreting this genre as ‘upbeat’. Some upbeat pieces you could (theoretically) dance to.
(1) Caprice no. 24 in A minor, op. 1/24, Niccolo Paganini. Probably the most well-known piece in virtuoso violin repertoire.
(2) Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531, Vivaldi. Love at first listen.
(3) Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig Beethoven. The third movement is definitely a head-bopping moment.

Easy Listening / New Age
A great genre for some relaxation and contemplation.
(1) Adagio for Strings (choral version), Samuel Barber. One of the seminal pieces of the twentieth century; even DJ Tiesto made a remix.
(2) Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I and II, Johann Sebastian BachGlenn Gould is the go-to pianist for Bach. His interpretations are fantastic to listen to (however, once you start playing Bach, you realize sometimes Gould is a bit crazy at times). Bach is amongst the most cerebral composers I know, and it is a pleasure to play his works, if only to get a mental workout. I also like Maurizio Pollini‘s interpretations.
(3) Dolly Suite, Gabriel Faure. A cute and light set of piano duets (four hands, one piano).

Emo
Constantly listening to sad ballads? Want to cry your tears out?
(1) any Frederic Chopin– some choices: Nocturne op. 9 no. 2, Piano Sonata no. 2, Fantasie-Impromptu op. Posthumous, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. Chopin is mindbogglingly beautiful, but many times, I cannot handle the level of emo and would rather hack away at something aggressive. However, if you are super emo, do some soul-searching in Chopin.
(2) Pour le piano: Prelude, Claude Debussy. I’ve played this before in eighth grade. Why? Because it was emo.
(3) String Quartet in G minor, op. 27, Edvard Grieg. The first movement, Un Poco Andante, Allegro Molto Ed Agitatomight be a little more hardcore emo than you bargained for, but you cannot deny the entrance as one of emo anguish. If you like heavy metal, definitely grab onto this.

Epic / Soundtrack
I love listening to the Transformers OST and the Bourne trilogy OST, and sometimes having epic music on hand while racing through bus terminals is quite fun (I have no life).
(1) Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, op. 18, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Certainly one of the most recognized openings of all piano concertos.
(2) Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16, Edvard Grieg. Play me that beginning chord anywhere and I can recognize it immediately. This piece is iconic– it was even featured in a Li Yundi Nike commercial!
(3) Transcendental Etude, no. 4, Franz Liszt. Not ashamed to say, I first heard this in Nodame Cantabile. I also discovered that Boris Berezovsky sweats a lot (watch the video).. unsavory..
(4) Cello Concerto, op. 22, Samuel Barber. The beginning, gargle. The cello cadenza, gargle. For this concerto, my bias is Paul Tobias.

Hip Hop / R&B
This is a genre that I listen to infrequently, but nonetheless, a genre with lots of soul. And lots of bass.
(1) Julie-O (special beatbox arrangement), Mark Summers. The original is amazing, as well– as it is played by the composer himself.
(2) Libertango, Astor Piazzolla. If Yo-Yo Ma is playing it, it is automatically gold. No questions asked.
(3) Romeo and Juliet: Dance of the Knights, Sergei Prokofiev. Yes, this definitely has a lot of bass; could fit in the emo section as well.

Indie
Basically, the genre for us snobs who like saying, “I listened to them before they became popular.”
(1) Paganini Variations for two pianos, Witold Lutoslawski. Yes, I blather a lot about this piece. But still– people still do not appreciate it enough. It is also rather avant-garde, so you can brag about that too, hipsters.
(2) Tzigane, Maurice Ravel. Everyone who plays an instrument classically has a phase of liking impressionistic composers like Ravel and Debussy. I was in the phase in high school, but now I have thankfully gotten over that. Even those who profess to love Ravel oftentimes have neglected this amazing virtuoso violin piece.
(3) Simple Symphony, op. 4, Benjamin Britten. A twentieth-century composer who does not get enough love at all, even in the classical music lovers’ circles. I would have a listen to his cello concerto as well.

Pop
Catchy, catchy, catchy. Hook, hook, hook. Infectious and fun.
(1) ‘Trout’ Piano Quintet in A major, Franz Schubert. Another piece I heard at the Emerson String Quartet concert– the most well-known chamber piece. In China, one of my roommates’ ringtone was this annoying MIDI version of Trout, so boy, was I glad to stop listening to it after I moved out.
(2) Bolero, Maurice Ravel. Yes, this is used in the opening of SNSD’s Paparazzi music video (you can guess a certain someone was frowning). However, Ravel’s Bolero on its own is indescribably beautiful, though it is the same thing over and over again. Pity, Super Junior’s artistic directors should try learning from this piece.
(3) The New World Symphony, Antonin Dvorak. The last movement could go under “Epic / Soundtrack” very well, but overall, it is an amazing piece of music, filled with memorable melodies. If you have a chance, listen to the four-hands one-piano version arranged and played by Duo Crommelynck.

Rock / Heavy Metal
For those of who love a good head-banging with strong rhythms. Bitches love Shostakovich! Heh.
(1) String Quartet no. 8 in C minor, op. 110, Dmitri Shostakovich. The allegro molto (second movement) is an absolute thriller. You can never go wrong with the Emerson String Quartet.
(2) Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor, op. 67, Dmitri Shostakovich. This trio’s melody was actually based on the previous string quartet’s melody. However, this arrangement is so amazing that it deserves to be mentioned. The allegretto (fourth movement) starts off ‘slow’, but once you reach the climax, grip the seat because you probably will not survive.
(3) Cello Sonata, op. 8, Zoltan Kodaly. I recently got into cello, but I really must listen to more Kodaly. His name is so fun not to.
(4) Firebird Suite, Sergei Prokofiev. The first time I heard this was in sixth grade– our teacher had chosen a snippet of it to be played in our band concert– and I fell in love immediately. Plus, there is this awesome Disney Fantasia movie to go along with it. Fetch me some tissues.

[kpop] a review of SHINee The 1st Concert in Seoul CD (get some tea, it’s going to be long)

SHINee The 1st Concert in Seoul DVD was released today, 8 August 2012. To celebrate its release, I have kicked myself to review the CD version I have sitting around in my room. I procured this CD in China for less than 10USD, which I figured, “Hey, why not?” for I do not generally buy albums (the rare exception is my signed Lucifer), since they are rather expensive and I am a rather poor college student.

the physical CD package (see below for gallery)

This package comes with two CDs, a glued-on booklet, with a total of 33 songs. In this digital age where downloads are at the click of a mouse, buying a physical CD is not as urgent, so when deciding whether a CD is a good purchase, the physical case itself and the photos it has is a big factor.

SHINee did a special photoshoot for this album– as seen on the front and back covers, the inside cover, and the cover to the booklet. While I do think it is pretty because SHINee are natural pretty boys, the photoshoot is really nothing out of the ordinary. They all look rather mysteriously off into the distance, something that all of them have perfected since their debut in 2008. The inside cover is quite horrid with all the members sporting pom-poms on their tops. Jonghyun is wearing a Lacoste collared shirt– which is known for being sport-chic– so I guess for Jonghyun at least, the pom-poms were added on by their stylists rather than actually being part of the shirt itself.  Nonetheless, despite the ugly pom-poms, the good amount of color squeezed in is very nice, and indicates SHINee’s versatility at fitting many different styles.

Inside, there is a booklet complete with lyrics and photos of SHINee at the concert. Given that these are professional photos, they are crisp and clean and drool-worthy. However, given that SHINee has some of the most rabid fans out there, one can easily stroll to a fansite and have eerily similar high-quality photos. Nothing that the professional photographers have taken cannot be found on a fansite. That being said, if you are in the market for this CD, I would Google up some legitimate scans and figure out if the booklet photos are something you really love and must have.

the songs

CD1

01. Into the SHINee World. This is the introduction to the concert– a disembodied voice with so-so English and fangirl screams. This is the sort of thing that is quite useless without a visual companion, so there is not much I can really say here. From the disembodied voices, the song segues from a rather cool R&B-influenced vibe to an upbeat-rock introduction of the members, and a “Welcome to the SHINee World.”

02. The SHINee World [Doo-Bop]. SHINee sounds incredibly fresh and is hitting absolutely everything, and Taemin sounds incredibly good. It is quite scary. Therefore, I believe this track underwent a bit of editing and correction; it is likely this was lip-synched. If there were not fangirl screams periodically, I would prefer this track to the original and the Japanese version. There is a funny little rap break in the middle before the “My name is Minho” part where Minho says “My name is Minho” again. Must have been dance-break time? Continue reading

[review] Tohoshinki’s “ANDROID.” (Toho, never come back to Korea please)

The latest release from Tohoshinki is “ANDROID”, a mini-album with two songs: ANDROID and BlinkANDROID is the lead single, and rightfully so, its hook is so infectiously catchy and singable, along the lines of Superstar. Changmin and Yunho’s vocals are incisive, precise and energizing– as usual. The only squabble is the incognruous dubstep bridge, which is quite late to the jpop scene considering Daichi Miura’s release of Black Hole more than half a year ago. The “modest gothic remix” of ANDROID is not bad either, definitely a treat for those of us who like mainstream metal, like Seether or Linkin Park.

The music video and choreography for ANDROID is nothing spectacular, but due to the eargasms that the song itself induces, I forgive them for all of their funny outfits (and people were complaining that Sexy, Free & Single had weird fashion). I would rather a strong song rather than a flashy video.

so, about dem outfits..

Blink is a weaker version of ANDROID, mostly due to a less catchy hook and its lusterless bridge, but nonetheless, a strong track as well. Its vocal strings of “Nananana” reminds me of f(x)’s tendency to use nonsense syllables, indeed in their latest track Electric Shock, they sing “Nananana” as well. However, the biggest difference between these two songs is that Blink is a strong track all together. Electric Shock is punctuated by many empty-sounding singing breaks that ruin the upbeat pace introduced in the beginning. f(x) gets a lot of heavier electrodance beats, but sometimes I feel like they are lost kids running around a supermarket, and their vocals float around aimlessly; whereas Changmin and Yunho are experts at anchoring and drawing listeners in.

Overall, I am very impressed with the level of consistency two-member Tohoshinki in Japan promotions is able to produce, from Tone to Still to ANDROID. Yunho now raps very little, and I am very grateful for this trend because his nasal voice fits extremely well in these two tracks. I will say it again, that yes, I am very grateful for a Changmin and Yunho duo, for they suit each other perfectly. Beginning with Japanese LP Secret Code, Tohoshinki has developed a signature sound: thick-textured electrodance, with a bit of electro-ballads, usually more up-tempo than down. This contrasts with TVXQ in Korea, which is still electrodance but cleaner, and more R&B influences. A comeback in Korea is probably in the books for later this year, but if that never happens, that is fine with me– as long as we see another Japanese LP. Pretty please.