[Digital Single] IU – Road No. 1 OST Part. 3

Road No. 1 OST Part. 3 is the third digital single released by IU. It was used for the drama, Road Number One.

roadnumberoneost3
Released: July 14, 2010
1. Because I’m a Girl (여자라서)
2. Because I’m a Girl (piano ver.)

Because I’m a Girl is your usual OST ballad with its dramatic strings and gradual building up into that bigger final chorus. With that said, it’s a pretty good song. The melody is memorable and IU’s voice is quite emotive. Actually, I think this is one of her strongest vocal performances and this really shows the vocal improvements she made in two years when compared to Lost Child. Although I probably won’t revisit the song again, it is a pretty solid ballad. The piano ver. is just much shorter and really focuses on IU’s voice. It’s a nice addition and I like that it isn’t very long as the main version is the stronger one.

Overall: This is a pretty good OST single. It’s generic in the sense that these are the kinds of songs one would hear in many dramas and it can sort of get lost in the sea of these songs, but this is one of the stronger examples.

B+

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[Digital Single] IU – Nagging

Nagging is the second single released by IU. The title track includes 2AM’s I’m Seulong.

nagging
Released: June 3, 2010
1. Nagging (잔소리)
2. Rain Drop

Nagging is a pretty sweet sounding pop song with a bright and bouncy quality to it. Both IU and Seulong do a good job, although I find IU’s sweet vocals to fit the song a little better. Maybe it’s the mixing, but IU’s vocals seem clearer. Still, it’s a pretty nice song and has a catchy melody. The music is really fun and I love the strong beat tied with the string-like synths. Rain Drop is a little slower and brings a sweet quality that reminds me a bit of spring. It’s not particularly catchy, but I do like how the music sounds and has some folk-like elements that helps it stand out from the other song. IU also shows some of her vocal ability in this song. A cute tune.

Overall: This was a decent single. I think both songs are quite sweet and are a good fit for IU’s vocals, but I don’t feel any particular attachment to both of the songs. There are some nice moments here and there, but IU has easily eclipsed these songs.

B+

[Album] Hamasaki Ayumi – Duty

Duty is the third album released by Hamasaki Ayumi. It continued to her growing success and proved to be her biggest album to date, peaking at #1 for four weeks and selling over 2.9 million copies. The singles were successful with all five of them scoring in the top three and two being number one hits. The album’s biggest single was Seasons, which sold over 1.3 million copies.

duty
Released: September 27, 2000
1. starting over
2. Duty
3. vogue
4. End of the World
5. SCAR
6. Far away
7. SURREAL
8. AUDIENCE
9. SEASONS
10. teddy bear
11. Key ~eternal tie ver.~
12. girlish

starting over is a funky intro as it continues that dance sound found in her last album. I think it would have been cool to see this as a full song. Oddly, we transition into the title track, Duty. This one is more dramatic and utilizes a more intense arrangement with its almost gothic like quality and focus on strings. My favourite part of the song is the chorus as there is an interesting build-up that really helps to intensify everything and make the melody more emotional. I do wish the music pushed a little more in this part as it sounds the same throughout the whole song. It’s a strong song though. vogue was released as the album’s first single and was the first part of the 2000 singles trilogy. I didn’t really like this song a lot at first, but it has an interesting latin pop quality to it that has grown on me tremendously. It has a really odd structure with large instrumental gaps between different sections of the song. The chorus is really catchy though and I find it one of the strongest melodies on the album. End of the World sort of continues with the same vibe that the last two songs, but really pushes things further into the rock category. I really like the power this song has, but I do find it to be a bit messy as the guitars just come blaring in and the melody bounces around them and doesn’t feel particularly focused on anything. I actually prefer the verses here. It’s not a bad song, just not my cup of tea. Luckily, SCAR comes in and is a much stronger album track. This song has a dramatic quality to it as well, but is more of a ballad and has a bit of a folk feel due to its sample. I wasn’t impressed by this song at first, but it has also grown on me a lot. The chorus is a bit slow, but the dragged out feel of the melody really helps to build tension. Far away was the album’s second single and the second of the trilogy. I feel like the music to this song is the type of sound I love to hear from Hamasaki and with its dramatic pop focus and sprinkles of other genres. There are a few odd transitions between the different parts of the song, but each section is quite strong anyways. The chorus is especially gorgeous, although I do find the music is get a bit overpowering at times. Still a solid song. Fourth single, SURREAL, is my favourite song on the album. It starts off with a beautiful piano line and some striking synths and a crazy beat and slowly gains more tension as it progresses. I love the contrast with Hamasaki’s vocals as well. The break in the middle of the song helps to create a lot of power for that final explosion of energy and sound in the second half of the song. I love how intense everything sounds and that despite all that, the melody is still really memorable. AUDIENCE was the album’s final single and was released after the album’s release. It’s my least favourite of all the singles because it brings a bright pop/dance sound that has a melody that just doesn’t fit in this more intense album. I find the contrast of the melody and music to be a bit odd as the music feels like it fits perfectly here. The verses are also really great and would have excelled with a stronger chorus. It’s not a bad song though. SEASONS is one of Hamasaki’s most well-known songs and was the most successful on the album as it was the final part to the trilogy. This is more of a full-on ballad and I feel like it’s one of the songs that is totally “Hamasaki Ayumi” with its pop/rock arrangement and dramatic and dragged out melody. It’s not my favourite ballad from her, but I do think it’s a sweet song and has a nice calmer sound when compared to the first seven songs. teddy bear is another ballad, but it focuses on the piano. This is a really beautiful tune as it focuses more on the feeling and lyrics. It’s one of her more emotional tunes and focuses on a lover that left her. The melody isn’t the strongest, but there is a sincerity with Hamasaki’s vocals that helps keep the song memorable. Key ~eternal tie ver.~ is one of the more forgettable songs on the album. It returns us to the pop/rock sound, but I feel like it is missing something. The melody is actually really nice and I feel it would have benefited more from something a bit more streamlined pop than the rock sound. This is especially evident when the strings come in and help to heighten the songs energy. It has its charms, but sort of falls flat at times. girlish finishes the album up on a pop/rock note, but is the album’s weakest song. First, Hamasaki’s vocals are more on the “cuter” side of things and it just does not work in this genre. Also, the chorus is just difficult to get through. She sings at a really high pitch and it comes off really piercing and the chorus is sort of just blaring a long. It’s just not for me.

Overall: To be honest, I was expecting to not like this album that much and feeling that it may be weaker than LOVEppears, which I really enjoyed. However, besides the last two songs, this is a pretty solid album. I feel like there is an intensity to it that just was only found a few times in her previous albums but is really present here. It also feels like a good transition into her next few albums. A lot of the songs feel like predecessors to some of her later ones. I was pleasantly surprised and a gem that gets a bit forgotten among her fans.

A-

[Repackaged] OH MY GIRL – Windy Day

Windy Day is the repackaged version of the group’s third mini-album, Pink Ocean. The title track was used as the promo song and was one of two new songs and a remix.

windyday
Released: May 26, 2016
1. WINDY DAY
2. STUPID IN LOVE
3. LIAR LIAR
4. B612
5. I FOUND LOVE
6. KNOCK KNOCK
7. One Step Two Steps (한 발짝 두 발짝)
8. LIAR LIAR (Chinese Ver.)

WINDY DAY is one of my favourites from OH MY GIRL. The group changes things up for the quirky pop tune, LIAR LIAR, by bringing something a little more folk-like. This song has an uplifting quality that focuses a lot on the guitar to bring a brightness to the verses. The chorus is a bit different as there is an explosion of energy that pushes the percussion and synths. I love the catchiness of the song and the different sections of the chorus help to bring different intensities. The coolest part is that there is a variety of instruments that are featured that aren’t heard in your usual K-Pop songs. STUPID IN LOVE is a relaxing pop tune with some light R&B elements. I quite like the verses because it feels like it is building to something big. The chorus isn’t as hard-hitting as I like, but the laid back nature of the song is a nice change of pace from the last song. I didn’t like the hook at first, but it did grow on me a bit. I just wish the girls didn’t sound so airy in their singing and had some power to their voices. The repackage also includes the Chinese version of LIAR LIAR. Their pronunciation isn’t too bad, but I feel like that tied with the high-pitched delivery of the song is not the greatest combo. Not bad though.

Overall: The new songs were both pretty decent and I did like the new version of LIAR LIAR. I do feel like WINDY DAY sticks out like a sore thumb, especially considering a lot of the other songs are more on the straightforward “pop” route, but it’s a solid song that it carries itself well. STUPID IN LOVE could have a bit more power, but it was also solid.

A (new songs)

[Mini-Album] BLACKPINK – SQUARE UP

SQUARE UP is the first mini-album released by BLACKPINK. DDU-DU DDU-DU was used as the promo song.

squareup
Released: June 15, 2018
1. DDU-DU DDU-DU (뚜두뚜두)
2. FOREVER YOUNG
3. REALLY
4. SEE U LATER

DDU-DU DDU-DU is a bit of a departure from the group’s other material. It follows most closely to the sound of Whistle with its stronger hip-hop elements, although this one is definitely more hard-hitting. The verses are pretty much given to Jennie and Lisa for their raps, while Rose and Jisoo come in on the pre-chorus to give a more slowed and dramatic tone. The chorus is quite repetitive, but the attitude and hook is strong enough to carry everything. I quite like the contrast of the different parts of the song and there is a lot of power. It’s not their strongest song, but it is memorable. Forever Young reminds me more of 2NE1 and I love that the group went back to the more obvious pop elements. It has some tropical house elements to it, but I do like it plays with things so they aren’t stale. The chorus is definitely more hard-hitting and I feel like the whole feeling of the song is heavier than the usual breezy tropical house hits. It’s fun and catchy, although I do not like the odd breakdown about three minutes in, which switches the sound. Really is a midtempo pop song with some hip-hop and reggae inspiration. I’m not quite into this song as much because I feel like the music doesn’t sound as clean as it could be. It feels like they are trying to continue the sound from the last song, but the synths and editing just sound off and don’t fit. The melody is quite catchy though and reminds me of iKon’s Love Scenario. See U Later starts as a nice change from the other songs with its effortless pop sound. However, my main gripe with the song is when that drop comes in for the chorus. It just doesn’t fit the brightness of the verses and I think it ruins the flow of everything. Once again, the girls go the repetitive route, but things just don’t flow as strongly. I think I like everything but the chorus is disappointing.

Overall: This is a solid release from the group. I did enjoy all the songs, but I wish there were some tweaks done to the last two songs. The first two were quite strong and they felt much more polished in their delivery. The music was cleaner and the melodies weren’t muddled. The second half just felt a bit all over the place at times.

A

[Album] Nakashima Mika – LØVE

LØVE is the second album released by Nakashima Mika. While her first solidified her status as a rising star, this album’s success was on an even bigger scale. It positioned her as one of the top artists of the early 00’s as it peaked at number one and sold well over 1.4 million copies. The singles were also very successful with all five scoring in the top five and one becoming her signature song.  The album also includes all the new songs from her first mini-album, RESISTANCE.

love
Released: November 6, 2003
1. Venus in the Dark
2. Love Addict
3. aroma
4. Yuki no Hana (雪の華; Snow Flower)
5. RESISTANCE (album version)
6. FIND THE WAY
7. marionette
8. Seppun (接吻; Kiss)
9. You send me love
10. Be in silence
11. LOVE NO CRY
12. Aishiteru (愛してる; I Love You)
13. LAST WALTZ

What a great way to blast off the album. Unlike her debut which opened with a cover of Amazing Grace, this one really showcases Nakashima’s subtle change in style with the jazz-infused pop tune, Venus in the Dark. This is one of my favourite songs from her because it has so many interesting sounds that pop up. I love how it has so much energy and really goes all out in its music with the funky bass and blaring brass. Her husky vocals also work gorgeously here. Love Addict is a great follow-up to because it continues that jazz-infused pop sound. Released as the album’s second single, this song is over seven minutes in length, but the whole song is such a trip and it never feels like it drags on too long. It really feels like something heard in a jazz club with it mix of strings, trumpets and light percussion. The best part of the song is that fast-paced chorus where things take a powerful turn. aroma was originally put on her first mini album and it is a great calmer jazz tune. I love how it really ties with the other songs, but brings a different style that includes a bit of blues as well. The chorus isn’t as catchy, but I do like the use of falsetto to bring an airier quality to the song. It’s a solid listen. Yuki no Hana is the juggernaut in Nakashima’s discography. The song has been covered numerous times throughout Asia and it is easily her most recognizable track. Instead of something jazzy, we are given the first ballad and its fifth single. Its focus is mostly on the piano, strings and her voice and it is absolutely gorgeous song. Although the lyrics are rather sweet, there is a sense of sadness that the music brings and Nakashima brings the right emotion into it especially with that final stretch from the bridge to the end. It’s one of her best. RESISTANCE was my favourite song from her first mini and I love how it is one of the more “pop” songs on the album with its sparkly synths. Although I’m not a big fan of songs that open with the chorus, it is really catchy and easy to get sucked into it again. That and the music has some great touches to it that help keep the energy up and interesting. It has grown on me a lot and I think it’s a stellar tune. FIND THE WAY was released as the album’s fourth single and used as an ending theme to the anime show, Gundam Seed. It’s a stunning ballad that focuses more on the slower and sweeter quality it brings. Musically, the song’s use of strings is quite heavy and really helps bring a sweeping quality into the song. There are times where the song comes off a bit dull or slow, but I do love the feeling it tries to build on. It’s a sweet ballad and fits Nakashima’s vocals wonderfully. marionette was actually released on the first single as a B-side. It’s one of the more “pop” songs on the album and features some R&B elements as well. I don’t find the verses to be that interesting  especially as Nakashima’s vocals seem rather monotone. However, I love the chorus as the music really pushes the song forward. The funky synths work really nicely with the easy-going melody. A decent tune. The third single, Seppun is actually a cover of an ORIGINAL LOVE song from 1993 of the same name. It’s actually my favourite song on the album and it has been the song that has grown on me the most. I use to skip this song a lot, but the relaxing reggae sound really got to me and I love how the music is still infused with some other elements to keep it cohesive with the rest of the album. It’s not the most powerful song, but the melody just slowly seeps into you and I love the vibe it gives. You send me love is the first new song since Venus in the dark and is one of the weaker songs on the album. It’s not bad, just forgettable as the melody isn’t as impactful and the music has been done better in other songs. I do like the funky vibe that the song has with the underlying bass though. Be in silence was released as the B-side from the album’s second single. It’s a bit different because it has a heavier guitar influence and a sultry beat that really gives some neo-soul vibes. I really love the music as it works great with the inclusion of strings. The chorus really brings everything together in a nice way while having a pretty catchy melody. I don’t think it’s A-side material, but it is definitely a great filler. LOVE NO CRY is a new song and is the first upbeat tune in a while. I love the blast of energy it has right from the start and the song has a great pop sound with some oldschool R&B elements. The song isn’t the catchiest for me, but it is nice to hear some more fun, uplifting tunes on here. Aishiteru was the album’s first single and it is a pretty pop ballad. I love how sweet the melody is and Nakashima’s voice sounds especially beautiful here. The album version changes things up a bit bringing some more musical elements into the arrangement. It has a bit more brass and a bass that gives the song a bit more energy. I like the changes as it works well on the album, but it misses that simple sweetness the original had. LAST WALTZ finishes things off on a slower note. Originally released on her first mini, this was probably my least favourite of the new songs. However, I do still like this song. It has a great vibe to it and I enjoy the airiness of the chorus. It’s not the type to bring a lot of impact, but I love how the melody melds into the music. It’s a nice way to end things off.

Overall: This is a stellar album and one of J-Pop’s finest. I love that there is a clear sound that the album wants to show off and that even though there is a variety of genres, they are all tied in through the similar elements in the instruments and atmosphere. I do believe the first half is much stronger, but the second half does have a few strong songs as well. This is a long album and it could have been cut down a few songs, but its overall delivery is fantastic. One of my favourite J-Pop albums.

A+

[Mini-Album] Red Velvet – The Velvet

The Velvet is the second mini-album released by Red Velvet. One of These Nights was used as the promo track. This mini is to represent their “Velvet” sound.

thevelvet
Released: March 6, 2017
1. One of These Nights (7월 7일)
2. Cool Hot Sweet Love
3. Light Me Up
4. First Time (처음인가요)
5. Rose Scent Breeze (장미꽃 향기는 바람에 날리고)
6. One of These Nights (De-Capo Ver.)
7. One of These Nights (Joe Millionaire Ver.)
8. One of These Nights (Piano Ver.)

One of These Nights is a really interesting change for Red Velvet as it is a ballad. It’s the type of slow-burning song that isn’t that interesting at first, but soon unravels its magic. The verses are a bit light and don’t have much power to them, but focus on the ambiance and the emotion. The chorus is where things pick up and I really love the melody. The music does pick up after the first chorus and the power in the bridge really helps to push the song to the next level. To be honest, this reminds me of an early 00’s J-Pop ballad and I love it. Cool Hot Sweet Love is a total change with its hip-hop and R&B elements. It starts off in an awkward way and I feel like the verses are reminiscent of current American music. However, the chorus is definitely where things change as there is a blast of pop that helps to bring that needed melodic sound. I wish the song was built more around this instead of the other elements as they feel out of touch with each other. Light Me Up starts off sounding like it will be a jazzier tune, but it really lays it in with the R&B influence. I feel like this could easily be seen in a current R&B/soul album. I do enjoy parts of it, but there are also other parts I wish just weren’t as messy. I feels like the music is a bit all over the place and the melody gets overpowered by the barrage of sounds. It has potential to really blast off, but ends up a bit too chaotic. First Time is another ballad, although there are is an R&B beat to help push the song forward. To be honest, this song just does not have the same feeling as the promo track and it ends up on the generic side. It’s not a terrible song, just not as memorable. It sounds like it is trying to take on an 80’s pop ballad sound but the vocal performance just doesn’t elevate the song. Some of the girls sound awkwardly edited and it makes a weird quality over the vocals that feels like it doesn’t fit with the music. Rose Scent Breeze is yet another ballad, but I like this one much more. It focuses more on the piano and vocals and brings a really gentle and calm feeling. The vocals are much clearer and the girls sound really beautiful. The music is also more grand and has a really great build up to the climax that works wonderfully with the melody. It’s not the strongest ballad in terms of a memorable melody, but it is a solid tune. The next three songs are different versions of One of These Nights. The De-Capo Ver. changes things up by doing some weird things with the music. It’s really odd because parts of the music are changed in pitched and it tries to create a different kind of sound. I don’t think I like it that much though because there are elements that really ruin the mood of the song. The Joe Millionaire Ver. also does some things to music, but I do feel like the execution is much better. The changes aren’t that distracting and add some really cool sounds to the song. I really love the Piano Ver. because it sounds like the girls are singing right there. Wendy’s voice is especially gorgeous here and I love how she sounds during the bridge. It doesn’t quite give the same effect of the original, but it’s a nice version.

Overall: This isn’t a bad mini. Disregarding the different versions of the promo track, this mini isn’t as impressive as I was hoping. I do like that they experimented with their velvet sound, but I wish some of the songs were more interesting or not as messy. The girls have the capability of pushing songs to the next level, they just need the right material. There were no terrible songs, just most of them sat on the middle ground.

B+