[MINI-ALBUM] 4minute – Volume Up

While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of.

 It should come as no great surprise when I admit I’m not a real lover of girls groups; with the exception of 2NE1 I find the cutesy, sugar-flower looks and sound of many groups entirely painful.  But I’ve always found 4minute to have a bit of an edge and it’s because of this I approached their new release with mild excitement.

4minute 'VOLUME UP'

We all know I hate intro tracks so skipping over Get on the Floor the first song on this little mini is title track Volume Up. Coming off the back of previous releases I My Me Mine and Mirror Mirror, Volume Up sounds classy as hell. With the delightfully smooth saxophone combined with HyunA’s fierce rap and the delicious wails from fellow members, Volume Up certainly has impact. Not to mention the video is still jam-packed with 4minute’s trademark sex appeal.

Love or hate HyunA—and I know she has a lot of haters—people can’t deny her sexiness, especially in this video with hoards of backup dancers grinding into her. Against an expensive set and fabulous outfits the girls all look fierce and erotic causing even the straightest of females to go woah mama. While I don’t understand the ‘vampire’ image I’ve heard the MV described as containing, it certainly is dark, edgy and mildly gothic with a hint of sophistication which is reflected in the music itself. While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of. The emotion, power and overall feel of Volume Up certainly reflects this but the girls disappointingly fall back into their party ways in the latter half of the album.

Following on from Volume Up is I’m Ok which continues this newfound mature vibe. In spite of the mellow appearance, I’m Ok is chock-full of powerful, raw emotions, making it one of the best tracks on the mini-album and possibly one of their greatest songs to date. Say My Name falls back into 4minute’s familiar party girl rhythm and is certainly high in the energy and fun departments. While not as memorable as Volume Up and I’m Ok thanks to the comparatively hollow emotion, it’s a solid enough track and progresses the album nicely.

Femme Fatale is once again a high-powered dance tune but is a little light on the badass-ery the title suggests. Dream Racer is relative funky and it’s no surprise the girls’ elected to perform this alongside Volume Up during their comeback stage. Still, I personally would have preferred to see I’m Ok up against the title track as I feel the two complement each other nicely; however Dream Racer is a safe choice due to the familiarity it no doubt possesses for 4minute fans.

Finally this leaves Black Cat, which is by no means the weakest track on the album. With its jazz feel spoiled by auto-tuning the vocals, the originality of the track is weakened but still contains enough difference in sound to make it stand out amongst the other songs on offer.

4minute’s new mini-album is a fun, energetic floor-filler underpinned with mature emotions. The girls’ have well and truly maintained their sexy sound and image and managed to grow a little in the process. Although the subtle power of title track Volume Up is not carried solidly across the whole mini-album, overall it is fun enough to listen to. That said, it’s probably better enjoyed on the dance floor of a party than through the speakers of one’s stereo.

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[SINGLE] 2NE1 – Scream

Scream is full of 2NE1’s trademark personality but a little lacking in the attitude department.

I find 2NE1 particularly refreshing in the grand scheme of Kpop as they can’t really be pigeonholed into the respective sexy or cute categories like much of the female idol cohort. With their powerful and generally non-sexualised image they certainly do stand apart from many girl groups on offer and their wild appearance is just the cherry on top. But let’s all remember kids: appearance is not everything.

2NE1 - Scream

2NE1’s music fortunately supports their strong image and personality and this brings them very close to being the full package. I know I’m approaching bias and girl-crush territory but I assure you this is piggy-backing across from the utter brilliance that was the 2NE1 Second Mini-Album. But however unfortunate this may be, Scream is not the Mini-Album. This short Japanese single is catchy at best, but lacks the punch of previous releases, most notably Can’t Nobody and 내가 제일 나가 [I Am the Best].  Scream in no way compares to its heavyweight predecessor—released as Nolza in Japan—but is still quite listenable. I always have more respect for original Japanese endeavours than shoddy translations so Scream is already a winner in that regard. The track is full of 2NE1’s trademark personality but a little lacking in the attitude department, with this only showing through in Minzy’s and leader CL’s rap, making Bom’s power vocals during the chorus the overall standout of the song.

I’m always interested in 2NE1’s music videos, not because of any outstanding choreography—because let’s face it, it blows—but due to their ridiculous fashion. I shake my head at anything Dara wears ninety-percent of the time and admire CL’s often androgynous getup. In regards to Scream, maknae Minzy deserves all the points for her indecently BAMF purple velvet suit. Any videogame geeks would also no doubt be impressed by CL’s Triforce earrings. I know I was.

 2NE1 SCREAM screencap01 2NE1 SCREAM screencap 02

Aside from the costumes, the MV is otherwise a bore as the girls do little more than walk and bounce around. Or in CL’s case, lounge on a throne in a leather ball gown. Everything fits together in a nice little package, however, and the visuals certainly do match up with the feel of the song. It’s miles behind what the girls achieved with 내가 제일 나가 [I Am the Best] but decent enough.

The b-side to this single is Fire, a Japanese version of 2NE1’s debut Korean track. This song defined 2NE1’s fierce sound that set them apart in the industry and this song still works just as well in Japanese. While it’s disappointing  no other original track was included on the single, this remake completes Scream well due to their similar feel. Considering the girls also just released an album of Japanese versions of their Korean hits, I don’t think it would have killed them to make another original track to include on this single. But oh well.

[mini-album] MISS A – Touch

As a whole, nothing is particularly memorable and despite the several repeats I endured for the purpose of this review, not one track remains with me.

I’m not overly familiar with miss A’s catalogue and this is the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to one of their albums in entirety. I wasn’t particularly fond of the girls until I saw them live and became momentarily enlightened—they have a great image and strong stage presence, and in general their performance was fun and energetic. As there has been a lot of talk about TOUCH around the internet, I thought I’d give it a listen.

Looking at the cover seeing the girls spread out in the floor in dark, sexy makeup and tight little black dresses, I initially expected a fierce collection of songs. I was, however, disappointed.

Here is the track breakdown.

01. Touch

The opening of Touch really doesn’t know what it’s doing—the alternating chimes and electronic drums create an interesting juxtaposition which is deadened when the track opens up. The tempo is a little slower than anticipated and lacks the power one would expect of a title track. It seems to float through to completion without ever reaching any form of climax along the way. The vocals are great and no doubt the choreography spectacular but the song is bland and ultimately forgettable.

02. Lips

Lips sets its sexy tone right from the get-go and is perhaps the only track which befits the image on the album jacket. It has the feel of 90s club music, which gains kudos purely for the nostalgia factor, and this had me almost wanting to get up and dance. The track approaches what one expects of the album but inevitably falls short by once again being unmemorable.

03. Rock n Rule

When I saw the title for this song I was hoping for something fierce and powerful. Unfortunately for me the song turned out fluffier than the title promised. Rock n Rule is a bit of fun with a nice upbeat feel and will provide some listeners with cheer and optimism with its bouncy tune and light vocals; I, however, find it generally uninspiring to the point of being irritating. Usually the more I listen to a song, the more like it, but in the case of Rock n Rule, the more I listened the more I hated.  It’s catchy, but not catchy enough.

04. No Mercy

I have to say I was a little excited by the funky bass-heavy opening but this fell flat when the song chilled out in a similar manner to Touch. It failed to inspire me to do little more than bop my head along to the beat, which is disappointing of any pop song. Like previous tracks, it is almost impossible to recall any lyrics or melody of No Mercy once the song has ended. And I listened to this song many times. Many, many times.

05. Over U

This is possibly the best track on the album. Although Over U doesn’t sound particularly different to the other tracks—there is a very distinct flavour running throughout the entire compilation—Jia’s powerful and sexy rap segment makes it a highlight. The rap adds an attitude that is clearly lacking across the other tracks making it all the more engaging. The repetitive chorus is a catchy hook bound to get stuck in listeners’ heads but also threatens to drive them insane.

06. Touch (Newport mix)

I was intrigued by this track from the moment the piano sounded in the introduction. I’m not a great lover of ballads but this sound suits the feel of Touch and this mix seems a more appropriate composition than the original. The vocals are haunting against the mellow piano backing and this automatically creates a more powerful impact than the one presented at the opening of the album. I was pleasantly surprised with this as remixes and alternate versions of songs tend to be overly electronic, ravaged by auto-tune and generally painful to listen to. This song brings out a refreshingly elegant side of miss A and overall, Touch (Newport mix) is a more memorable track which should have seen Touch the original scrapped all together.

This mini-album is quite cohesive: everything has a very discernable ‘miss A’ sound and a common feel underpinning each of the tracks. That’s not to say all the songs sound the same. Well, maybe it does. The album lacks depth and each song seems to be a progression of the next. With each track pumping a similar tempo (exclusive of Rock n Rule, but that pop-based melody fails in containing any hook to catch listeners for more than one play-through) it is hard for any one song to leave a resounding impression. As a whole, nothing is particularly memorable and despite the several repeats I endured for the purpose of this review, not one track remains with me.

If you’re a of miss A then I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re new and looking to get in on the hype then this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. With the exception of Over U and the surprisingly stunning Touch (Newport Mix) there is nothing quite strong enough to drag in the new listener.