[SINGLE] LEDAPPLE – Time Is Up/Sadness

I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride.

Despite having been around for two years now, I only came across LEDapple when they released new single Time Is Up at the beginning of 2012. Although I have nothing to compare with, I’m told changes to the band’s line up has brought about shifts in their sound. But I don’t care what LEDapple were like before—I like them now just fine.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up'LEDapple 'Sadness'

The New Year saw LEDapple return with new vocalist Hanbyul and the staggered release of singles Time Is Up and Sadness in January and March respectively. I usually don’t review two releases in the same post but given both singles contain just one track I thought I’d make the exception. Well, there are also intros and instrumentals included but who cares about those?

Korean ‘rock’ bands don’t have a wonderful reputation in my eyes thanks to the comparatively flavourless FT Island and CNBLUE but LEDapple turned out to be refreshingly poppy. The edgy rap verses combined with a delightfully catchy chorus of Time Is Up has created a wonderful end product that will, as Kpop should, get stuck in your head. The MV is watchable but very, well, boxy and features some awkward choreographed moves for the two vocalists, Hanbyul and Kyumin. The members also randomly sprout mechanical appendages without any discernible reason.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up' Screencap 01

LEDapple are noticeably different from both FT Island and CNBLUE in that they don’t sound like The Beatles and this is no doubt due to the inclusion of rap against a modern pop backdrop. Maybe I have a latent love of rap to which I am yet to admit that has caused the incredible soft spot I have for this track but either way LEDapple has given me a new, more optimistic outlook on Korean soft rock bands. Newcomer Hanbyul’s voice suits their apparent new sound and fans should welcome him with open arms.  While I’m not really sure how one goes from studying dentistry to becoming a lead vocalist in a Korean rock band but I’m quite glad Hanbyul made the conversion. As he was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride. I mean, how can you resist that cute accent?

The more recent release of Sadness shows yet another side of the new LEDapple by presenting a mellower yet still catchy pop-rock track. Although mostly devoid of all that rap I appreciated so much in Time Is Up the small inclusion at the end was just enough to add that flavour missing from other soft rock bands on the market. The main downside of this release is how stunningly boring the MV is; I know you’re a band and you like playing instruments but do you really just have to stand around and play them? LEDapple almost managed a dance in Time Is Up and that small factor does contribute to that MV standing miles apart from those of the same genre. Longer clips of the drama episodes interspersed throughout the instrument-playing would have made Sadness slightly more interesting. But only slightly. And I just can’t with that matching hair dye; I couldn’t with B.A.P and I certainly can’t with LEDapple.

While I’m more than happy with the 2012 singles LEDapple has granted us but I have to say I’m a little curious about their previous releases. It would certainly give me a more informed opinion of the band’s overall talents and sound but where’s the fun in that? I’m more than content to appreciate LEDapple as they are now. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, that is.

[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.

[SINGLE] 東方神起/TVXQ – Still

I feel like grabbing a blanket and snuggling down on the couch in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate.

As soon as I saw 東方神起’s new single Still was a ballad I dreaded having to write a review for it. Luckily for me, the song didn’t turn out anywhere near as painful as I feared and I’d almost go as far as to say I like it. If I were having trouble sleeping on a cold night I would gladly have Still on repeat in order to put me to sleep. And I mean this in a good way. No, really.

東方神起 - STILL

東方神起 really like ballads, huh? It’s such a shame I don’t. As previously mentioned I do, however, have slightly more tolerance for Japanese ballads for whatever unjustifiable reason. There’s something about Still I can’t quite hate and despite its slow tempo it’s not particularly boring; instead of nodding off I am overcome by feelings of comfort and warmth. There is also something decisively Christmassy about it—I feel like grabbing a blanket and snuggling down on the couch in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate.

  東方神起 - STILL screen cap 02  東方神起 - STILL screen cap 01

Much to my grievance the video is fluffy as hell and I can’t stop watching it because of all the warm fuzzies it fills me with. Although the boys do nothing more but wander around and stare emotively at the camera, Changmin and Yunho are looking more than fine. 東方神起 have always, in my opinion, produced the highest quality J-Pop compared to other attempts made by fellow Korean groups and this is certainly reflected by their popularity abroad. While Still may not be anything outstanding the warmth that pours from the very depths of this track is bound to make it endearing to many. Even me.

One would assume that the B-side of a ballad single would in fact be more uplifting but this was not to be the case with 東方神起’s latest release. One More Thing carries on from where Still ended limiting the breadth of the single. It has a little more bounce to it but lacks the undeniable fuzz-factor of the title track. One More Thing is not a bad song, but not a great one either and probably won’t be earning a space in my playlist anytime soon.

The single is rounded out by One More Thing -SAKURA Version-, Still -Less Vocal- and One More Thing -SAKURA Version Less Vocal-.While this brings the total track count up to five, these varying versions are nothing more than a cheap way to bulk out the track list. Oh SM (or Avex in this case), why so tight on the budget?

Some things never change, I guess.

[SINGLE] NU’EST – Face

I haven’t been this gender confused since my Visual Kei days.

It’s taken two months but Pledis Entertainment has finally released NU’EST out into the hoards of anticipating Hallyu connoisseurs. Being the first male group to appear on Pledis’ roster NU’EST has been watched with keen interest. With diverse visuals and a fresh new sound they surely won’t disappoint. Hopefully.

NU'EST - Face

NU’EST do look nice, don’t they? Brand-spanking new, straight from the Pledis oven—or their mother’s wombs, which is perhaps more accurate given their ages. Regardless, they have been well presented with a deceptively mature edge. Leader JR has a wonderfully fierce stare and maknae Ren is perhaps the most androgynous creature I have come across in K-Pop. I haven’t been this gender confused since my Visual Kei days, let me tell you. With such visual diversity NU’EST delicately straddle the divide between pretty flower boys and fierce badasses. This in itself has its own appeal.

Moving on to the music and it’s no great surprise that a debut single contains an intro track. Nu, Establish, Style, Tempo is taken from the words for which acronym NU’EST stands: New Established Style and Tempo. This intro, however, is a little misleading. Nu, Establish, Style, Tempo is a heavily dubstep-inspired rap piece which presents NU’EST as a hectic techno-pop group, of which they seemingly are not. While it would have been wonderful to see a full dubstep idol group, this sound is not replicated in the singles’ two tracks, aside from a brief inclusion in the Face MV.  I found this to be a little disappointing.

Face sits neatly in between a standard, poppy track and a B.A.P-esque fierce and edgy debut. The song is very catchy and certainly easy to listen to; I picked up on a distinct Europop feel and this made perfect sense when I found out title track Face was provided by Swedish composer Daniel Bergman. The melody suits the vocalists well and the rap interludes provides the edge suggested by NU’EST members’ visuals. The MV is decent (though I don’t know why I’m watching high school boys beat the crap out of each other) and choreography crisp; however, I wish Pledis Entertainment had elected to omit the dubstep dance break from the CD version of Face as it was severely out of place with the generally mellow tempo.

With a techno-pop based title track it only makes sense that the B-side is a little more reserved. I’m Sorry has a thick R&B feel and quite removed from run-of-the-mill soppy pop ballads. The vocals are smooth and well-polished for a debut single and the minimal use of autotune is always a blessing.  There is certainly talent amongst these sixteen- to eighteen-year-old rookies.

After a clean pre-debut campaign that leaves  EXO and SM Entertainment[1] looking like mismanaged fools, NU’EST have made a successful appearance on the K-Pop stage. While Face might lack the punch many expected, it is still an admirable effort and Pledis Entertainment should be proud of their first boy group. We can only assume they will gain strength as they continue to grow and develop.


[1] See this previous post for my in-depth thoughts on EXO.

[Single] B.A.P – Warrior

WARRIOR is a fierce display of rookie talent complete with a butt-tonne of BAMF-ery

There is something impressive about a rookie group creating such a stir amongst an imposing cohort of established artists. B.A.P has made a spectacular debut with Warrior and certainly proven to be deserving of my attention. With many groups popping up with teenage boys sporting androgynous flower-boy looks it’s deliciously refreshing see a boy band with balls. Let’s take a look.

01. Burn It Up (Intro)

I’d always thought intros were a waste of precious album space. I still think this. Burn it Up isn’t  an intro as much as it is an unfinished half-track,  presenting itself as a fully-fledged song only to end abruptly. The track itself had potential to stand up alongside the rest of the album but feels as though the producer got lazy and dogged out halfway through. They really should have just completed the song—it would have served as a better introduction to the collection of tracks assembled on the single than this half-arsed piece.

02. Warrior

Ah, what to say about Warrior? Leader Bang kicks off the song with a display of his overwhelmingly deep vocals that had me thinking—how old is this kid again? Warrior is a fierce display of rookie talent complete with a butt-tonne of BAMF-ery. Given B.A.P’s heavy involvement in the hip-hop genre it’s no great surprise that the verses are comprised of talented rappers Bang and Zelo interspersed with the typical wailing of the group’s other vocalists. The vocals are all solid, with Zelo especially being commended for his machine-gun rap in the second verse. The downside to this powerful song is the use of banal hip-hop English phrases such as what’s the name of the game and my personal favourite bow wow wow wow wow. Yes, that is quite a treat. While I can’t speak for the Korean lyrics, these lines have me face-palming something chronic.

03. Unbreakable

Unbreakable has a noticeably different feel straight from the opening seconds and is in great contrast to Warrior. While rap verses are once again a feature, the stand out of this track is the vocal efforts of remaining members Him Chan, Dae Hyun, Young Jae and Jong Up. Despite its initial ballad appearance, Unbreakable packs a surprising amount of punch with a deceptively catchy chorus bound to get stuck in your head.

04. 비밀연애 (feat. Song Ji Eun of SECRET) [Secret Love]

Well, I can’t say I have a lot to write about Secret Love. I was disappointed and pissed off the moment the track started with that mellow RnB-esque droll. While Song Ji Eun’s soft vocals compliment the gruffness of B.A.P the overall feel of the song is dull, saved only momentarily by Zelo’s solo. Secret Love provides a disappointing end to an otherwise amazing debut album. What makes this song worse, however, is TS Entertainment’s decision to use it as B.A.P’s follow up promotion. What were they thinking?

Overall, this album kicks arse. TS Entertainment deserves a round of applause for producing a rookie group with a fierce debut instead of falling for the overused trap of catering to the vast number of pedonoonas. The one weakness of Warrior is that it has perhaps set the bar too high: producing a following release to top this little gem will take a lot of work. But this should be more than achievable with TS Entertainment’s small roster as they shouldn’t struggle to find time to devote to this project.

I eagerly await their next release.