[AKR’s Playlist] The Sounds of 2013: Defrosting a Frozen Heart

AKR's Playlist - The Sounds of 2013 A

“Defrosting a Frozen Heart” encompasses songs that were either released or that I had discovered before July. These songs shaped the second half of my first year of college and the first half of a pretty awesome year. These are the tracks that helped me get through the cold winter and that last push until summer. Some of these songs even rekindled my desire to be in love again, thus the title.

Love is a very fickle force and I’ve had to learn that the hard way in the past. One moment, it will entice you to cross the country on foot to confess your love to someone you barely know. The next moment, it will stab you in the back and leave you with a heart that is poisoned by disillusionment, frozen by betrayal. However, I think what I realized during this part of the year is that, yes, love is fickle, yes, love ain’t kind, but that’s what makes the chase so damn viable. The risks are so great, the challenge seemingly so insurmountable, but once you find that special someone, once you come out of the chase victorious, the reward is greater than anything the lottery can offer.

The Line Up

(Songs: 21 | Duration: 1 hr, 15 min)

1) Girls’ Generation – I Got A Boy

2013_snsd_i-got-a-boyThis was the very first k-pop song I heard this year and I watched the music video for it about two minutes after the new year arrived. My sister and I were pretty excited for this release (me more than her though) because the teasers were really intriguing and funky so I had high hopes for this song. I still remember reading reviews on this song and people’s reactions were really mixed  – people either thought it was a hot mess engineered by the brainless producers of SM or a novel and fresh masterpiece that resuscitated SNSD’s stale repertoire. I stand somewhere near the masterpiece pole of the spectrum. I’ll admit that the song is a hot mess but it is an artistic hot mess. It is a high energy collage of sounds and the inclusion of hip hop and retro instrumentation were unique albeit a little contrived. While the transitions between the sections of the song seemed to lack any semblance of effort in making them sound natural and flowing (“don’t stop, let’s bring it back to 1:40” is the producers’ way of saying “we gave up so let’s pretend this transition sounds godly”), this track broke the bounds of a typical Girls’ Generation or even a typical k-pop release. This song set the tone for the year as 2013 was a year full of risk-taking and edgy material.

Honorable Mentions: Romantic Street [cutesy, jazzy Girls’ Generation fluff done with a touch of class and some decent vocals]

2) Lee Hi – Dream

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.50.38 AMLee Hi was one of my favorite rookies this year because her vocals are everything and she is just so awkwardly adorable on stage. This was a highly contested spot on my playlist because most of Lee Hi’s tracks from her two-part release this year could have claimed this spot. “Dream” is a very intimate ballad and I absolutely enjoyed Lee Hi’s vocals in this track. The instrumentation was kept simple with just a piano backing Lee Hi’s powerful vocals up. The beautifully melancholy sound from this track is haunting and this haunting quality is what made this song a standout for me.

Honorable Mentions: Turn It Up [powerful and commanding intro track where Hi does some much needed ego-tripping, catchy and strong beats accompany equally strong vocals], Fool for Love [jazzy and laid back, the instrumentation just sounds lovely and Hi’s vocals are top notch as usual]

3) Two X – Only U

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.51.40 AMThis song found its way to me after I had Googled something incorrectly. I don’t remember what I Googled that led me to this rookie group and this song specifically but I’m glad I made a typo because I found a nice gem of a track. The beat is reminiscent of Rihanna’s “Irreplaceable” but it has a lighter feel to it than Rihanna’s track. The piano grounding the track during the chorus sounds very jazzy and the diverse instrumental layers used create a very quirky but distinctly k-pop sound.

4) Ladies’ Code – Dada La

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.52.07 AMThe swinging syncopation and jazzy piano and vocals create a very potent pop track. I am a sucker for some falsetto so the chorus was immediately catchy for me. The trumpet solo after the first chorus was a nice touch and made the track sound much more authentic and vibrant.

Honorable Mentions: Bad Girl [very dramatic piano opener leads to an intense, galloping, syncopated beat and some loud, jazzy horns, very soulful and beautiful vocals]

5) Girls’ Day – 기대해 (Expect)

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.53.25 AMOn the surface, this track is but a simple pop track that is hook-heavy but that’s what I like about this lead single. It’s a simple but intense k-pop track that moves quickly through its verses, pre-choruses, and choruses. That key change at the end and Minah’s wailing those high notes after the key change were very well done and the release of the tension that was being built throughout the swiftly moving song was just wonderful. It’s a no-brainer on why this song was one of their most successful songs – they ditched their saccharine aegyo-pop for something more serious and mature and, most importantly, substantial. Their previous singles were forgettable because they were all fluff. This kind of pop is what sustains a fanbase and I commend Girls’ Day and their producers for following the example set by Girls’ Generation and shaking things up with “Expect”.

Honorable Mentions Good Effort: Girls’ Day World [they tried sounding hardcore and decided to try ego-tripping and, for that, this intro track deserves mention, albeit not honorable but perhaps just a simple gold star for effort]

6) 4minute – Whatever

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.53.44 AMThe surprise at the one-minute mark was a welcomed one because I thought this song would drag on at the pace it was going for the first minute of the track. The tempo change and the intense beats during the second half of the song were very interesting and addicting and the vocalization at the climax of the track was hilarious. I’ve never been a fan of 4minute but this song was a pretty trippy track and I dig trippy.

Honorable Mentions: What’s Your Name [this would be an honorable mention but this track is not by 4minute because it’s by “4minnus” LOLOLJK]

7) SISTAR19 – A Girl In Love

20130130_sistar19_nineteen-600x600I love this chill, groovy track. It has all the makings of a solid pop song. Solid instrumentation, smooth vocals, singable hooks and choruses, everything is just easy to listen to and easy to groove to. Hyorin isn’t forced to resort to her chipmunk falsetto and stays comfortably in a range at which she excels. “Gone Not Around Any Longer” would have taken this spot had it not have had the worst fake out of a teaser this year. I totally wanted that trippy, edgy song advertised by the teaser but, of course, it was all a lie and we got an “Alone 2.0”.

Honorable Shameful Mentions: Gone Not Around Any Longer [teaser and crushed dreams aside, it was a pretty solid “SISTAR” track, along the vein of “Alone”, Bora didn’t get any love for this track though and it was pretty much “Hyorin and the backup ‘rapper'”]

8) 15& – Somebody

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.55.32 AMNot going to lie, their debut single was really boring. This single turned things around for them because it was upbeat, exciting, and still showcased their lovely vocals. This duo clearly knows how to sing and belt it out and I just love the pseudo-country elements and hip hop beats in this song. Amidst the heavy and dark tracks infesting the waters of k-pop, this was a bright and optimistic track proclaiming that desire to be loved and to love someone. You may not find that somebody today, tomorrow, or next week but you will find this person eventually.

9) SHINee – Orgel 

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.56.10 AMSHINee is one of the few boybands that I absolutely love and listen to and their releases this year were spot on and so artistic. There were so many choices for this spot in the playlist so it was just so difficult choosing just one but I especially liked “Orgel” because it was so eerie, haunting, and just so weird. Something feels off-kilter about this track but, before you feel too uncomfortable, the boys’ vocals reel you back into more comforting territory. The melodies are beautiful and the beat is very straightforward yet catchy.

Honorable Mentions: Excuse Me, Miss [slick, catchy beats, smooth vocals, funky instrumentations, all ingredients for a very groovy pop track], Dynamite [explosive (hehehe) and very upbeat, the abrasive electro sounds contrast nicely with the smooth vocals of SHINee], Sleepless Night [wistful ballad, masterfully sung, needs to be on some drama’s OST]

10) Juniel – 잠꼬대 (Sleep Talking)

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.56.35 AMJust a cute little waltz from cute little Juniel. I really liked her darker single “Bad Man” from last year so her cutesy “Pretty Boy” release was a huge letdown but at least there was this gem of a track. It sounds like it could fit into the OST of a melodrama with its accordion instrumentation and sounds very light and playful. Juniel’s vocals are very wispy and soft, which sounds nice in lighter tracks like these.

11) Rainbow – Tell Me Tell Me

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.56.50 AMRainbow seems to be my source of guilty pleasures. “Tell Me Tell Me” is a generic k-pop track but I really like the strings incorporated into the instrumentation and the burst of sounds following “shh anyways” sounds very nice. The beat is very driving and catchy. “Tell Me Tell Me” is not very prolific but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being simply pop.

Honorable Mentions: Golden Touch [retro horns, retro pop, very playful and light, another guilty pleasure track]

12) 2Yoon – Black Swan (feat. Nassun [낯선])

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.57.52 AMThe hip hop elements in this track are pretty neat and I was really surprised by the rapping. Nassun’s addition to the track augmented the authenticity of the track and gave that edge and bite to the track. I absolutely loved the frenetic instrumentation and powerful vocals of the track. 2yoon is definitely the powerhouse that runs 4minute and I am happy to see them finally release something because Hyuna was definitely hogging the spotlight and 4minute was getting to be “Hyuna and her backup dancers”. “Harvest Moon” was a creative and well thought out album and was definitely one of my favorites of the year.

Honorable Mentions: 24/7 [country in k-pop makes one exclaim “michyeosseo?” but it works, I swear it works, just listen to this track and you’ll realize that k-popfied country actually works]

13) Glam – I Like That

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.00.08 AMI love the retro samples used in this track and how this song kind of teeters between hip hop and pop. The “ooh”s in the background of the chorus were very interesting and the verses were rather entertaining. One of the things I appreciated about this track the most was how closely the song’s instrumentation and feel followed the lyrics. The uplifting lyrics of the chorus corresponded with the happy and bubbly “ooh”s and the aggressive taunting and ego-boosting lyrics of the verses had their hip hop sound to match.

14) Evol – Get Up

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.00.34 AMThis is an intense and upbeat track with some hardcore rapping and hook-heavy choruses. The very mysterious and ominous instrumentation gets a little stale but there are some neat little instrumental layers that get tossed into the mix as the song progresses to keep things from getting too stale.

15) EXO – Heart Attack

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.00.58 AMWhen I first heard the album medley teaser, this was immediately one of the standouts from that medley. The ominous and eerie instrumentals are very alluring and the hip hop beats make this song rougher than expected during the chorus. I think my favorite aspect of the song is how magical it sounds when the beats and all those layers are stripped away during certain parts of the song such as during the bridge and beginning of verses. EXO boasts a very capable vocal line so, needless to say, the vocals in this track were spot on.

Honorable Mentions: My Lady [jazzy, chill, and slick, foreshadows EXO’s Growl that was released later in the year], Baby Don’t Cry [melancholy and dramatic ballad with some weird twangs but some lovely, lovely vocals]

16) 2PM – Come Back When You Hear This Song

2PM-Come-Back-When-You-Hear-This-Song-MV-2pm-34420270-500-494There’s a few reasons why I like this song despite my hesitation when it comes to boy band releases. The instrumentation was more refined than past 2PM releases. The piano during the verses and the explosive electronic sounds during the chorus were extremely catchy. Dynamics were done properly – verses were quieter and lighter, choruses were appropriately explosive. All in all, it made for a great track to run to because of its upbeat nature.

17) Seungri – Love Box

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.02.55 AMThis is my favorite from Seungri’s release this year because of how slick it sounds. The beginning made me think it was going to be a heavy and dramatic track but the ensuing instrumentation is not cluttered or heavy and Seungri’s vocals aren’t overbearing at all. This is a very mellow and groovy track that was a nice contrast to the album’s darker and more brooding lead single.

Honorable Mentions: Gotta Talk To U [very refined, subdued, very nice guitar instrumentation and explosive chorus]

18) Bumkey – Bad Girl

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.03.07 AMTango instrumentation house a very smooth and sultry Bumkey. His RnB voice sounds right at home in this dramatic track and I love how the rap sections in the track really add to the tension and the drama of the track and how the track picks up after the first chorus once that driving beat layer gets added into the mix. All in all, a very slick piece of music that sounds wonderfully smooth thanks to Bumkey’s amazing vocals.

19) Sistar – Give It To Me

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.05.56 AMYou could argue that this is just another rehashed version of “Alone” but I think it is a step up from “Alone”. Vocals sound much better, the instrumentation is more spot on, and the song as a whole sounds much more cohesive. I also really appreciate that this wasn’t a “Hyorin and her backup dancers” single because the parts were relatively distributed well. In the live performances and music video, each member had their shining moments and their own verses to sing or rap. The strings and the piano create that tension which is explosively let out during the choruses where Hyorin belts it out. In my opinion, this was one of the strongest SISTAR and k-pop releases of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Hey You [groovy track that showcases some rapping from members other than Bora, Hyorin can actually sorta rap, very addictive chorus], Up and Down [very summery and catchy piece of pop, light and flirty]

20) T-ara, SPEED, The SeeYa, 5Dolls – 진통제

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.03.40 AMThis is a very unsettling and dark track that intrigued me very much seeing as it was a k-pop release. The rap sections bounced against the syncopated beats and the vocals were appropriately wistful and wavering. The key change during the last third of the track was welcomed as it prevented the track from getting boring. The piano line is rather haunting, making the ending very unsettling and eerie. This was definitely one of the most interesting tracks I heard this year.

21) C-Clown – Shaking Heart

CoverI was drawn to this track because of the very nice guitar in the instrumentation. The rap wasn’t too cringeworthy and the vocals were alright. This is a k-pop boy band release through and through so it is not down my alley at all but it was an enjoyable song nonetheless. I think the visuals drew me in more than the song though because the guys sported some very dapper suits and vests in the music video. Overall, a pleasant piece of pop with that sense of urgency since it is a song about a “shaking heart”.

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