[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.



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.

Delicious Continue reading

[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.



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.


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

[review] SHINee’s EP Everybody

At first look and listen, the album Everybody felt a bit deja vu. The styling concept reminded me of the red and blacks of Ring Ding Dong, and the empty-R&B-70s sound embodied by the song, Y.O.U. Well, to tell you the truth, I absolutely hated Y.O.U. despite many reviewers saying it was the surprise gem of the album, 2009, Year of US. There are just some songs that cannot be saved, no matter how silky Ontaejongminkey are. Sad to say, Everybody was much like that too.



I am ambivalent about the title track– I have a strong suspicion that if it were not SHINee singing this song, I would probably never listen to it. It seems to be going along with SM’s trend of “how loud and obnoxious can we make it?” with EXO’s Wolf, SNSD’s I Got a Boy, SHINee’s Why So Serious, and TVXQ’s Catch Me. Careening at breakneck speed, there seems to be little balance and finesse in Everybody, with everyone singing as if their veins are popping at all times.

Because of this, there are not really any memorable or beautiful moments in this song; even Jonghyun sounds strained. All together, I felt that SHINee was unable to inject much personal flavor in such a lead track. The name Everybody is quite ironic, because everybody, or at least, a good number of boy groups, would have been suitable candidates for such a single. With a few minor tweaks, TVXQ, EXO, and Super Junior would have been able to promote such a single.

Moreover, I also think that inclusion of the dubstep or “complextro” added to Everybody‘s weaknesses. It is not necessarily the dubstep itself that ruins the song, rather the overuse and misuse of dubstep in kpop makes SHINee feel behind trend– even more so because Everybody‘s use of dubstep is rather ordinary. Continue reading

[tech] a n00b’s small review of 2013 Retina Macbook Pro

Seduced by the sleek aluminum body, I plunked down more than $1000 in November to become the owner of a 2013 retina MacBook Pro (rMBP). Was it worth it?

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 17.25.46

The good

The build quality from Apple is always top-notch, and it feels like a polished product from head-to-toe. The trackpad is always one of the best things about MBPs, and definitely does not disappoint here as it is responsive and large. Surprisingly, the speakers are crisp and clear, but very nondescript, coming from some low-key cutouts on the bottom of the laptop. I especially like the placement of the fans, below the screen, so the hot air never actually burns your legs when you are using the laptop in your lap. Most important, the retina display is gorgeous and blows away any screen I have used before.

The rMBP is far lighter than its predecessors with the optical drive, and I find that I don’t really miss the optical drive in day-to-day usage (I keep my spare laptop around if I need to use an optical drive).

Overall, the rMBP is solidly built and bar a few other choices, probably the best-looking and best-built laptop out there.

The bad

I am not very pleased with Mavericks and OS X as a whole. I keep running into bugs, like the sound ceasing to work when I wake up the rMBP from sleep.

The shortcuts are unintuitive. What button does that little staircase stand for? I have no idea. I know people will just tell me to learn them, but is it really that aestetically bad to write “fn” or “optn” instead on menus? Or perhaps change those keys to the symbols? I find this incredibly perplexing from a company that prides itself on ease-of-use.

I have Amazon Prime, so I frequently watch Iron Chef. Amazon Prime Video uses Microsoft Silverlight, which eats up battery life like no other. After watching around three episodes of around 40 minutes each, my 100% battery becomes 10% and my rMBP is gasping for life, running its fans at full power. I also play games on Neopets from time to time (don’t judge), and Flash seems to eat battery like no other as well.

On a good charge, this rMBP will last around 6 hours, puny compared to the 10+ commanded by the MacBook Air. When using the rMBP heavily and running many applications that require intensive CPU usage, this translates more into 3 hours. Obviously, most of the battery goes to supporting the power-hungry retina display screen.

The ugly

Nothing really stands out as “ugly” except a bug that was fixed a few weeks after Mavericks was released. Essentially the whole screen would freeze and you’d be unable to do anything except stare at your beautiful screen. Sometimes you could wait it out and then be able to move again but most often, you lost patience (and work) and just rebooted the computer. This would happen at least once a day to me. Since the bug fix, this problem has not occurred again, but I am appalled such a terrible and persistent bug made it through to the final version of Mavericks.

Some accessory suggestions

If you end up buying a rMBP, I advise buying a case or sleeve to protect it from scratches and a keyboard cover. Once you spill something on the keyboard, your rMBP’s life is 99% over. It takes time to get used to typing with a keyboard cover, but considering the pig I am, it has saved my keyboard from millions of crumbs.

The verdict

As a relatively normal user of the computer, except for some advanced word processing and data manipulation, the 2013 rMBP was not really the best choice had I been price-conscious. Moreover, I am not highly invested in the Apple ecosystem, and their products are not an essential part of my life. Thus, if you are a person who gets along just fine with Windows, only uses the computer for light activities, and has a budget, the 2013 rMBP is most likely not a good choice.

I honestly think that the “Mac is easier to use” argument is stupid, because most of us grew up with Windows and Mac can be pretty mystifying at times too (how do you uninstall a program?). In addition, since more people use Windows, you have a lot more resources to figure out and diagnose problems with your Windows machine.

Nonetheless, I paid for the beauty and build. In that end, I am very satisfied.