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

[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.

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Everybody 

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

[review] SHINee’s “Boys Meet U”, album and single

Conclusions first: in every way, Boys Meet U is a great improvement from their first studio album, The First. It is confident, full of catchy hooks, and tastefully put together– overall better showcasing SHINee at their current aptitudes rather than regressing to previous hits to carry the album. Nonetheless while the album is solid and deserves more than one listen, it still sticks to the tried-and-true formulae of Japanese pop– this album is stellar because SHINee sings it, not because the songs themselves are particularly inventive.

In this perspective, Boys Meet U reminds me a lot of Tohoshinki’s TONE. Changmin and Yunho carry the entire album so professionally that it is simply a great album despite its shortcomings in material. What perhaps separates Boys Meet U and TONE is that SHINee still has glaring errors that can and should be addressed in further albums.

Lastly, I must applaud the producers for the deep consideration they shown in putting together this portfolio of songs for SHINee: Boys Meet U very much has the SHINee flavor, and the boys are given every opportunity to show their strengths and shine. Whether they seize the opportunities, we shall see.

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Password

The beginning and climax instrumentation is really thoughtful editing; a bit haunting, gradually the percussion is introduced along with Jonghyun’s voice. That is all it really needs, because Jonghyun’s breathy voice is emotive and colorful enough to carry along the song without much backing. Of course, the guitars come in when Key’s falsetto kicks in. I am divided about Key’s falsetto here; he does horrible natural falsetto but the sound engineers have made it sound as nice as possible. Minho’s little interlude between Key’s falsetto is also quite terrible, the sound engineers did their best. Breathy as they might try to make it, it’s clear both Key and Minho were struggling.

Funnily enough, the chorus sounds a lot like Minho. Onew has a nasty monotone habit at times (especially during the second verse) and sounds almost as if he does not care what he is singing– though I am pretty certain this issue would disappear in a live. His “aye-wooos” in the chorus have been autotuned out of recognition.

Overall, Password feels sleepily stuck at one level for most of the song– this feeling is encouraged by the nearly uniform auto-tuning throughout the song. Because of this, I believe the autotune was used too much, dampening the SHINee ‘flavors’– the only time I really felt a kick is when Jonghyun sings with the bare instrumentations. Autotune destroys the delicacy of pace and breath, both of which are key ingredients to a moving performance.

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The first few times it seems like an amazing dance track. The fifth time I realized the chorus goes at one obnoxious volume and pace only, making it uncomfortable to listen to for a prolonged time, and ironically, renders it incredibly bland. Nonetheless, the entire song sounds incredibly sharp and on-point, and it is easy to imagine a crazy dance routine paired with it.

Continue reading