Let’s go! Last week really popped with a mix of high profile releases as well as smaller underrated releases – surprisingly, along with the main big hits, it’s some of those smaller releases that have left a lasting impression on me…. so much so that I almost let the week slip straight past!
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.
SHINee – Atlantis
When SHINee first performed ‘Atlantis’ at their Beyond Live on Easter Sunday, I was pretty much sold – I remember thinking, ‘Wow this has SHINee’s name all over it’ – it plays to their strengths so perfectly, with electro funk in abundance. Now after hearing the studio version and seeing the MV, the entire package just screams SHINee. ‘Atlantis’ is a song full of exceptional vocal displays (naturally) and extremely memorable hooks (‘We’re under the water’ and ‘It’s like we’re underwater’ are always in my head), liberally distributed between grand, energetic synths. This is a title track so full of drama and theatricality, from the unembellished verses shining a light on SHINee’s core vocal strength, to the truly exuberant chorus which highlights how well SHINee execute vocal layering. What’s more, we get a modern and impactful rap sequence from Minho (thank you Changmo!). The arrangement of this track feels like a treasure chest (*hehe*) – the more I listen, the more gems I find, from all the different instrumental textures, to the detailed distribution of each members’ parts – an Onew ad lib will always keep me happy (and his parts in the bridge – astounding). Although this song isn’t the subversive hit like ‘Don’t Call Me‘ was, its deep impact (lol – sea related) still knows no bounds. I am DEVASTATED that, as Onew says “this is the last comeback we will have for a while” but I followed his advice and have definitely enjoyed it, and will continue to for a long time to come.
Favourite of the new songs from the album [Atlantis]: Area
Kyuhyun (규현) – Coffee
Super Junior main vocalist Kyuhyun is back with the final instalment in his seasonal project, ‘PROJECT : 季’ (releasing a single every season to match the mood of that season). ‘Coffee’ is the release for spring and sees Kyuhyun bring us a sprightlier folk pop ballad compared to winter’s solemn ‘Moving On’ (review here), really reflecting the fresh, optimistic feeling of this season. Kyuhyun employs the soft sentimental side of his vocals here to paint a sweet picture alongside the light and tender instrumental of strings and subtle percussion. Although we don’t get to hear Kyuhyun’s full, unleashed power vocal on ‘Coffee’, the tender side to his sound culminates in a song that just feels so warm and comforting to listen to, feeling more like a conversation (or soliloquy) than a song, and puts a gentle smile on my face with each listen. MV note: Gong Myung why are you here again? Is he really just going to appear in every cute/sad MV and break my heart a million times? Because I can’t stand it.
KANG DANIEL (강다니엘) – Antidote
Kang Daniel is back with mini album ‘YELLOW’ – the moody album from which pre-release track ‘PARANOIA’ (review here) has come from. The dark ambience of ‘PARANOIA’ was a vibe that I ended up falling for, but I didn’t imagine him to extend this mysterious, personal sound to much of the rest of the album, let alone the next title track. ‘Antidote’ is a mid-tempo track laced with R&B elements and blended with electric guitar accompaniments. Interestingly those guitars choose to remain in the background for much of the song, creating an instrumental that feels a little low-key, rather than one that energises Daniel’s sound. On the whole, the song is quite the engaging listen – I find myself being wowed by the honest, raw textures in Daniel’s vocal and I find the chorus hook unforgettable, but by following his prior release with a similar edgy concept and with a scaled back instrumental, it does feel like it loses some of the grandeur of ‘PARANOIA’. Nonetheless, the cross-genre R&B and rock style is a welcome sound (even if that rap in the bridge is a bit bizarre) and is the perfect match for this personal confessional. I have a feeling this is a song that will continue to grow on me over time.
Favourite song from the album [YELLOW]: Save U (feat. Wonstein)
Yoon Jisung (윤지성) – LOVE SONG
Former Wanna One leader Jisung was discharged from the military late last year (HOORAY!) and has followed suit from previous teammate Daniel in making his comeback over the past week. ‘Temperature of Love’ is Jisung’s second solo mini album, the title track of which is ‘LOVE SONG’. This pop track moves along with a mid-tempo energy, weaving measured and gentle melodies through the track, reflective of muted Spring vibes. This is certainly a contrast to the 2019 ballad single ‘In The Rain‘ and gives Jisung the opportunity to show more of his fun side, and bless us with some choreography. However, despite being more of a pop number, the arrangement of ‘LOVE SONG’ doesn’t inspire much, leaving Jisung’s vocals to do all the hard work. Jisung has a wonderfully clear and comforting voice and has, in the past, really wowed me, especially through his work in musical theatre. His vocal quality absolutely cannot be disputed, yet it seems like his production team were unable to truly tease out his personal colours on this track. Having said that, the entire mini album is wonderful, with B-side tracks that are far more gripping and representative of Jisung’s solo sound.
Favourite song from the album [Temperature of Love]: Love Counseling / SUNDAY MOON / I hope
A.C.E (에이스) – Down (feat. Grey)
Side note: I’ve got say, you know you have completely dropped off the Western music radar when you have to google Grammy nominated artists. Genuinely had never heard of Grey – I need to diversify my listening again.
A.C.E are a group who, in my mind, really exemplify what it means to be a KPop group – they always bring us unique, experimental sounds that push the sound envelope and, in my opinion, get it right all the time. Their influence has particularly been seen internationally, so here they are bringing us a collaboration single pitched at the Western crowd, and let’s just say, that sound envelope certainly does not get pushed here. The group collaborated with American EDM producer duo Grey on ‘Down’, and as a result we get a pretty generic sounding pop track that will certainly appeal to listeners outside of the KPop sphere (thus likely achieving its objective) but a side of me was hoping for another collaboration like ‘I Feel So Lucky‘ which really felt like an A.C.E song. Despite this not really being my kind of song, A.C.E execute the all-English track with such sweet confidence and ease and uplift the instrumental with their unique vocal tones (DONGHUN!!! – I love his voice and it really shines here, so does Jun). If this track has given me anything, it is a greater desire for a full member A.C.E comeback (we miss and love you Sehyoon) because A.C.E’s Korean music is exactly where it’s at.
LUCY, Lee Suhyun (이수현) – LOVE ME LOVE YOU
Just the sight of these names in combination on a song really excited me – my new favourite band LUCY and Lee Suhyun of AKMU fame – on paper it is a folk explosion ready to happen but instead we get a track which is really heavily overlaid with a trap hi-hat (and I do not love it – Wonsang… why?). If we were to select that percussion line and just hit delete, I have a feeling my thoughts on the song would be much different. Yechan’s sprightly violin accompaniments feel like a breath of fresh air (as always) but they are far too muted underneath the percussion, and Suhyun, Sangyeop and Gwangil provide such comforting and familiar tones as expected, but they don’t push through in the same way that one might expect. The selling point of this song comes from the lyricism of Kim Eana, who tells such a poignant and important story from the point of view of a neglected/abandoned pet, it moved me to tears a little (I’m a soppy pet owner). Regardless of my thoughts on the production of the song, this collaboration is hugely important. ‘LOVE ME LOVE YOU ‘ is a collaboration with the animal shelter “Kara The Bom Center” to raise awareness about pet neglect, and was released for free as a result – go and check it out! In the meantime, I am putting a request in for another shot at a LUCY x AKMU collaboration in the future.
GreatGuys (멋진녀석들) – Touch By Touch
MV note: The group also released an MV for the English version
Despite GreatGuys debuting in 2017, I only really came to know them last year with their single ‘RUN‘, and I remember my friend and I saying, “Aren’t GreatGuys pretty great?” (so cheesy) – but it’s true. So far I have been intrigued by the group’s title tracks but yet I know next to nothing about them, and when a group are bringing out a fun-filled dance pop song like ‘Touch By Touch’, it has me wondering why we aren’t talking about them more. Admittedly, ‘Touch By Touch’ isn’t breaking through any barriers, but the feel-good pop sound (and those neat brass injections) is always a necessity in the boy group sphere and it brings the biggest smile to my face. The song is full of vibrant, exuberant energy, catchy chorus hooks, and bright engaging vocals, making this a recipe for success – there is just so much to love here. I do think that it is time we all started putting GreatGuys on our watch list because their recent explorations in sound have been extremely interesting and I can hear them sharpening their skills and improving with each release. We can only hope for them to hit that breakout track some time soon.
DONGKIZ – Universe
DONGKIZ are finally back with new single ‘Universe’, the follow up to August’s edgy release ‘Beautiful‘, and this time they go back towards what they do best and have brought us a bright, funky pop track full of youthful charisma. Honestly I’m so happy – like I said in the GreatGuys review, a bright pop sound is really welcome in boy group territory, especially with the prevalence of darker concepts so I am here for this bit of contrast which DONGKIZ definitely deliver. This song and concept matches their age and energy and I feel like I’m seeing the group’s personality shining through once again after their experimental phase through 2020. This exuberant single brings out some of the best in the group, highlighting some LOVELY vocal tones (Jonghyeong I see you) and well-placed melodic rap phrases. This is definitely one of my guilty pleasures from last week – I feel my heart exploding with joy every time I hit play. This track certainly helps DONGKIZ to stand out among their peers, so here’s hoping they’ll keep rolling with the same kind of momentum moving forwards!
Other notable releases
THE 8 – Side By Side (나란히)
Hyunjun Hur (허현준) – VO!D
MAJORS – Rain on me
Minghao (THE 8) is the latest SEVENTEEN member to bring us a solo release and really I couldn’t have predicted what kind of style or genre he was going to go for – which is why ‘Side By Side’ has charged straight into my heart. As soon as I hit play on the MV, I could tell that this was written in Chinese – not only is the jazzy pop instrumental and acoustic blend really similar to some existing CPop styles, but the flow seems really stunted in Korean (and then you listen to the Chinese version and you confirm…. it just flows so much better). This progressive pop track gives us so much insight into Minghao’s hidden vocal potential and it makes me want to listen to his voice ALL day. ‘Side By Side’ has fast become an unexpected favourite, and I’m looking forward to seeing what is next on the horizon for his solo sound. Also I feel like I looked away and Minghao became an adult lol.
Former The Boyz member Hyunjun has made his comeback with new single ‘VO!D’ – a mid-tempo trap R&B track with moody, edgy concept. This is quite the change from solo debut single ‘BARAGI‘ which certainly leant more on the traditional Western pop side. This new single helps to locate his sound back in the KPop sphere, moving more in line with current trends. However, unlike his KPop peers, he brings us a trap single that feels raw, exuding passion and emotion. The song is nothing that we haven’t heard before but the frank and honest lyrics, along with his open delivery make for a more captivating single than his debut. I didn’t realise that this single would be sung mostly in English, much like his all-English debut, which I find interesting but certainly a great move for engaging with the international market, who this sound will likely resonate with the most.
Newly debuted girl group MAJORS have made their first comeback with single ‘Rain on me’, the follow up to their debut ‘Spit it out’ (review here). This song sounds like two (maybe more) songs in one – I feel like there are some neat elements in there but they aren’t tied together coherently, so the song ends up really fragmented and has no sense of itself. It’s a shame because the song starts off really well with a bright melodic first verse and saxophone flourishes, but the introduction of that EDM chorus just jerks along shakily and it doesn’t do anything for highlighting the strengths of the members. However, probably most frustratingly is that the chorus has part of a riff and instrumental that sounds like another song (it’s a boy group, a B-side??….) and I absolutely cannot identify what it is. Their B-side track ‘Dancing in the starlit night‘ is far far better! Give that a listen instead.
Also check out:
CIX – All For You (Japanese release)
Jung Yonghwa (CNBLUE) & JJ Lin – CHECKMATE (R3HAB Remix)
MONSTA X – Flavors of Love (Japanese release)
SEVENTEEN – ひとりじゃない (Japanese release)
Jay Park (박재범) – SUMMERIDE
Jay Park has been blessing our speakers with endless releases for years and over the past year the number of incredible collaborations and project releases have really tipped the scales. ‘SUMMERIDE’ is Jay’s first fully solo release since ‘All The Way Up‘ and although that was only 10 months ago, so much has happened for Jay between then and now that it feels like a lifetime ago. He opts for a chilled R&B vibe with this track which emphasises ethereal synths to create a dreamy soundscape, but introduces a steady backbeat to keep the track moving with a funky groove. Jay brings out the absolute best of both sides of his musical skills on ‘SUMMERIDE’, with his irresistibly smooth R&B vocals caressing us like a lullaby, but interspersing his melodic rap sequences throughout to bring texture and lively contrast through the track. This is the kind of song that makes you feel like hopping into a car and going on a drive straight into summer, with its addictive chorus hooks and soothing ambience. Classic Jay sound – certified crowd pleaser.
Dvwn (다운) – Yeonnam-dong (연남동) (feat. lIlBOI)
MV note: I absolutely cannnot get used to KOZ Entertainment being under HYBE. Also Yeonnam-dong is where I stayed when I did my first ever Korea trip so when I listen to this song, it’s like I can picture the streets that Dvwn is referring to.
In typical Dvwn style, we get a single worthy of lulling us into a peaceful slumber in ‘Yeonnam-dong’. Dvwn’s light but captivating vocals cast a smooth and soulful spell over this low-tempo R&B track – the perfect addition to your lo-fi study playlists. The instrumental and subtle melodies confer a slight jazzy lounge room vibe, whilst lIlBOI’s unique rap syncopation brings a little life into the second verse to ensure we don’t actually get lulled to sleep. The track is the perfect blend of chilled low-key ambience and slight optimistic instrumental flourishes, bringing a sense of soothing comfort to our speakers. I recognise that this kind of relaxed vibe isn’t for everyone, but for me, this entire album fits in perfectly with my late night listening patterns. It brings together necessary ethereal sounds with Dvwn’s relaxing vocal in a combination that will surely never get old. Having said that, although I love this title track, and the album, a part of me really wants Dwvn to use his B-sides to explore other sounds too. Nonetheless, ‘Yeonnam-dong’ is the perfect title track to exemplify his skills, sound profile and persona.
Favourite songs from the album [It’s Not Your Fault]: Yeonnam-dong (feat. lIlBOI) / Goodnight (feat. Kwon Jin Ah) / HOME
Also check out:
Brick – What if
Nieah (니아) – Lemonade
Owen – Hip Hop II (Prod. DJ Wegun)
P!nup – Sweet Love (feat. Nody Cika)
SKULL – WHOO (feat. Mommy Son)
U Sung Eun, Lee Seung Woo (유성은, 이승우) – We Between Spring (봄 사이, 우리) (Prod. by 박근태)
UV– 질거미 (Feat. 권인하) (Too Close, I’m Sorry) * everyone HAS to listen to this – I just have truly no words for UV. Just pure awe (lol)
BUZZ – Dreaming
After their album release last month, veteran group BUZZ are back with new single ‘Dreaming’, the follow up to single ‘Analogue’ (review here). Compared to this prior release, ‘Dreaming’ takes on a slower pace and softer outlook, but the group’s recognisable rock passion still rings throughout this song, mainly buoyed by Min Kyunghoon’s impressive and passionate vocal display. The steady instrumentation builds in more optimistic sounds, as the guitars strum gently, providing Kyunghoon every opportunity to weave resonating melodies with his immediately recognisable vocal tone. Although this doesn’t hold the same immediate rousing impact as ‘Analogue’, the classic rock sound of ‘Dreaming’ still holds a special appeal, bringing a timeless sound back to the mainstream and highlighting that rock truly never dies. BUZZ really came back to revive my K-Rock desires.
Lanalogue – Atlantis
Following on from their March single ‘White Light (feat. Nody Cika)‘, rock band Lanalogue are back with new single ‘Atlantis’ (the second release from last week to be called ‘Atlantis’). The group tease out some of their natural punk elements and package them up into this altogether rousing, emotional rendition, offsetting some rough vocals with steady poignant instrumentals to create a moving rock ‘ballad’. The group have some wonderfully diverse vocal tones here, from clear power vocals, to unique punk rock shades, and a fascinating balance is reached between all members on ‘Atlantis’, creating a satisfyingly distinctive sound profile. I like this more than I initially thought I would, with the emotional resonance of the track shining brightly through all the unpolished edges – though I think that is also part of the group’s charm. The more I hear from Lanalogue, the more I come to appreciate the beauty in their unique sound. (Also on first listen I was so confused because the song starts in Japanese! Pretty awesome though, as it transitions languages so seamlessly).
DAVICHI – Just hug me (그냥 안아달란 말야)
DAVICHI are some of my favourite female vocalists in the Korean music industry, and they are for a reason – their epic ability to tell a story with their expressive voices. Even in new single ‘Just hug me’, which is more of an uptempo take on their normal ballad sound, they bring out every shade to their vocals to draw listeners in – from soft, tender lower ranges to clear, poignant upper ranges. As always, the magic of DAVICHI really comes to life when the two vocalists come together to highlight striking harmonies throughout the bridge. Although ‘Just hug me’ doesn’t hold the same kind of showstopping vocal impact as some of their prior releases, the light, brisk melodies and sentimental movements make for a sweet, engaging and necessary accompaniment throughout the spring season.
4MEN – Still (우린 아직 헤어지기 전)
Last year, the two remaining members of veteran R&B ballad group 4MEN rebranded as 2F, so the announcement of a 4MEN comeback struck me as extremely odd. After a little digging I realised that MAJOR9 decided to have a comeback with a fourth generation version of the group (the line up changes in this group are not easy to keep track of) so we have a three-member comeback – each of whom are new members (MAJOR9 are evidently still really keen to keep the 4MEN name alive). ‘Still’ is a beautiful ballad track incredibly fitting of that nostalgic and much loved 4MEN sound (really, it fits straight into the discography) and offers us some outstanding fresh new vocal tones to get used to, but I guess a part of me is a little weirded out that we haven’t been properly introduced to the new lineup yet (but I can hear Haeun’s tone loud and clear on this so I know that he is in this lineup – am I happy? Ask me later). Regardless, I LOVE this song – this is exactly the kind of soulful, emotional ballad track for me but I also think that this kind of sound is now so synonymous with vocalists of a certain age, so I worry that by having younger vocalists follow in 4MEN’s footsteps, MAJOR9 is prematurely ageing some fresh young talent.
Kim Nayoung (김나영) – A Letter For You (봄 내음보다 너를)
Popular ballad and OST singer Kim Nayoung is back with another single in the form of ‘A Letter For You’ – an exceptionally tender ballad track with a hauntingly skeletal instrumental. The stripped out backdrop pushes all the focus onto the moving lyrics and Nayoung’s honest delivery of each and every word, making this a truly heartfelt single. As the guitars pluck gently in the background, Nayoung forms each melody with her light, aspirated tone, creating a clear channel of communication between herself and the listener as she conveys the message of her letter. ‘A Letter For You’ is strikingly beautiful through all of its simplicity, enchanting us almost purely through Nayoung’s stunning vocal. This is truly wonderful, even if it is a little on the sombre side to listen to.
Kim Hee Jae (김희재) – Follow Me (따라따라와) (Prod. by 영탁(Young Tak))
And just like that…. a trot idol was born. This debut release (aside from a previously released OST track) from Kim Hee Jae is another forward movement in the trot cultural reset, propelling the genre into the younger markets. Kim Hee Jae is one of the finalists of last year’s competition show ‘Mr Trot’, and ‘Follow Me’ is a single which was produced by fellow contestant and show runner up Young Tak. This single is actually deserving of being in the pop section, because ultimately it is a banger of a pop song with the most subtle trot stylisations, however I wanted to give it proper credit by putting it in its own section. For the untrained ear, this would just sound like your average electro pop track, but you can hear traditional Korean instruments peppered in through the instrumental, as well as familiar trot melodic sequencing written into the verses and especially in the pre-chorus. Although Hee Jae doesn’t monopolise on trot vocal inflections here, opting for a clear pop tone instead, you can hear the genres intention through the songwriting and that is clear enough influence. Honestly – this is a hit. I’m impressed.
Also check out:
Also released this week:
JOY – Why isn’t love always easy? (왜 사랑은 언제나 쉽지 않을까?) | Webtoon: Romance 101 (바른연애 길잡이)
Kwon Jin Ah (권진아) – What I want (문턱) | Webtoon: Odd Girl Out (소녀의세계)
YB – SILENCE | Drama: Taxidriver (모범택시)