[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] SHINee funnies #6. me gusta.

It has been a while since I have done one of these. Enjoy! I know I have laughed myself silly over the first one. By the way, this is what an alien looks like.

Just a slight warning, after the break, it is PG-13, with a bit of swearing and mentions of obscenity. Use Urban Dictionary as a reference for slang you do not know, but at your own peril!

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[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] SHINee is soooo back with Sherlock.

CONCEPT

Though SHINee’s members are all males and legal, I got a distinct hippie-Japanese-Lolita feel from their teasers, or as Westerners call it, cheesy French porn made in the 70s. Something was not quite right about seeing everyone (excluding Onew) so clearly half-naked. Perhaps it is because the image SHINee projects is overwhelmingly “little-brother”, “cute”, and “chaste”, and to have teasers so obviously about their sexuality was a bit shocking. A bit of shock in the kpop industry is not bad in a time of Shinhwa, EXO, and BIGBANG promotions.

After seeing the music video and noticing that they are all fully-clothed, I am more inclined to believe that these photos were more fanservice than anything, as sly thank-yous to the fans who have waited for them for close to two years. Nonetheless, the hippie concept sans the half-nakedness really jibed with their album, which used acoustic guitars and brassy old-school sounds. Also, it is worth noting that no other male group has used the hippie concept, so congratulations, S.M., for being ahead of the curve again. After Lucifer, there was a marked rise in heavy eyeliner and androgyny. Perhaps we should look towards the rise of hippie-style.

Though the teaser images had little to do with sleuthing, the Sherlock plotline is cute, finally providing SHINee with some sort of story. Compared to the other things they could have named this album like “Detective”, “Mystery” or “Sleuth”, I am totally fine with “Sherlock.”

MUSIC

I will review in order that the songs appear on the album. However, as it will make more sense if I evaluate Clue and Note separately before I evaluate Sherlock, I will change the order slightly, putting Clue and Note as 1 and 2, respectively.

1. Clue: Throughout the song, the scratchy synth– so overused for their sibling group, f(x)– predominates. Plus, every five measures, there is the sound effect of glass breaking. This, coupled with the scratchy synth, makes Clue one of the most grating and annoying songs I have ever heard from SHINee. The chorus is a Key and Minho rap, but it is not immediately obvious; it just sounds like a customary rapping interlude. Clue is a hot mess of a song– the sort of song that sounds like it could go on forever, until it suddenly stops.

2. Note: I find the drum lead-in much more effective and exciting than Clue‘s synth lead-in. Also, this is the song that includes the infectious and energetic hook, “I’m so curious.” This is a challenging song, keeping all of SHINee continuously stretching to the top of their ranges. Some reviewers have commented that this track feels very Broadway, what with its overambitious hook and straightforwardness. Yet, though I do understand that the instrumentals sound punchy in that way, they way they sing is not comparable to Broadway– it is simply not clear and enunciated enough.

3. Sherlock (Clue + Note): The first thing I thought when I heard it for the first time was just how very SHINee it sounds. With AMIGO, SHINee debuted with some 90s and old-school funk influence. Despite being old-school, the youthfulness with which they sang and performed conforms to SHINee’s self-description as a ‘contemporary band.’ Though SHINee has now been active for close to four years now and are sunbaes to many other kpop groups, SHINee still remains one of the groups that continually sounds fresh and young. The lead single, Sherlock, is not an exception to this concept, with its overconfident brass blaring in the background, with an imaginary DJ scratching up the record and breaking glass, fast pace and vocalizing gymnastics all over the place. Sherlock is a thoroughly satisfactory comeback song. It is bold, assertive, and highlights the strengths and style of SHINee, almost blindingly so.

4. Alarm Clock: The lyrics were penned by Jonghyun, the rap by Minho. I am happy to see them doing some of their own participation, and Minho finally getting a rap credit. Yet, what sits wrong with me is the music itself. It does not recall an alarm clock, rather an afternoon cocktail at the bar, neither happy nor sad. The swirling synth in the chorus sounds like someone swirling a martini to me, not an alarm clock. Perhaps that is just me, but this song could have used more evocative instrumentals, emotive chordal progressions and vocal runs. Read: where are Jonghyun wailings?

5. The Reason: I did a double take when I first heard the beginning, it sounded at any minute the raspy voice from Three Doors Down would be crooning. Yet, once we dive into the chorus, we have this lovely, calming oscillating synth. The Sherlock album is heavily composed by foreigners, but right away, I knew this song was written by Koreans and serves as SHINee’s mandatory sob kballad. In this way, this song seems a bit filler and out-of-place when stacked up to the rest of the album.

6. Stranger: This is the other out-of-place song, composed and written by Kenzie, in the employ of S.M., who also wrote Graze, Jo Jo, and Life for SHINee. This originally was featured in SHINee’s Japanese album, The First. Since Kenzie is Korean, I am guessing that it was intended as a Korean track but since SHINee’s Japanese debut was looming, it was converted to Japanese in the meantime. Is there any difference between the Japanese and Korean versions? Not really. I prefer the Japanese version because there is no English it in it, though the English in the Korean version is all grammatically correct.

7. Honesty: Not what I would have expected coming from SHINee, but it fits, somehow. The bare guitar, SHINee putting on their best voices, it is all so terribly endearing. In general, kpop rarely does this sort of acoustic-sounding track, mainly because none of them really play instruments and none of them have groups in which all the members can more or less hold their vocally. You know what would be super magical? A live of Honesty with Jonghyun accompanying everyone on guitar– but this may just be wishful thinking. Onew especially shines here, and Jonghyun would have been absolutely gorgeous if they let him touch some of the lower parts. Minho still sounds like a frog. Key still tries hard to reign in his raspy voice. Now for the million dollar question, how did Taemin do?  Continue reading

[kpop] BIGBANG’s “Blue”: a spur-of-the-moment, this-is-just-too-good review

I don’t have much to say, because I am absolutely blown away.

BIGBANG is not a strong vocal group and will never be, if we hold TVXQ as our vocal standard for male groups. But I find I don’t care. Particularly, G-Dragon’s singing starting at 0.44s is just so heartbreakingly perfect and well-paced with the midtempo bass. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from melting.

The song itself– it builds on Korean ballad idioms, but it moves away from it, a bit like SM The Ballad did with “Hot Times“, as it is less concerned with sounding so sad and emotive, having excessive held high notes. What we get is a song that is melancholy, but at the same time, uplifting. “Blue” is something to curl up to on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and a biscotti or two.

I lied slightly, I am a bit bothered by the voice qualities, for example, sandwiching TOP between the smooth chorus and BIGBANG’s token smooth singer, Taeyang. However, I’ve always had a problem with the cohesiveness of BIGBANG’s sound, so this is nothing new. I am also bothered by the token white girl, which they also had in the MV for “Tonight.” I know they are trying for an international flavor, but the video could have been handled just fine without a token white girl, who is just like a thin layer of frosting on top of an already very substantial cake of interesting sets, and an interesting song. Heck, if you have an interesting song, all you need is a video of yourself singing it, and that is about all the music video you need. If YG insists on putting a token international girl in the videos, then I better stop seeing these waif couture models, and maybe, I don’t know, a really sexy italiana? An African-American? Pouty dark-haired French?

Despite those small bothers, I can say for certain this song can be certified as one of the best things that has happened to kpop in the last two years, probably even better than SHINee’s Korean “Lucifer“. Listening to BIGBANG, I am immediately reminded of EXO, the new group of SM that is in the stage of pre-debut with its never-ending teasers, who also pre-released a midtempo ballad, “What is Love?” Everyone kept commenting how similar it sounds to TVXQ’s “Before U Go“, which actually were both produced and written by Yoo Young-jin, one of the perennial favorites in SM’s arsenal of songwriters. But listening to BIGBANG’s “Blue”, which G-Dragon wrote and produced, I can honestly say that I have never heard anything like this before from G-Dragon. Of course, their previous comeback hints at the electro thump, but this sound, it’s completely fresh.

It is fresh– something that is rarely said in kpop nowadays. As we clear away the conventional EXOs and BAPs and missAs, I’m glad that we still have BIGBANG to look forward to.