Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Best of 2019: Top 11 K-Pop Albums

Yes, this is where I’m putting that extra point from the shortened consoles list.

2019 was in my estimation the craziest year for quality K-Pop mini albums I’ve yet experienced. For a significant chunk of this year I toyed with the idea of outright replacing this list with a top ten purely devoted to the EP format. With the extra point and more honorable mentions I’ve pretty much ended up with one anyway, which is great because thanks to an expanded K-Pop recommendation circle I did uncover a good amount of worthwhile full albums in the end as well. I may have bent some rules, but I’m really happy with the list this year. Happy listening!

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS

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6. Kill This Love – Blackpink

Yes indeed, once in a while a YG girl group actually releases enough songs at the same time to count as an album! In Blackpink’s case, the loooooong time between drinks just about paid off in 2019, because Kill This Love brings three A-game B-sides and a pretty decent remix to slot in under the bombastic title track and create a winning EP. First-change rumbler Don’t Know What To Do leverages the drop-happy stylings that have helped slide Blackpink out from under 2NE1’s shadow, while Hope Not finally brings back the all-too-brief magic from the group’s debut year acoustic B-side Stay. The sealer is the middle track, however: Kick It is a low-key better song than the actual lead single, Kill This Love, which is no dud itself. Uniting big drop with strumming flourish, it rocks.

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Best of 2019: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

We back with an eighth attempt at summing up the year in K-Pop, as I bring you my fifteen personal favourite songs deemed worthy of music videos. As always, that’s the distinction: These aren’t my favourite music videos per se; I hadn’t even seen most of these MVs before starting to write the list. I rank these songs based mostly on the songs themselves.

A massive shout-out has to go to the community of the recently-reborn This Week in K-Pop podcast, which is now a Twitch call-in show airing weekly on Sundays at either 3pm or 8pm CST depending on the week. Those lovely people are responsible for just over a third of the list, as I once again spent about two thirds of the year not listening to a lot of Korean music. They know how to recommend the good stuff.

And for what it’s worth, this might be my favourite list of honorable mentions ever. There wasn’t much separating them all in the end. It was a good year for K-Pop, particularly for pop-adjacent rock bands and emerging solo artists. Let’s dig in!

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Umpah Umpah – Red Velvet

We begin with yet another Real Summer Jam from what is now my most featured K-Pop act ever. Red Velvet brings those unchallenged layers of harmony and that quirky bass sampling as brightly as ever, but now featuring late stage vocal ad-libs and references to their own half-decade career (Wasn’t it just yesterday they debuted?) By RV standards Umpah Umpah is actually rather straightforwardly produced – I guess after going B-side-level weird with earlier 2019 single Zimzalabim they needed a palette cleanser – but it’s still got that wonderful flavour you expect from the group’s upbeat output.

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Best of 2018 Closer

A happy new year to all of you reading this! Here’s hoping 2019 is everything you could hope for. May your Avengers and Star Wars finales be satisfying, your K-Pop playlists overflowing, your first-party Switch exclusives meaty, and your new consoles well-priced, smartly-marketed and player-friendly!

In case you missed any, here are the links to the ten lists I put up over the last two weeks to summarise 2018:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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Best of 2018: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

Here we are at the big three, and my most difficult list of the year. Seriously, I had more trouble ordering this one than I did any of the others (It’s always the biggest effort to format too). There are so many different moods that albums are capable of putting you in – or sustaining – so every time I came back to the draft I shifted, added or removed something. This is the most accurate representation of my favourites that I could come up with at this point in time. Turns out it’s the poppiest album list I’ve put together for several years. I usually like to highlight song collections and/or artists that didn’t make my singles list on this page, but this year there are quite a few albums containing singles that either made this year’s main Top 15 or the honorable mentions. Also, I may have just realised while typing this that literally half these albums are from SM Entertainment. Whoops.

For the purposes of this list, a mini album is between four and seven non-instrumental, non-remix tracks long. Eight or more of these makes a full album instead.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Blooming Days – EXO-CBX

As always, I love a good attempt at a structural gimmick when it comes to albums, and Blooming Days has a doozy – seven tracks, one for each day of the week and its corresponding mood. Though title track Blooming Day – sitting in the Tuesday slot – is not one of the strongest products to come from the EXO family stable, the rest of the album does a reasonably good job of putting together an aural week that you can experience in less than half an hour. The strongest three tracks, neatly enough, are the opener, the exact midpoint and the closer. Monday Blues is just so good at nailing the bleary-eyed feeling of staring at a week of work ahead, Thursday evokes that knowingly premature daydream of a fruitful weekend and Lazy takes the album’s best backing track and uses it to transport the listener to a sun-soaked picnic. The first of several SM Entertainment albums on this page, I can recommend Blooming Days wholeheartedly to any listeners out there who like to count tracks in their head.

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Best of 2018: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

What a difference a single year can make.

2018 was arguably (and this really is arguable because music is so subjective) a significant step up over 2017 for that unique range of K-Pop sounds that have kept people like me connected – however loosely – to the industry for so long. But 2018 was also the year that I spent the least time listening to K-Pop since this list has been a thing. That’s not necessarily an indicator of the future – for the first half of the year it wasn’t clear whether the podcast I relied on for most of my K-Pop exposure was on hiatus or actually done (It turned out to be the latter) and I also stopped listening to the curated playlists I would normally enjoy while running because of a shockingly persistent knee injury. During that lengthy period I only really listened to the biggest-name releases, though I eventually readjusted my habits – quite late in the year it must be said – and took in a whole bunch of K-Pop at once. That probably had an impact on my positive outlook for the year, because I didn’t have to wade through as much average sameyness, but I maintain that I still find this Top 15 stronger than last year’s. Take that as you will.

The list only considers songs that have a corresponding music video (with one odd exception) and have a significant amount of Korean lyrics within them. It’s an audio-first critique, however – Some of these MVs I hadn’t actually seen before I sat down to write this. It’s restricted to one song per act. Oh, and if this is just about the only K-Pop stuff you’ve watched this year, I recommend hovering over each video and turning off the automatic captions as you go. They’re distracting and usually not exactly poetry when translated. That’s just the way I do it, though. You do you.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. POP/STARS – K/DA

What’s that? This doesn’t count? I’m using a League of Legends promotion as clickbait? I am outraged at the mere accusation. Have you heard this song? Against all odds, what could have come across as a cheap attempt to cash in on LoL‘s sizeable Korean player base is in reality a hyper-polished production effort worthy of a top tier K-Pop label, complete with affectionate nods to such tried-and-true Korean music video tropes as rapid-fire freeze-frame poses, member-specific sets, stationary expensive cars, minimal footage of actual dancing and an ultra-serious group logo stinger. Featuring just enough Korean language to count for this list – duly provided by a third of (G)I-DLE – POP/STARS was composed almost entirely at RIOT Games, which seems unfair to the rest of K-Pop because it is a banger. Check out the hologram-infused live performance of the song at the LoL World Championships if you fancy.

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The Whirlwind That Was E3 2018

E3 week is over for another year! The conferences have come and gone, the show floor has closed, the Youtubers and game journos have pieced together their wrap-ups and are now piecing together their minds with some well-earned rest. So it’s time once again for me to pick out the trends of the show and throw forward my own general thoughts on the delirious highs and confusing lows of the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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Samurai Spirit Abounds

Every year at E3 there’s always a videogame feature or aesthetic concept that seems to rear its head suspiciously frequently. Examples from past years that come to mind include the neck-snapping animations of 2013, the dog companion focus of 2015 and of course the piracy outbreak of last year. This year pundits were ready for the deluge of “battle royale” mode additions to both existing major franchises and new projects, but aside from the very first game of E3, Battlefield V, that would-be trend was nowhere to be found. Instead, the feudal Japanese period stepped up into the thematic void with considerable style. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the much-discussed next game from Dark Souls developer From Software, led the charge and evoked imagery from last year’s runaway success Nioh. It was fitting, then, that Nioh 2 also brought the samurai goodness later on in the week. However the decidedly AAA polish of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima probably took the greatest share of the conceptual spotlight, presenting an absolutely jaw-dropping interpretation of a painterly Japanese countryside soaked in blood and fire.

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Live Music, Live Music Everywhere

What do you do when some of your colleagues and competitors are putting forth pristine, pre-curated, glitch-free video presentations? You leverage the unique strengths of the live platform and you leverage them hard. Bethesda, Ubisoft and especially Sony really went in on the idea of live music performances during their 2018 shows. The former even performed an entire song at the top of proceedings courtesy of Andrew W.K. and a live band. Ubisoft’s almost-annual Just Dance series medley was moved to the top of the French giant’s own spectacle, which was odd but arguably a smart move given how previous instances have affected pacing. Sony packed two separate instrumental performances with tonal ties to two of the company’s biggest games, while the entirety of its Dreams footage consisted of adorable/unsettling animated creatures blaring their own musical creations. Your mileage may vary on the value of these interludes but if you ask me they added just the right amount of E3 zaniness. Continue reading

Best of 2017 Closer

Happy new year! 2017 is going to be a hard act to follow for entertainment media, what with its great movies – both blockbuster and indie in spirit – and especially its decade-topping lineup of videogames. Big event movies will certainly come in 2018, headed up by the most ambitious Avengers film yet and the second Fantastic Beasts flick, and smaller gems will emerge as they always do. But there’s a fair bit of videogame uncertainty going into the new year. Will Microsoft nail all their proposed releases this year? How close are we to a new Playstation? What can the Nintendo Switch’s second year possibly bring to even hope to match up to its first? Time will tell. In the meantime, here are the links to all ten of my 2017 year-end countdown lists:

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1. Top 5 Disappointments

2. Top 5 Gaming Trends

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 5 Game Consoles

5. Top 10 Movie Characters

6. Top 10 Gaming Moments

7. Top 10 Movie Scenes

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 15 Movies

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