Posts Tagged ‘Album’

Best of 2016: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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One of the symptoms of the churning waters of 2016 in K-Pop was the comparative evaporation of full album releases from big players in the industry. Whereas every previous year I’ve done this countdown has brought a reliable salvo of well-polished, high-variety SM releases – usually led by f(x) – and a breakout LP or two with strong devotion to a decidedly non-Korean concept – think IU’s Modern Times or Wonder Girls’ REBOOT – 2016 had neither. If your first thought is that this might translate to a bloodbath of competitive mini-albums, you’d be right, as hedging bets seemed to be the name of the game for the big Korean entertainment companies this year. Luckily there were still some real gems spread throughout the year for fans of longer form K-Pop, and you can find my favourites below.

For the purposes of this list a mini-album is a release between four and seven tracks long, while a full album holds eight or more.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. The Velvet – Red Velvet

I’m just such a sucker for clearly defined concepts when it comes to albums of any kind, so Red Velvet’s The Velvet was always going to have a bit of a leg-up in a crowded year for quality K-Pop minis. As a follow-up to last year’s energetic, off-kilter The Red, the idea behind The Velvet is to show off the softer, more conventional side to the quintet that is in theory build into the group’s very identity. And for the most part, it pulls the idea off, with only the robotic rhythm of Cool Hot Sweet Love there to indicate that this is even the same people who did The Red. While some may find the lower tempo and less experimental flavour a bit boring, if the 90s warble of lead track One of These Nights is any indication of the kind of song we’ll get in the future from this half of the Red Velvet discography, I’m in. And that’s before I mention Rose Scent Breeze, the most glorious instance of cheesy, karaoke-friendly ballad goodness I’ve heard in a long time. I have screamed out the chorus of this song on late drives home more times than I care to admit.

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Best of 2015: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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Another year, another dual-pronged countdown for the uncommon – and much appreciated – K-Pop album fan. If you’re reading this you’re probably either looking for some recommendations to expand your music horizons, or you are in very, very deep with Korean pop music. Sometimes the flashy K-Pop surface singles aren’t what you feel like listening to, and you want to see what weird and wonderful B-sides/album compositions are out there in the K-Pop world.

Well the good news is that 2015 was just as good a year for Korean albums as it was for the MV tracks, and I’m here to give you my opinion on some of the better ones. This time around, you might actually be able to listen to these in full, because 2015 wasn’t just a big year for K-Pop albums in terms of quality, but in terms of accessibility.

That’s right, the advent of Apple Music back in June was a pretty sizeable game-changer for album fans living outside of Korea. Due to the California giant’s insane worldwide reach, most K-Pop releases make it onto iTunes, and that phenomenon translates to Apple Music streaming availability almost one-to-one. So if you have a membership you can now browse the delights and the duds of K-Pop’s longer form to your heart’s content. For real.

As usual the list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (your EPs, basically) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks (like LPs, yo). Also, there are a couple of albums that would have made this list – Big Bang’s MADE and iKon’s Welcome Back – had their labels not insisted these releases “aren’t complete yet”. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt for next year.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Pink Funky – MAMAMOO

MAMAMOO’s early momentum continued in 2015 with a huge number of individual member collaborations, MV releases and infectiously energetic live performances, and they backed it all up with a strong mini-album that can sit nicely next to their incredible debut EP. The songs plug into MAMAMOO’s duelling styles with panache, leading off with brazen brass loops and Moonbyul hip-hop on Freaking Shoes, sailing through squeaky synths on Um Oh Ah Yeh , syncing up with their flagship retro concept on No No No and then hitting it out of the park on the Sunday afternoon jam Self Camera. Even the comparatively generic ballad A Little Bit and the hook-lite Esna vehicle Ahh Oop! are improved by rounding out this fun sophomore effort.


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Album Review: REBOOT – Wonder Girls

That’s it – It’s happening. I’m finally going to start reviewing K-pop albums. Perhaps not regularly, mind you, but any reason I may have had against doing so in the past is starting to look a bit arbitrary in light of how little content I’m able to get up on this blog these days. Sometimes if an opportunity appears, you have to take it. And people should know about such brilliance as this. People. Should. Know.

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Released:
August 2015
Label:
 JYP Entertainment
Genre: K-Pop
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It’s not enough for the album to sound like the 1980s, it has to look like them, too.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Baby Don’t Play
2. Candle (feat. Paloalto)
3. I Feel You
4. Rewind
5. Loved
6. John Doe
7. One Black Night
8. Back
9. Oppa
10. Faded Love
11. Gone
12. Remember

1980s pop musical tributes may not quite be a dime a dozen at the moment, but they’re certainly in vogue. When someone as big as Taylor Swift decides to emblazon her polaroid-inspired album artwork with the title “1989”, you just know a trend is in motion. Synth hooks, big bass and full-ham electronic mixing are all back and you don’t have to look very hard to find them, as this entertaining 2014 list from Pigeons & Planes paints clear as day. And that’s amazing, because the musical quirks that define a “1980s sound” are pretty damn fun, particularly when used skilfully. Trend or no, I’ve always got time for a good 1980s inspired album.

REBOOT, the aptly named, long-awaited comeback piece from one-time Korean supergroup Wonder Girls, is a very good 1980s inspired album.

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Album Review: Worlds – Porter Robinson

Time for another all-too-uncommon album review, this time from guest writer, graphic artist and DJ extraordinaire Youniversal.

—Written by Youniversal—

—Edited/formatted by Vagrantesque—

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Released:
August 2014
Label:
Virgin Records
Genre: EDM
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All ethereal-like.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Divinity (feat. Amy Millan)
2. Sad Machine
3. Years of War (feat. Breanne Duren & Sean Caskey)
4. Flicker
5. Fresh Static Snow
6. Polygon Dust (feat. Lemaitre)
7. Hear the Bells (feat. Imaginary Cities)
8. Natural Light
9. Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)
10. Sea of Voices
11. Fellow Feeling
12. Goodbye To a World

There comes a time in every conceptual cycle where the new kid on the block finds a unique answer to the age old question: “What comes next?” On August 12th 2014, 22 year old Porter Robinson released a masterpiece that used its devices to break the limitations of what the industry would consider EDM. ‘Worlds’ is a 12 piece synthpop album that takes the charm of a late 90’s 32-bit title and the flare of otaku culture, then shoves them together to produce what you could call a beautifully glitchy nostalgic mess. Using the english vocaloid AVANNA by Zero G and the help of artists such as Amy Millan and Urban Cone, Robinson guides his listeners through a universe of escapism and the unlikely relationships that blossom between reality and the digital world.

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Best of 2014: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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I’m not going to lie – this is a list I do mostly for my own amusement, as I know that K-Pop fans who actually devote the time to listening to albums are kind of scarce. And yet, if you’re reading this, then you are either one of those rare people, or you’re at least curious. In any case, please make yourself at home, sit back and relax as I present to you my ten favourite major album releases in Korean pop music over the course of 2014. In my humble opinion there was a decent amount of good stuff to be found this year.

The list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (essentially EPs) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Holler – TaeTiSeo

I’m sure it isn’t an original expression of opinion to say that the only thing holding up the overall quality of Girls Generation’s non-Japanese album output over the last several years is the work of TaeTiSeo, also known as “What happens when you distill a nine-member group down to its three best / most complementary voices”. Indeed the second album from the SNSD sub-unit is a strong sophomore effort that only falls short of their 2012 debut Twinkle by virtue of having one less track. Holler sees Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun harmonise their way around a handful of vocal showcase songs that push their range and certainly do no harm to the future prospects of these three superstars of Korean pop. The mid-tempo ballads are there, as expected, but Holler also ratchets up the tempo more than Twinkle did, resulting in the highly enjoyable StayEyes and Adrenaline, not to mention a general ‘all seasons’ feel.


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Album Review: 1989 – Taylor Swift

I’ve been listening to this one for over a month now, and I’m about ready to call it pretty damn awesome.

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Released:
 October 2014
Label:
Big Machine
Genre: Pop
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TRACK LISTING

1. Welcome to New York
2. Blank Space
3. Style
4. Out of the Woods
5. All You Had to Do Was Stay
6. Shake It Off
7. I Wish You Would
8. Bad Blood
9. Wildest Dreams
10. How You Get the Girl
11. This Love
12. I Know Places
13. Clean
14. Wonderland (Deluxe only)
15. You Are In Love (Deluxe only)
16. New Romantics (Deluxe only)

I used to be really, really apathetic about Taylor Swift. For a long time I, like many people around the world today, barely batted an eyelid at a new single or album release from the Nashville-raised countrified pop star. I’m not exactly sure when that opinion started to change, though I know it probably had a lot to do with her refreshingly down-to-earth, highly entertaining public interviews with Ellen DeGeneres. Then in late 2012, Red happened. An album that seemed impossible to avoid, Red represented a tangible departure from Swift’s country roots, pushing towards a more universally appealing sound. I let my curiosity get the better of me, bought it, and didn’t look back. Aside from its perhaps overindulgent length, the album was very hard to fault, and it was quickly deemed a modern classic by critics and fans alike. I kinda liked it too, so when the talented singer-songwriter announced an album with my birth year stamped on the front cover earlier this year, I was instantly hyped. The album promised a sound that borrowed liberally from late-1980s synth pop, and that it most certainly does. Yet 1989 still feels like a worthy successor to RedIt’s not as good, but it’s still a really enjoyable listen over and over again.

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Album Review: Mandatory Fun – Weird Al Yankovic

Man, when was the last time I did an album review?

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Released:
July 2014
Label:
RCA Records
Genre: Comedy/Pop
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You’d better have some.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Handy
2. Lame Claim To Fame
3. Foil
4. Sports Song
5. Word Crimes
6. My Own Eyes
7. NOW That’s What I Call Polka!
8. Mission Statement
9. Inactive
10. First World Problems
11. Tacky
12. Jackson Park Express

Weird Al Yankovic is easily one of my favourite artists of all time, and his career has now lasted well over 30 years. The king of musical parody has always been most famous for his direct musical homages, which ape the exact melodies of relevant pop songs, but his astoundingly lengthy success can also be attributed to his underrated songwriting skills, both in his famous “style parodies” and his completely original tunes. This aspect was arguably in short supply on his last album, 2011’s Alpocalypsewhich was also criticised for falling behind the rapidly accelerating pace of pop culture trends. I’m happy to say that Weird Al’s fresh album release, Mandatory Fun, has no such problems. Al’s shrewd choice of song topics, not to mention his clever promotion method of releasing eight music videos in eight days, has proved he is as adaptable as anyone, and that makes me rather happy.

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