[Album] Koda Kumi – affection

Koda Kumi didn’t hit it big until her seventh single, Real Emotion. Prior to that, she had some moderate success with a few top 30 singles. Her first album, affection, also hit number twelve on the Oricon charts and sold close to 100,000 copies.

affection
Released: March 27, 2002
1. atomic energy
2. Trust Your Love [MV]
3. Go Together
4. Your Song
5. feel me
6. COLOR OF SOUL [MV]
7. Best Friend Of Mine
8. My Dream
9. So Into You [MV]
10. Till Morning Comes
11. come back
12. TAKE BACK [MV]
13. Can’t Lose
14. walk

affection opens with a funky intro. atomic energy is largely made up of a robotic beat, synths and a few odd background vocals thrown about. It’s a cool opening and helps to pump the listener up. I’ve never been the biggest fan of intros, but it does a good job flowing into the next song. Trust Your Love was the most successful single released from the album. This upbeat R&B/pop track has some cool qualities to it. I really enjoy the slew of different synths that are used for the song. It is pretty interesting have each section of the song has its own distinct flavor and style. The song is quite catchy, but I don’t think it’s the strongest of her singles. In fact, it’s probably my least favourite of the singles on the album. I always feel like it is missing something, most particularly during the chorus. Go Together pretty much continues the sound from the last song but slows things down to give us a funky pop/R&B midtempo jam. I actually prefer this song to the last one. The execution seems much better and more polished. The sound is quite interesting as well as it seems to fuse some of the 90s J-Pop qualities with some of the newer ones found in the early 2000s. The beat and melody mix well with the more contemporary arrangement and it gives a pretty cool blend. With that said, my only gripe is Koda Kumi’s voice. She does sound good during the verses, but she sounds really harsh during the higher notes of the chorus. Your Song slows things down even further with a nice R&B ballad. One thing I really enjoy hearing from Koda Kumi in her early days are her ballads. However, Your Song has a few things it could work on. While I love the relaxed feeling of this song and you can definitely see it as a predecessor for her later R&B tunes, it isn’t as polished. The verses are actually quite stellar and very well done. I love the melody here, but the chorus isn’t executed as nicely. I feel the melody is too bouncy and Koda’s vocals are too grating for certain parts of the song and it doesn’t fit well with the gentle arrangement. feel me changes things up by bringing an upbeat dance/pop tune. I really enjoy the more futuristic sound of this song. It’s a fun tune to hear, but I don’t think it’s particularly strong. The melody is somewhat forgettable and while Koda’s vocals are actually masked by a vocoder during the chorus, I don’t really like it since it loses some of the emotion from her voice. The beat is really cool and the synths are quite funky, but this isn’t that strong and drags on. COLOR OF SOUL has one of the cooler openers for me. I really like the dadada’s at the start and they really let the song slide right into the great verses. Definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, I really like this one because of its distinctly early 2000s J-Pop sound. It’s pretty straightforward pop with some dance elements and it works really well with Koda’s tone. I did wish the song had an extra punch to it though. Best Friend Of Mine is a pretty cool interlude with its acapella qualities to it. It’s quite short but has a lot more singing than the intro. The sound is a lot more soulful than the rest of the album, however I wish the song didn’t mask the vocals and just let Koda let it rip. A striking upbeat dance/pop tune, My Dream definitely has the qualities to be a lead track. In fact, the music is very similar to that of COLOR OF MY SOUL. With that said, I actually find this one stronger. The melody is more interesting and I like the unpredictability of it, like the second half of the chorus where things deviate a little. I also like the music during the chorus. The arrangement is pretty sweet with its odd beats and electric guitar. It’s a fun mix and a little strange, but it surprisingly works out quite well. So Into You was the fourth single from the album and one of the stronger songs. I really love the verses here. They are probably my favourite from the whole album as Koda just sounds so relaxed and in control of the melody. The chorus is also quite strong and actually features a pretty well-executed sound. I think the arrangement is a bit bare compared to some of the other songs, but the melody is definitely more interesting. Definitely not as in your face as some of the other songs, but a nice change. Till Morning Comes features VERBAL from m-flo. I do like how it takes the general synthed up sound of the album and morphs it with some hip-hop elements. With that said, I think this is one of the messier songs. There are some interesting elements of the song such as the music, but the melody is all over the place and the flow between Koda Kumi and VERBAL just doesn’t work that well. His parts in particularly just don’t work with this kind of song. Next please. come back is the first full-fledged “ballad” on the album and one of the few songs that doesn’t have a strong dance or R&B influence to it. Largely piano-based with some synths, the song is a good showcase of Koda’s vocals. With that said, you can definitely hear her improvement in later albums as there are times here where her voice just doesn’t come too smoothly here. I wanna like this song a lot and I like some of the qualities about it, but it is quite boring in the long run and sort of just drags on. I especially get annoyed at the chorus line, “I wanna come back to you~”, as the notes at the end of the you are just so poorly executed. Thankfully, TAKE BACK arrives and helps to save things. I love the more apparent R&B influence in this song and Koda Kumi really works it. With that said, the best part of the song is the instrumental break that has such a funky riff that helps give the song some flavor. I really love the feel of the song and the verses are really cool. Koda Kumi really does best with her lower register and her voice works well with the beat when she’s relaxed. The chorus is quite nicely executed, too. I like the melody a lot and it is very catchy. I also enjoy how dramatic it is, but there are definitely some things with the vocals that could be worked on. My favourite from the album. Can’t Lose pretty much continues the sound of the rest of the album, but it has some cool qualities to it. Like the last song, the coolest part is definitely the instrumental breaks in between the singing parts. The song in general is quite cool and could have easily been made into a single since it sounds so similar to some of the others one here. What I do enjoy about this song though is that Koda Kumi stays largely in her more comfortable zone in terms of singing. There aren’t as many higher notes where she has to go into the more grating sound. She really sounds the best in this song. walk ends the album on a slower note. I really love the R&B feel of this song, especially during the verses. She really has a good voice for these kind of songs. The verses are in fact my favourite part of the song as the melody is really beautiful. I love the darker quality of the music here as well. The chorus on the other hand really explodes with an array of instruments and power. I like the strength of it, but it’s not the most musically appealing sound. I do find Koda to be overpowered by the music and she ends up screeching her way up to the higher notes. I wish she kept the darker sound of the verses though as the choruses are very bright in energy.

Overall: I want to like this album more, but there are some things that I’m not a big fan of. I enjoy the cohesiveness of the album as it helps to create a nice unison between all the tracks. With that said, while most of the songs have unique qualities to them, there are a few that tend to have a more predictable feel to them. Also, I found myself enjoying the verses way more than the choruses. This is partly due to the melodies themselves being much more charming but also because Koda Kumi really sounds good using her lower register. I do think there are some cool tracks, but for the overall sound of the album, it feels like it is lacking in some really stellar songs (besides TAKE BACK though).

B-

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[Mini-Album] Secret – SECRET SUMMER

SECRET SUMMER is the fifth studio released by Secret. I’m In Love was used as the promotional song.

secretsummer
Released: August 11, 2014
1. Feel The Secret (INTRO)
2. I’m In Love [MV]
3. Look At Me
4. U R Fired
5. Could Do Well (잘할 텐데)
6. I’m In Love (Inst.)

Feel The Secret (INTRO) is a minute long intro. It’s really not that amazing. It has some brass, so it’s quite funky, but it’s not anything noteworthy. I wish there was a little more to it though as there are times when I feel the song gets a bit empty and doesn’t have much going on. Fortunately, it isn’t too long and we get right into I’m In Love. The promo track is probably my favourite from Secret. Unlike some of their past work, it isn’t totally retro (although there are some qualities of it that are like the brass) and it isn’t a cute song. It’s definitely sexier than their last few releases and it’s a nice change. I do find the song’s sound a bit simpler than their other mature promo tracks, but the best part is that the arrangement sounds full, powerful and dynamic, whereas some of their other “sexy” releases seemed to be missing something there. The song is really catchy and I think it works well with the girls’ vocals, too. Look At Me is a catchy tune and a decent follow-up, however, it doesn’t have anything special about it. It’s not particularly catchy and seems like an attempt to throw different hooks into one song. The beat is a bit heavier than the last song and the song has some R&B elements to it. There are some cool qualities about it like the violin solo that opens into Hana’s rap. It’s not particularly good though. Just a filler. Fortunately, U R Fired comes up right after. Starting with Ji Eun and an acoustic guitar, the song is soon joined by a beat and some synths. The chorus is really great and has an intriguing opening with its “I don’t wanna get you fired” line. I really like the melody here, but I do think it does get a little overpower by the music which has a strong foundation and a lot going on. A solid album track and has potential for promo track material. Could Do Well slows things down with a simple pop ballad. I like the simplicity of the song and its a nice change after all the excitement of the rest of the mini. With that said, the song is forgettable in the long run. It reminds me a bit of TVXQ’s Hug, but the melody just isn’t as charming and I don’t really like the vocal editing as the producers took a lot of color out of the girls’ voices by layering them too much. A nice change on the album, but ultimately dull.

Overall: SECRET SUMMER isn’t the group’s strongest work and is actually a bit of a letdown. I do think this one is a bit opposite of their last release since the title track is really strong (if not their strongest yet) but the rest of the mini wasn’t as good.

C+

[Album] T-ara – Absolute First Album

After several digital singles, T-ara finally released their first physical release in late 2009. Their first album, Absolute First Album was a success and propelled the girls to stardom. First single, Bo Peep Bo Peep, was popular for its cute dance and the follow-up single, Like the First Time, helped to showcase a nice contrast with a maturer song.

absolutefirstalbum
Released: November 4, 2009
1. One & One
2. Like the First Time (처음처럼) [MV]
3. Bo Peep Bo Peep [MV]
4. Tic Tic Toc
5. Bye Bye
6. Apple Is A
7. Falling U
8. You You You (너너너)
9. Lies (Dance ver.) (거짓말) [MV]
10. T.T.L (Time to love) [MV]
11. Lies (Slow ver.) [MV]
12. TTL Listen.2 [MV]
13. Good Person (좋은사람) [MV]
14. Wanna Play (놀아볼래?)

Absolute First Album begins with the opener, One & One. An upbeat electropop/dance tune, One & One is T-ara at their fiercest and almost foreshadows what the girl group would be like in a few years time. The beat is pounding and the word “one” is repeated so many times, it’s hard to count. With that said, it’s a a catchy piece and despite its short length, it does its job by showcasing the sound of the album. It’s unfortunate it only features four members. The transition into Like the First Time works well due to its continued electropop sound. A little slow, this song is definitely one of the groups sexiest and was the first of several of their songs along a similar vein. With the girls utilizing their higher voices, it’s a smooth and catchy delivery. The melody is quite infectious and works well with the clap-beats and the funky use of the vocoder to create a great musical hook during the chorus. There is only one problem with the song and that is the rapping. It’s a nice break from the song, but it just jarringly stands out. It’s a fun listen, but doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the song. Besides that, a good listen. While Bo Peep Bo Peep continues the electropop sound, the transition is a little odder into this one as it goes from a sensual piece to something cuter and more ridiculous (in a good way). BPBP is insanely catchy. The repeated title as the hook is usually very annoying (and it is somewhat here), but it just seems to work quite well here. Besides that, the rest of the song is full of its own hooks. The chorus is especially well done and would be solid enough on its own without the BPBPing. It’s not a song to hear vocals, but one that is just made for pure fun. Tic Tic Toc brings us back to a more serious sound. Definitely a stronger beat, this one is closer to the sound of One & One. However, I do find this song much more satisfying despite the former’s catchiness. The verses are especially nice with the more serious tone and do a better job than the last three songs at showing off vocals. The chorus is great as well with Soyeong taking lead. Unlike the last song, there is very little repetition found in the chorus, which is a nice change. Definitely a strong song. Bye Bye comes with a similar style as the last song, but has a slightly more lighthearted feel to it (despite the rather sad lyrics). One of my favourites off the album, Bye Bye has a lot more repetition, but it does it so well. I feel like the repetitive hooks were placed so well in this song. The music itself is quite funky and while it doesn’t deviate far from the rest of the album, there are small changes that make it interesting. I do think the best part is the melody though. There is something about it that gives me some J-Pop vibes. The girls also sound great here and this is the first song where we really get a taste of some of their vocal abilities (mostly Eunjung). Apple Is A changes things around. Unlike the darker tones used for the rest of the album, this one has a more upbeat and cuter sound. It still has some electropop elements, but it does stick out like a sore thumb a bit (even compared to BPBP). It’s a great song though. I love the fantasy quality to it and it is still insanely catchy. I enjoy the verses the most since we get to hear some of the girls’ lower registers. The choruses are good as well since there is a nice combination of rapping and singing. It’s something one wouldn’t expect from this kind of song, but it works surprisingly well. As the first ballad, Falling U is such a great song. The song has a stronger R&B element to it that works surprisingly well with the girls’ vocals, especially Soyeon’s. It is also a great time to hear a nice fusion of rapping and singing, much like the last song. The music itself isn’t the most unique and it can sound a bit programmed at times, but the melody definitely makes up for that. The girls sound good here and it’s just a solid song. You You You is one of my favourites from the album. I just really love its synthed-up sound as it reminds of something from the early 2000s. This is also another example from the group where they can combine rapping and singing so well. It’s like the song fused the last two together and made another great piece. The vocals are really great on here, although it would’ve been nice to also hear Boram and Qri since they aren’t featured. I think the music here is also well done. While it is quite programmed, the production seems much cleaner and everything seems to be mesh really well. The next six tracks after were all released prior to the album’s release. The TTL twins are still among the strongest on the album, if not the strongest songs. Lies (Dance ver.) is pretty much Lies (Part.1) from their digital single. It’s still a nicely done ballad, done in upbeat form. And with that said, the ballad (slow) version of the song is still the strongest. It’s great. No odd karaoke-like beat. Wanna Play? is still a fun song to listen to as well and is an excellent mix of rapping and singing. I love Soyeon’s voice here. The only song that some people might not know would be Good Person, which was T-ara’s first song and was used for an OST. The original featured members Jiae and Jiwon, while this one has Qri, Soyeon and Boram featured. It’s definitely one of the best songs to hear the vocal capabilities of the group. It’s a powerful ballad and is quite emotional. I really like how the girls get into the song and really bring some vocal power that isn’t seen on their other songs. Unfortunately, I actually prefer the original, since Jiae and Jiwon were much stronger vocalists than Qri and Boram.

Overall: Absolute First Album is stellar and still one of the best K-Pop albums I have heard to date (if not the most solid), largely because every track is listenable. The newer tracks are also quite strong and can actually compete with the singles released. Sometimes, they are still album material, but they are solid pieces and great on the ears and there is a nice cohesion until about TTL Listen 2 (since it really ramps things up with the dance sound). I don’t think there is really anything to change about this album since I love every track.

A+

[Mini-Album] SISTAR – Summer Special ‘Loving U’

Summer Special ‘Loving U’ is a special mini-album released by girl group SISTAR. The title track was used as the promotional song and was a big hit for the group. The mini-album includes two new songs and five remixes.

lovingu
Released: June 28, 2012
1. Loving U (러빙유) [MV]
2. Holiday (홀리데이)
3. Push Push (DJ Rubato Remix)
4. Alone (Smells Remix) (나혼자)
5. Ma boy (Smells Remix)
6. How Dare You (Demicat Remix) (니까짓게)
7. So Cool (DJ Rubato Remix)

Musically, Loving U is your standard summer song. A nice beat under multiple synths and some brass instruments. What really makes this song so great is the melody. The chorus is especially great as despite the repetition of the title, it doesn’t get too dry and the music really helps give the song a strong backing and make it more explosive and fun. I really like the use of brass and it does a good job at giving the song a bit more liveliness. Vocally, the song is pretty good. Each girl holds their own and they all add a special touch to the song. I even like Bora’s rapping as it’s a nice break halfway into the song. Holiday continues the summer sound. Instead of a brass-based pop song, this one is a little more straightforward pop. Don’t let the rock intro fool you. I don’t think it is as strong as the other song and it is definitely B-side material. The melody is catchy, but not amazingly so and it seems to be missing something. I do like the soaring chorus and how they use the synths is definitely interesting, but the song is a bit boring. It’s a nice listen, but nothing that stands out. The rest of the mini-album includes remixes of some of their old hits. I’m not a huge fan of remixes, but there are nice listens. Push Push (DJ Rubato Remix) has a nice beat, but I don’t feel it works particularly for this song since the melody is still quite cute and upbeat. Alone (Smells Remix) is amazing though. Whoever remixed it gave the song an 80s vibe and it surprisingly works very well with the melody. Ma boy (Smells Remix) isn’t bad. The song is slower, but I think it would’ve actually sounded better if it was sped up to the original speed. I really like the beat though. How Dare You (Demicat Remix) is well done. The verses are nice, but the beat used during the repeated hook is so catchy. It’s a funky listen and actually an improvement on the original. So Cool (DJ Rubato Remix) is decent and the beats fit this one quite well due to its more mature melody. I think the beat is really interesting, but I do find the verses more fun than the chorus.

Overall: Loving U was a decent mini-album. I did really enjoy the title track, although the B-side was a little boring despite having a similar sound. It just didn’t capture the magic that the title track had. The remixes really surprised me. While I usually don’t like remixes, most of them were actually well done.

B-

[Digital Single] F.Cuz – ONE LOVE

For almost a year, F.Cuz was away from Korea and promoting in Japan. Their return was marked with the release of ONE LOVE, their third digital single.

onelove
Released: March 27, 2014
1. ONE LOVE [MV]
2. ONE LOVE (instrumental)

ONE LOVE changes things up from when the group last left off in Korea. While ONE LOVE is still pop with some dance elements, there is also a stronger electropop sound in this song. It’s quite a lighthearted piece and a nice song. The verses are the strongest parts of the song as it highlights each members’ vocals and is quite dreamy sounding. While the chorus is nice, it is also somewhat forgettable. The melody is quite nice, but it is overpowered by the barrage of synths that doesn’t give it the strength it should have. Part of it might be the vocal arrangement though as it forces the boys to use their falsetto. Speaking of vocals, I think the most surprising part was having Jinon singing the most parts, which is a nice change. I do find it odd that Kan also had a huge amount of parts. He does have a nice voice, but it seems too heavy for this song.

Overall: ONE LOVE was a nice change for the boy band, but I don’t think it was as strong as I would’ve liked, especially considering their last song was such an interesting piece.

B

[Special] Top 500 J-Pop Songs #374

Title: Computer City (コンピューターシティ)
Artist: Perfume
computercity
Released: 2006
Genre: Electropop
Listen

Perfume first started out as an indie group and has worked their way up to becoming one of the top acts in Japan these days. Their brand of music is bubbly electronic and they have consistently released fun songs over the years. Computer City was their second major single and their seventh overall. Like most of their music, the song is a funky brand of electropop. The melody is quite infectious and their producer definitely did a great job of blending the vocals with the music. I really enjoy the transitions within the song as well. Each part of the song has a distinct melody but are able to come together to create a unified piece. Unlike some of their other songs, I feel like Computer City has a sadness to it. The lyrics are about yearning for escape from perfection and despite the robotic sound, the emotion is easily felt here. This is Perfume’s first of six entries.

[Digital Single] 4minute – Jingle Jingle

Jingle Jingle is 4minute’s second digital single. It was released prior to Christmas.

jinglejingle
Released: December 2, 2009
1. Jingle Jingle (징글징글) [MV]
2. Jingle Jingle (instrumental)

The good thing about Jingle Jingle is that it is a fun dance/pop song. It isn’t totally what one would expect for Christmas, but it fits well with 4minute’s image and sound. With that said, despite being fun, the song is quite weak on a whole. It’s catchy, but the repeated title in the chorus is also annoying. Also, the autotune covering the vocals fits the song, but actually makes the song sound rather cheap in comparison. Mario and Amen do a decent job with rapping, but their inclusion isn’t necessary. The music is a funky and has a few cool aspects like the game-like synths that fly around the song.

Overall: Not one of 4minute’s more memorable releases. It’s a cute song, but not something I would repeat.

C+