Last week was another busy week for the world of KPop in particular and honestly I can feel the 2021 fires burning ever strongly now. Quarter two has certainly begun with a bang and what an impact the past week has made with lots of solo releases and rookie, or underrated, artists coming out of the woodwork. There have been some really pleasant surprises over the week and it just fills me with joy to share them with all of you!
Disclaimer: I haven’t been able to write about every single release, but I do try to at least provide a link to the key songs released over the week. However, it is entirely likely that I will have missed many – drop me a comment with any tracks from the past week that you think I should not miss.
WENDY – Like Water
Honestly – stop everything right here and now. This is the album that I have been anticipating eagerly (I missed Wendy terribly during her unfortunate time off) and my gosh, it is certainly the album that I needed! Wendy (Red Velvet) has made her official solo debut with first mini album ‘Like Water’ and double title track feature, ‘Like Water’ and ‘When This Rain Stops‘. Wendy is an EXCEPTIONAL vocalist (I don’t give this level of praise often), and on ‘Like Water’ her clear, clean voice enchants over this pop ballad, carrying listeners dreamily through the blissful instrumentation and hopeful movements. It is impossible not to feel every single word with her moving rendition and clear diction, stirring up such emotion with those striking power notes through the bridge. I get choked up with each listen – her tone feeling like a stable and comforting embrace. Between ‘Like Water’ and ‘When This Rain Stops’, I like the latter just a shade more – I’m kind of a sucker for a ballad song with a sad vibe and ‘When This Rain Stops’ hits that spot. But on the whole, this album, from start to finish, is one I don’t think I’ll tire of any time soon. It is truly a beauty and a magnificent auditory journey.
Favourite songs from the album [Like Water]: When This Rain Stops / Best Friend (feat. SEULGI)
ASTRO – ONE
MV note: This MV took my breath away on multiple occasions for so many different reasons. I actually felt my chest hurting on first watch. Let the Eunwoo x MJ conflict forever continue in my heart.
After what genuinely felt like FOREVER (11 months = forever in KPop), ASTRO are back with second full length album ‘All Yours’ and title track ‘ONE’. This new single sees the group push their maturing sound even further, blending multiple styles and genres in this explosive pop track. The group dip their toe into the edgier concept, but maintain some of their melodic identity by interspersing funky electro sequences in with the punchy trap production. Honestly, the arrangement of this song is a little bit busy – on first listen I was having trouble pulling the different threads together in my head, but the chorus… I instantly knew that I loved it (the post-chorus less so). So I listened to the song a couple of times over for the chorus and suddenly the appeal of the entire song made a whole load of sense – ‘ONE’ finally shines a brighter light on the skillset of the team. Finally we’re seeing Rocky and Jinjin let loose with their rap skills, and I am just in total awe of Eunwoo and MJ’s vocal contributions in that bridge (I really feel like MJ steals this). The song has since been likened to the current generation SM boy group sound, but I think ‘ONE’ takes it one step further by owning that electro funk chorus and prioritising vocals and melodies over grit and concept. ASTRO really came back to remind me of why they are in my Top 5 boy groups, and I’ll continue to stand by this life choice.
Favourite songs from the album [All Yours]: Butterfly Effect / All Good / Our spring /Stardust / gemini
LEE JINHYUK (이진혁) – 5K
TOP Media’s plan to monopolise on the ‘Produce X 101’ fame of UP10TION members Wooseok and Jinhyuk has led to the release of some choice solo material – a plan which 100% makes no sense to me because you would think that they would repurpose that popularity back to the group… but that’s an essay that I have already written here. As much as I adore Up10TION (and particularly Jinhyuk – bias wrecker), I can’t say I have always wholeheartedly loved the solo work, and the same can be said for ‘5K’. The company branded this title track as funk pop, and we do certainly get that with the brass injections and jazzy piano flourishes underlining Jinhyuk’s varied rap charisma, but it feels a little thin – almost as if it were initially intended to be a larger arrangement performed by a group (calling up the UP10TION members right now). Truthfully, the song is actually okay (*coincidental word choice here*), but the smart wordplay where ‘5K’ in Korean is pronounced ‘oh-K’ gets lost on me when it is repeated over and over again. It is fine for the first two choruses and then through the bridge it starts to really grate. Genuinely I think it is the song’s biggest turnoff and that’s a shame because without it, and with a bigger commitment to the funk sound, it could have been a neat uptempo single. Le sigh.
Favourite songs from the album [SCENE26]: Asteroid / Coup d’État
Kim Jaehwan (김재환) – I Wouldn’t Look For You (찾지 않을게)
Let’s take a moment to talk about Jaehwan – I feel like after Wanna One’s disbandment, general listeners have become so familiar with his ballad sound that they often forget that he was that ‘kid’ with the guitar four years ago. Jaehwan returns with third mini album ‘Change’ which is yet another reminder that, alongside his heartbreaking and poignant ballad tones, he is also capable of delivering us other styles and genres and can still keep his footing as a spectacular pop vocalist. ‘I Wouldn’t Look For You’ is a mid-tempo folk-style pop track, which sees Jaehwan bring back his trusty guitar (yay)! The rhythm of the strumming and the steady pulse of percussion sprinkle slight Latin influences through the track, giving it texture even as it leans on the more muted side of the sound spectrum. This is an acoustic-driven work of art in all its glory. We get a captivating single with truly magnificent vocals, and without all the extra production pizzazz and tricks that can complicate a beautifully simple sound – this is mainly about Jaehwan, his much loved guitar and a mesmerising vibe… and I am here for it.
Favourite songs from the album [Change]: Pray / Without You (With HYNN) / My Flower
OnlyOneOf – libidO
MV note: I high key feel like I’m intruding in some intensely private moments…
I’m still a bit of a baby when it comes to familiarity with OnlyOneOf’s discography, but after their ‘Produced by [ ]’ series saw them work with some of my favourite hip-hop and R&B producers my eyes and ears were most definitely open to this rookie boy group. New title track ‘libidO’ aims to follow the edgy GroovyRoom sound of ‘a sOng Of ice and fire‘ with a fresh alternative R&B track…. but somehow, to me, it falls ever so slightly outside of my expectations. ‘libidO’ seems to be an extremely polarising title track, with its experimental shades either winning people over or raising eyebrows. In my opinion, there are some nice sequences in there (pre-chorus in particular!) but they don’t always run through like a coherent thread and actually the members’ voices end up sounding far too hushed to make a huge impact on me (but that’s just me). In my personal opinion, I feel like it was always going to be an ambitious task to follow on from the ‘Produced by [ ]’ series, but this is a solid attempt at achieving a subversive KPop sound. As a person who was sucked in during ‘angel‘, it is not a shift in sound that resonates immediately with me in the same way, but given the amount of times I have listened to it now (just to figure out my thoughts) I have come to appreciate the moody mystery and haunting textures, and might find it growing on me even more with time.
Favourite songs from the album [Instinct, Pt.1]: byredO / tear Of gOd
D-CRUNCH – My Name
After their October single ‘Across The Universe‘, D-CRUNCH are back with new album ‘DAYDREAM’ and title track ‘My Name’ – a mid-tempo pop track overflowing with melodramatic ambience. I had a really weird experience when I first listened to this song and it is one that rarely happens to me -a chill ran through my body. Let me clarify, I was relatively ambivalent through the first verse and then the chorus hit and suddenly I got this HUGE shiver down my spine. Between the verses and the chorus we get a transition from the current everyday KPop elements, into a full rounded-out nostalgic chorus, propelling me back into my favourite second generation sound. The vocals in that chorus (!!! – every time Hyunwook and Hyunoh open their mouths, my breath hitches for a second). My gosh, it has been a really long time since I’ve felt truly moved by a boy group chorus – the tones are crisp, clear and piercing, delivering bold, memorable melodies. I rejoice over a vocal-centred chorus. As the song settles into its identity, it just gets stronger and stronger, ending up being a surprisingly explosive belter. This is exactly what I was waiting for with D-CRUNCH – I could hear potential in their previous releases, with some title tracks sounding cleaner than others, but this one is by far the best of the bunch. It is like they have found a groove that works, and honestly…. I’m just so excited for them.
Favourite song from the album [DAYDREAM]: My Name / Childlike
LUNARSOLAR – DADADA
Rookie girl group LUNARSOLAR’s exuberant debut single ‘OH YA YA YA‘ ended up being one of my top new finds for September last year, so naturally I was curious to see what they might follow up with. The group make their first comeback with second single album ‘SOLAR: rise’ and title track ‘DADADA’ – a song which moves away from the bright summery sounds of their debut and into the familiar edgier girl crush territory. My first thoughts were, ‘Well this isn’t anything we haven’t already heard a thousand times in recent years’ but the more that I listen to the song, the more I realise that it’s just the intro/outro and verses that I can’t quite get fully behind. Sadly they just don’t have any of the group’s own personality within them and just sound like numerous other girl groups who are chasing the same concept (ITZY are the reason haha). Having said all of this, it is the chorus that really exudes appeal. The group bring the vibrant energy from their debut and pepper it through the sprightly electro instrumental of the chorus, weaving extremely catchy melodies with their refrains. The chorus is a saviour to this song, I just really wish they would have used this texture through the majority of the track because this feels fresh, unlike the other parts of the song.
Favourite song from the album [SOLAR: rise]: Lonely
Other notable releases
SuperM – We DO
SANDEUL (산들) – More Than Words
Amber Liu – neon (feat. PENIEL)
SuperM are back with yet another INCREDIBLE (truly) CF song as they team up with Prudential Corporation Asia for this release. ‘We DO’ is an energetic track with endless amounts of funk and groove, bringing us a song full of fun as the group lean into the disco genre. The instrumental is crammed with bold flourishes – from brass to theremin-sounding synth, and is overlaid by the members’ stunning vocals. In my previous SuperM reviews I have been a little dismayed at line distributions and let’s face it, it’s not perfect here either (rappers??), but they got the vocal line perfect…. I actually had tears in my eyes as Ten is given space to shine, and what an impression! I’m a little sad because this is likely the last time we will get the full SuperM line up but what a song to go out on…. and I will have this in my head as much as ‘Let’s go Everywhere‘.
Our honey-toned vocalist Sandeul (B1A4) has teamed up with ‘PROJECT RE:BORN’ to bring us this delightful rendition of ‘More Than Words’ – a pop ballad that was initially released by verteran male group 5TION back in 2001 (twenty years ago!). Given how wonderfully Sandeul brings this song back to our lives, it is a true testament to how timeless a sound the original is. Sandeul is a vocalist whose tone always brings such comfort and warmth with each song that he sings, and this is certainly no different. The acoustic instrumental which carries the nostalgic notes on its back is the perfect backdrop for Sandeul’s soothing voice, and this throwback number is one that matches his shade and personal colours down to the finest point. This is a remake single that I didn’t know I needed, and one that I now cannot get enough of.
Before I even get started with the song, what was that intro please? I thought I had clicked on the wrong video. Anyway… ‘neon’. You know, it has been so long since the disappearance of f(x), and honestly I haven’t really been following Amber’s music for a while for various reasons (I’m sure some will know why), so I forgot just how synonymous her tone is with a side of the second generation sound and truly, it really sparked some kind of nostalgia in me to hear it again after so long. The bright electro pop of ‘neon;’ is heavily laced with retro groove as the synths lightly dance in the background and the bass and percussion keep the song chugging along. It is a surprising change to some of Amber’s other solo work, bringing a vibrant, carefree sound – what’s more, we even get a burst of a Peniel vocal (I am alive and feel blessed!)
Also check out:
HENRY – Trust Your Pace (힘나쏭) *
NiziU (니쥬) – 『Poppin’ Shakin’』
Park Ki Young (박기영) – I’m not OK
SIGNAL – Goodbye
U-MIN (유민) – YOU&I
withus – DOKKEBI: Ground (쾌지나 칭칭 나네)
yourbeagle (김미정) – To Me
YUKIKA (유키카) – Insomnia
*This song is a promotional track for 야나두 (Yanadoo) and was actually initially released in April 2020 but has been formally released a year later
Verbal Jint – Public Figure (공인) (feat. Swings & Han Yohan [한요한])
I was overjoyed when I heard the news that Verbal Jint was going to be releasing new studio album ‘Inflection Point’, especially since it has been a while since the last official album. But imagine my surprise when I see who is featuring on the title track – I had the breath snatched from my chest. You already know it’s going to be a strong sound when you hear these three names on a track together. ‘Public Figure’ is captivating right from the start, beginning with a steady mid-tempo beat, but overridden by the charisma and different personas that the three rappers bring to the table with their delivery. They each bring different shades to the rhythm and ride the beat in ways that bring varied energy to the unchanging instrumental. The track is so simple, and yet it feels like it is overflowing with impact and that is pure credit to the way the rappers imbue their energy into the track, characterised by Verbal Jint’s unique rap patterns, Han Yohan’s deep tone, and Swings’ clean, emphatic flow. Impeccable. This entire album is a treat (as always from Verbal Jint) working with some of the most anticipated artists of this day – it is among the epic collections of the year so far.
Favourite song from the album [Inflection Point]: Open Letter (feat. Hwa Young) / The Nines / Youth / My G-Wagen (feat. SUPERBEE)
Simon Dominic & Loco – At Night (밤이 되면)
And…. this is not what I was expecting AT ALL from this AOMG pairing. As of late, both rappers, who are also a mentor team on ‘High School Rapper 4’, have been releasing tracks that play more into melodic rap styles, bringing softer, brighter energies. Although ‘At Night’ still sees the two create a track that is light on the instrumental and isn’t a hype track, it also sees them head down a darker path, bringing us a mid-tempo hip-hop with a huge air of mystery. The guitar flourishes in the instrumental along with the snare programming makes for a steady funk, and then the rest of the power comes from the exceptional delivery that these two respected rappers serve up. Rich and unmistakeable tones, clean and neat lines, charismatic flows – it is just jaw-dropping. This song truly rose up out of nowhere and smacked me right in the face – I didn’t realise just how much I was missing this kind of hip-hop track – one that strikes a balance between suave energy and addictive impact – until I pressed play. Simon D on that chorus hook with that deep tone – as he says, “so seductive”.
K-Indie / Ballad / Trot
JUNG YUP (정엽) – Waltz For You
It has been an awfully long time since the leader and vocalist of Brown Eyed Soul, Jung Yup has released a solo song (one that isn’t an OST track), gracing us with a single here and there every year or so. This new single ‘Waltz For You’ is, exactly like the title suggests, a stunning folk-ballad track with instrumentation befitting of a waltz. The music is the perfect blend of ballad instruments with a slight lilt in the arrangement to give it that ballroom style hop rather than the fluid notes of a traditional ballad song. Jung Yup’s ever endearing vocals swim delicately over the instrumental, casting a spell on listeners with his gentle but mesmerising vocal shade. The backdrop is the fitting sound for this stable, comforting voice, creating a single that feels personal, heartfelt and unique. It is not everyday that we get to hear a song ready for the ballroom pop out of the music machine but it certainly is a magical sound that surely will bring soothing joy to many over this Spring season.
Other Indie releases:
Charme (샴), Yang Jin Seok (양진석) – lonely road (고로 (孤路))
KO YOU JIN (고유진) – hair (머리카락)
lofi, homezone – away
OYEON (오연), Yang Jin Seok (양진석) – black heart (먹먹한 마음)
SOI BUTTON (소이버튼), Yang Jin Seok (양진석) – rest (쉬고 싶어)
YI SAEBOM (이새봄) – Because It’s Spring (봄이라서 그래)
How To Be Thirty
[MOVIE] Turn: The Street
Header image credit: SM Entertainment; Navillera image credit: Soompi; How To Be Thirty image credit: OtakuKart; Hello, Me image credit: Soompi; Turn: The Street image credit: YouTube Oh! Master image credit: KPopMap.