[AKR’s Playlist] Midyear Roundup – Light Version

AKR's Playlist - Midyear Roundup (Light Version)

Finally, a post to absolve myself from the guilt of not posting anything for months! Behold, my dear readers, this is what college life does to a poor writer. I apologize profusely for my absence but, as this school year is winding down, I thought this would my last chance to squeeze in a post before I drown in finals. Instead of having to go through the agonizing process of choosing one K-pop release to review, I decided that there were too many standouts in the first half of this year so I would write small blurb-like reviews for standout tracks.

And thus, I decided to just go for it and craft two different versions of a playlist. Think complementary versions of Pokemon games (i.e. Pokemon Sapphire and Ruby, Blue and Red, White and Black, etc.). Being a very fast-paced industry, a lot has happened in the K-pop realm since I last wrote about it. Many groups and soloists held their comeback campaigns and, of course, rookie groups sprout up like weeds nowadays. Here are some of the tracks that have been released so far this year that stood out to me the most.

In this “light version” of the playlist are songs that carry a lighter, more playful vibe. These are the upbeat, happier songs that have resonated with me thus far this year.

Click here for the “dark version” of the playlist, which sports more seductive or heavier songs!

The Line Up

(Songs: 9 | Duration: 33 min)

1) WINGS – 헤어숏 (Hair Short)

WINGS - Hair ShortNew duo WINGS proves that they have the vocal prowess to carve their own space in a saturated market with this gem of a release. Visually, the MV is beautifully unsettling. Musically, the song sports some very eclectic instrumental choices, from the teetering strings in the background to the more grating guitar sounds to the constant rumbling electronic loop. The duo’s vocals are very strong but the best part is that both ladies possess unique vocals that complement one another – with one possessing a huskier tone and one a more standard pop tone . Favorite moments from the song include the explosive choruses and that falsetto wailing during the bridge.

2) Orange Caramel – 까탈레나 (Catallena)

Orange Caramel - CatallenaIf you know my musical tastes well, you know that I am a sucker for the quirky. Let me tell you, Orange Caramel’s “Catallena” is a brilliant piece of pop. Drawing instrumental inspirations from Italo disco, borrowing the chord progression of Madonna’s 2005 hit “Hung Up“, and using vocal samples and a minor key version of the melody of one of the verses from a Punjabi wedding folk song, this song delivers on so many levels. While a vocally unimpressive track (I am not a huge fan of aegyo-pop vocals), “Catallena” draws its charms from just how damn interesting everything about it is. The simple, circular chord progression during the choruses and the crisp instrumentation during the verses create a soundscape very lucrative for catchiness. The choreography is enticingly adorable yet so simple that my parents could do it. The sushi concept being a metaphor for the objectification of female idols in the K-pop business is insanely creative – they could have used some dark imagery à la Sunny Hill to create the connection but instead opted for a seemingly random and colorful concept to talk about a rather heavy topic. All in all, a very creative release by OC that definitely deserved much more love.

3) Orange Caramel – So Sorry

Orange Caramel - CatallenaAnother gem on OC’s “Catallena” single album, this song sports a more Latin pop kind of flair. The bombastic horns and the swinging beat combine with the warped electronic sounds and OC’s signature aegyo-pop vocals to create a very potent dance track. While “So Sorry” is a bit more straightforward of a pop track than “Catallena”, I think it still holds its own in the interesting category and certainly deserves a listen.

4) 4minute – 오늘 뭐해

4minute WorldHonestly, I initially dismissed this song as just another Brave Brothers track and I wasn’t too impressed with the track on my first listen of this song. Well, it is a BB song for sure but the BB formula is a very potent one, it seems. I love the layering in this song, how it sounds simple and subdued during the verses and develops into exciting, fuller choruses. The pre-chorus and post-chorus are taken care of by vocal powerhouse Gayoon and she does a lovely job showing off her falsetto during the post-chorus (“미치는 거야” / “michineun geoya”) and Jiyoon sounds hardcore during her rap sections and outshines Hyuna, in my opinion. One of my main gripes with this song has to be that it makes it obvious who the core members of this group are and who are deadweight. Jihyun’s brief two-line verse (“뭘 그리 걱정해” / “mwol geuri geokjeonghae” ) added absolutely nothing to the song and her delivery, even pre-recorded, sounds dreadfully subpar.  At least Sohyun showed promise in her nasally delivery of her verse (“학교 끝나고 갈 곳 없나요” / “hakgyo kkeutnago gal got eomnayo”) and her pretty slick dancing. But, as of right now, it seems like 4minute is more like 2Yoon + Hyuna and the two backup dancers.

5) 4minute – Wait A Minute

4minute WorldIt seems as though 4minute took a page from f(x) and went experimental with their opening track to their latest album. Very interesting instrumental choices here and, I have not seen the translated lyrics for this song yet, but I suspect this song is replete with double entendres and sexy metaphors considering how seemingly random the food-related lines are. The hip hop beats with the catchy hooks keep the song from going too stale though it does lose its steam by the one minute mark. What saves the song somewhat is the incredibly weird and ethereal bridge where 4minute shows off their falsetto, with eerie, childish chants retorting after each line in the background. I did not expect such a musically risky track from 4minute considering that my past exposure to 4minute have been through their title tracks (which have been rather tame, musically) which is mostly why it is on this playlist.

6) Ga In – 진실 혹은 대담 (Truth or Dare)

Ga In - Truth or DareI have heard many cite that the similarities to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and I do agree that the instrumentation for both songs do stem from similar sources. However, while “Blurred Lines” was a misogynistic mess, “Truth or Dare”, through one interpretation of the song’s lyrics, criticized sensationalism and explored the dichotomy between an idol’s personal and professional identities. The instrumentals are very upbeat and crisp and I loved the attention and care put into the auditory details of the song – particularly the crazy saxophone samples and the liberal use of vocal samples (from the ooh’s to the ah’s to the subtler mm’s) to amplify and further decorate Ga In’s main vocals. Ga In definitely came back with a strong mini-album and her title track stands as testament to her maturity and grace.

7) Soyou & Junggigo (소유 & 정기고)  (Feat. 릴보이 of 긱스) – 썸(Some)

Soyu and Junggigo - SomeI always though Soyou’s vocals were too thin and wispy and this song changed nothing about my perception of her vocals. Surprisingly, her delicate vocals work well against Junggigo’s stronger sounding vocals. I really liked the contrast between the two vocals and Soyou’s signature excessive breathiness somehow works out during the choruses. Perhaps a love song like this one seems to demand more delicate vocals because I feel like Hyorin’s belting or even her chipmunk-esque falsetto would have sounded completely out of place in this song. The falsetto during the choruses and the verses are rather pretty. The rap break is a little jarring for me and the instrumentation is generic and straightforward but I still like this song; it has a certain charm that I can’t shake off. Also, can I just say that B1A4’s Baro is just SO ADORABLE in this video?! Ahem, moving on.

8) Acourve (어쿠루브) (Feat. 한올, 리와인) – 사랑노래 같은 이별노래

AcourveI recently stumbled across Acourve’s latest single and fell in love with it right away on the first listen. The vocals are beautiful and the ooh ooh ooh’s during the verses are so damn catchy. The piano playing in the background give the song that jazzy, sophisticated touch while the acoustic guitars balance the piano and percussion out with its unique sound. While I usually denounce key changes in songs, the key change at the end was tasteful and really added to the song. Overall, this happy, optimistic, catchy piece of indie pop is a must listen, especially as a pick-me-up after a rough day.

9) Akdong Musician – 지하철에서 (On the Subway)

Akdong MusicianAkMu’s release was one of the ones I anticipated the most because, let me assure you, this duo ain’t lackin’ in the talent department. Both possess beautiful vocals, genius songwriting skills, and pretty decent rapping skills. The beach sounds that open up the track are indicative of the good vibes that are to come with this song. Instrumentally, this song keeps it basic and organic – just an acoustic guitar accompanies the duo’s vocals. The laid back and light verses bounce in time with the strumming of the guitar but my absolute favorite part of the song is the beautiful harmonization that occurs in the choruses.

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