[Single] After School – Flashback

Flashback is the fifth single released by After School. It is their first to include new member Gaeun and their first not to include former leader Kahi. The title track was the used as the promotional song.


Released: June 21, 2012
1. Rip Off
2. Flashback [MV]
3. Eyeline (투시)
4. Wristwatch (손목시계)
5. Timeless

Rip Off originally appeared on their debut Japanese album and was just translated over. It’s a funky pop tune with alien synths, a choppy vocal arrangement, strong beats and quite a bit of autotune. It’s an interesting opener, but it’s not the most powerful song. While I do find it quite catchy it seems there is something missing. The chorus feels like it needs to go somewhere, but it sorta falls flat. Actually the whole song feels that way. While the middle 8 brings in a nice change with it’s slower and more dramatic feel, the song goes right back to that flat sound. Nice, but a bit more seems to be needed.

Then we are thrown right into the title track, Flashback. Here we are given a sultrier sound, with heavy beats and “sexier” vocals. The opening mini-rap is a nice touch and the more graceful verses really help to contrast the power of the chorus. With that said, the chorus feels a little odd at times. I’ve listened to the song constantly and while I do enjoy it and it’s very catchy, there are times when the melody seems weak and seems to be missing the right hook for that section. The vocals were also a little odd and definitely not the strongest heard from some members, but it was nice to hear Jungah more.

Eyeline is actually a solo by member Nana, which is an interesting touch. I personally really enjoy the nasally quality to Nana’s voice and while she doesn’t have the best voice it’s certainly distinct and she can hold her own. Here she proves that with this dance / pop follow-up. The song has a club-like atmosphere to it with it’s funky beats and dramatic chorus. My only problem with this song is that it gets pretty boring by the end because nothing seems to be done with the song. It would’ve been nice to here a few adlibs from Nana or raise the pitch of the song at the end. And then suddenly we are brought to a ballad.

Wristwatch features all the members of After School and is your typical run-of-the-mill korean ballad. It has the sweeping strings, the piano, the attempts to make the chorus seem more exciting than it actually is and the stronger vocalists taking lead. After School has certainly done better ballads than this and I think this would’ve been better as a solo for Jungah or Raina.

Timeless is yet another slow song, but seems to have a bit more life to it. This one only features Jungah and Raina and is more pop with an acoustic R&B twist. It’s certainly a great song at showcasing their vocals and while I’m already tired of the single by this time, it’s a nice ending to it. I definitely think Jungah’s vocals work better for this song and it would’ve been nice to see a bit more power at the end from Raina.


Overall: This single just didn’t do that much for me. It had some good songs on it, but the production made the songs dull at times and the single just lost a lot of steam at the end. Also, the ballads were a bit boring and disappointing as the group has had great ballads in the past. The title track and Eyeline were the only tracks I really enjoyed.

B-

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[Digital Single] F.Cuz – Dreaming I

Dreaming I is the second digital single released by f(x).


Released: August 10, 2012
1. Dreaming I (꿈꾸는 I ) [MV]
2. Dreaming I (inst)

Dreaming I is a striking change from the music heard off of their comeback mini, For Century Ultimate Zest. Here we have a light synthed-up pop song with a strong beat, a gentle piano line and some haunting strings. In some ways, it has similarities to their past song, Midnight Sun, but with a brighter and more uplifting atmosphere and a more polished finish. What I really enjoy is how they infused the rapping into the choruses, but made it not too off-putting. My only gripe was the transition from the verses to the chorus as it seems rather adrupt and could’ve been made to flow nicer. Vocally, it’s a nice straightforward track and everyone sounds good and has sizable parts.


Overall: I like that they brought something different from their third mini and that it was a slower song. The whole production of the song seemed much cleaner than the stuff brought on their previous release and I think it’s a good direction to go.

A

[Single] Secret – Starlight, Moonlight

Starlight, Moonlight is the second single released by Secret. The title track was used as the promotional single.


Released: June 1, 2011
1. Oh! Honey (오! 허니)
2. Starlight, Moonlight (별빛달빛) [MV]
3. Melo-Drama (멜로영화)

Continuing with the retro style, Oh! Honey really goes far back. Here we are given a midtempo 1950s styled pop song that takes samples from Lee Jung Hyun’s “Summer Dance”. It’s a classy tune that relies on simple guitar riffs and a funky click-beat and it seems to work with the girls’ voices quite well. My only issue is that the song gets boring so fast. It’s just too slow and doesn’t go anywhere.

Thankfully we are brought into Starlight, Moonlight which brighten things up at least a little bit. Retaining the general style of the last song, here we are given clap-beats and a stronger presence of background vocals. Not to mention the chorus has a little bit more life to it. It’s catchy, but still retains that class from the last song. Compared to Shy Boy, it doesn’t stand out as much in terms of punch but it’s definitely a relaxing tune. I love the vocals in the song too as they all sound good.

It’s great to hear everything string together as Melo-Drama also has a retro sound to it, but is more in the form of a lounge ballad. It’s a nice twist from Secret and it shows that despite staying in the same sound they can work with it in different ways. Like the last two songs, they aren’t anything that stand out, but nice relaxing listens (albeit that get a bit dull later on). I wish there was a little more strength added in the middle 8 both arrangement wise and vocally.


Overall: What I’m most impressed with is that they kept with whole 50s retro sound for all three songs as their previous works had them dabbling in other time. The strongest track is by far the title track and while the other two get rather dull quickly they are still ok listens.

B

[Mini-Album] f(x) – NU ABO

NU ABO is the first mini-album released by f(x). The title track was used as the promotional track while Mr. Boogie was promoted afterwards.


Released: May 3, 2010
1. NU ABO (NU 예삐오) [MV]
2. Mr. Boogie
3. Ice Cream (아이스크림)
4. ME+U
5. Surprise Party
6. Sorry (Dear. Daddy)

For f(x)’s first mini, we are introduced right away to the title track, NU ABO. Compared to their past songs, this one retains the general “f(x)” sound, but it is changed in some ways. While we still have the heavy beats and rather odd lyrics, NU ABO’s arrangement is a little fuller and seems more put together. The nanana’s included for the second half the chorus really bring the song some extra hooks that are clean and fun. Generally, I find lalala’s and nanana’s just an easy way out, but this song is charming enough for them and it fits in. My only problem is how they added some annoying crowd cheering in the background. It makes some of the parts sound really messy. Vocally, it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s nice to hear Luna and her high note. She finally got the time to shine.

Next we are thrown into Mr. Boogie a striking electropop tune that is definitely my favourite of the mini. The heavy beats are still retained, but the general sound is slicker and has more attitude than the title track. I especially loved the synths included and the fact that they weren’t all just thrown at us like some songs do. The melody is just so catchy and the vocal arrangement in general is good as it makes all the girls sound good.

After two great songs, we move onto Ice Cream that already opens ridiculously with “make a shake, make a shake, ice cream, ice cream”. My main problem with this song is that it lacks the f(x) spark and instead sounds more like a Girls’ Generation song for Ice Cream. The vocal arrangement and the light electropop sound just screams something more along GG’s end. The rap is also really weird. I’m all for silly songs, but this song sounds like at one point they are being ridiculous and at another serious.

At least it’s catchy though as the next song ME+U lacks that. This is just where ridiculous becomes lackluster in general as the song is all about a chopped vocal arrangement. It continues that light electropop feel, but everything sounds thrown together. The chorus wouldn’t be so bad and has some potential, but it’s just overshadowed by the heavy beats and barrage of synths. I can’t even get into the vocals…

So thankfully we are given Surprise Party, which is a midtempo pop tune and slows things down a bit. It’s an overall nice song, nothing too outside the box though and I’m not particularly keen on songs with Happy Birthday mentioned repeatedly in it. It’s still better than the last two and what I really enjoy is the showcasing of Luna’s vocals.

Sorry (Dear. Daddy) is another ballad done by Luna and Krystal and like the last one they did, this one is quite impressive. I don’t think the song itself is as good as that was a full-fledged ballad where as this one is more of a pop ballad with R&B beats. With that said, it does what it does best and showcases the girls’ vocals. It would’ve been nice to hear a bit more of Krystal’s vocal ability though since they kept her more on the down low here, but it’s still a good ending.


Overall: This mini was an alright release, but there are certainly songs that I wish were left out or not included. There were some nice highs with the promotional songs and the ending ballad, but the middle of the mini was just ridiculous. I know f(x) is more on that side, but NU ABO showed that they could have spirit and fun while having quality whereas songs like ME+U or Ice Cream show that sometimes too ridiculous is just too much.

B

[Repackaged] Rainbow – So Girl (Repackage)

So Girl (Repackage)  is the repackaged edition of the second mini-album released by Rainbow. Sweet Dream was used as the promotional track.


Released: November 8, 2010
1. Sweet Dream [MV]
2. Kiss (Acoustic Ver.)
3. To Me [MV]
4. To Me (Club Ver.)
5. Sweet Dream (Instrumental)

Sweet Dream pretty much continues the same sound that To Me had going for it with the piano line and dance beats, which is pretty nice to see the continuation. The difference is that the chorus is less focused on repetition and the overall song has a darker tone to it. There are parts of it that actually make it stronger than To Me, but the main problem I find is the chorus as the girls sing in unison it sounds more like a choir so it seems too muffled. Vocally, it’s a nicely done track and most of the members shine. It is a little disheartening to know that Yoonhye and Noeul are put into the backburner like they were in the previous promotional song.

Up next is Kiss (Acoustic Ver.) which had the original featured on their debut mini-album. They say acoustic version, but the general song sounds very similar to the original except that it’s toned a bit. With that said, I think this arrangement helps not only showcase the girls’ vocals better but it also helps the melody stand out more.

To Me (Club Ver.) is an interesting touch to the original. The only major difference the original and this one has is the massive 2 minute intro at the beginning which includes heavy beats with parts of the chorus as well as a toned down middle 8, which was a great touch. It’s nice, but it could’ve been better. Some of the beats at the beginning are annoying but it would’ve been nice to see the actually song parts being changed up with a different beat or something since it was kept pretty much intact. It’s over 6 minutes long so I think I’ll just stick to the original.


Overall: So Girl (Repackaged) was interesting to say the least. I was disappointed that only one new song was included, but the new versions were a nice touch and despite not bringing that much difference to the originals, they still had their own charms.

B+ (new songs)

[Mini-Album] F.Cuz – For Century Ultimate Zest

For Century Ultimate Zest is the second mini-album released by F.Cuz and their first Korean release after the departure of member LeeU and the addition of members Rae Hyun and Dae Geon. No.1 was used as the promotional track.


Released: April 27, 2012
1. Janus (야누스)
2. Pick Up The Phone (전화좀 받아)
3. Rise Up
4. Be Good When We’re Still Together (있을때 잘해봐)
5. No.1 [MV]
6. Be Good When We’re Still Together Remix (Remix DJ Rubato)

Janus opens the album and we are given a cool and edgy dance pop tune. The song reminds me a lot of what SS501 would pull off as it’s not exactly catchy but has a lot of attitude and the arrangement is very similar to their past songs. I really like the heavy beats as well as the use of the background vocals but there seems to be something missing. I find the pre-chorus’ are sloppy while the chorus’ though good seem rather bare in their delivery. It’s a good song though.

Pick Up The Phone slows things down with a midtempo pop song. I really enjoy how the song opens and the use of clap beats, but the chorus is a little odd since the vocals are layered quite a bit. Also the rap doesn’t really fit in although I actually like how it goes. Vocally it’s nicely done, but there isn’t anything outstanding. I think that’s how the whole song really is.

Rise Up opens with a nice guitar riff and already seems stronger than the last two songs. Then the beats are added and though the song is still very nice it would’ve been nice for the riffs to have a stronger presence throughout the song as it is sometimes overshadowed. They are only heard once and while from then on. The arrangement is strong regardless and isn’t too simple to be boring but too messy to be overwhelming. I’m usually not particularly fond of a lot of repetition, but the use of it during the second half of the chorus is well done. Great great song.

Be Good When We’re Still Together is the Korean version of their Japanese song LUV HOLIC. I didn’t really like that song because I cannot stand Jejun’s vocals at all in this song (he’s fine in others). This one is a bit better because the other members take lines away from him lol. The song itself has a more generic pop sound with dance beats and a piano line undertone. The chorus is quite nice, but would’ve been better with Dae Geon taking it since his voice is stronger and would’ve made a stronger impact.

We are finally at the promotional track. No.1 is a pop song with heavy dance beats and very similar to their past song No One. It does have that generic K-Pop boyband sound, but it’s insanely catchy especially the intros to the verses. The chorus are very powerful and feature a mixture of beats and synths. The melody is nice, but sometimes there could be a few tweeks. Vocally it’s great because we have Dae Geon taking the lead. All the other members have decent voices, but he clearly stands above.

Then we are given Be Good When We’re Still Together Remix (Remix DJ Rubato) which is basically just a trance remix. I’m not a big fan of remixes and this one doesn’t quite cut it for me. I would’ve preferred an acoustic version of Rise Up more.


Overall: For Century Ultimate Zest is a decent mini-album. It has a nice selection of song, but it’s just we are given a a bunch of songs that could be pulled off by any boyband. The only thing that really stands out differently is Rise Up, which is by far F.Cuz’s best song yet.

B

[Single] Secret – Shy Boy

Shy Boy is the first single released by Secret. The title track was used as the promotional single.


Released: January 6, 2011
1. Shy Boy [MV]
2. No.1
3. Shy Boy (inst.)
4. No.1 (inst.)

Shy Boy is a total departure from the more mature image that we got with Madonna. Instead of a fast-paced jazz inspired tune, we are given an almost silly pop tune that has a swing inspired twist. While we aren’t given fierce and instead something more cute, it’s surprising that Secret pulls it off so easy. It has a bouncy feel to the arrangement thanks in large part due to the brass instruments and fun background vocals. Vocally, the girls do well and Jieun adds some adlibbing in the end to bring it some more life.

No.1 is something totally different and gives us a more aggressive pop tune with hip-hop influences. The song gives off 2NE1 vibes and doesn’t really work with Secret. The song itself isn’t bad, but there is just way too much autotune and the girls’ vocals are just made for this type of song. They don’t have the right attitude and I find they too overpowered by the music.


Overall: The single isn’t bad and we are given two upbeat tunes but with different sounds. Despite that, I found only Shy Boy to be great as No.1 just didn’t fit with their style.

B