[Album] A-mei Zhang – Sisters

Often regarded as the “Pride of Taiwan”, A-mei debuted in 1996 and pretty much achieved overnight success. Her powerful voice tied in with her charismatic performances and classic songs allowed her to gain instant popularity, which she has been able to retain the last 20 years. Sisters is her debut album.

sisters
Released: December 13, 1996
1. You Didn’t Want Anything (原來你什麼都不要)
2. Sister (姊妹)
3. Released (解脫)
4. Impulse (衝動)
5. Sea-foam Blue Tears (水藍色眼淚)
6. Cut Love (剪愛)
7. Betrayal (背叛)
8. Love Until You Can’t Receive (愛到不能收)
9. Seriously (認真)
10. I’m a Dreamer on Air (空中的夢想家)

Probably the biggest hit from the album and the song that has remained a classic since its release, You Didn’t Want Anything is a gorgeous piano ballad with some slight gospel elements to it. I think the most interesting thing about this song is that it feels slightly different from your usual Mandopop ballad of today. Utilizing A-mei’s powerful voice, the song just builds and builds and each section adds a little bit more instrumental backing before it finally explodes in the end and really allows A-mei to belt it out. Her voice sounds great here and she easily channels the emotion that the song needs. It’s just such a powerful track and it’s no surprise it is still popular today.

The title track is a nice change from the more dramatic opener. Here, with something a little more upbeat and lighthearted. To be honest, Sisters definitely comes off a bit more outdated than the last, but what I love most about this one is that it features a lot more Taiwanese Aborigine elements and really helps to give a sense of A-mei’s background. The bits of chanting surprisingly work with the more upbeat sound of the music and its heavy percussion. It’s a touching song in a way.

Of course, we swing right back into the ballad one with Released. More laidback than the last two songs, this one focuses a lot more on the guitar and is definitely more melancholic. I quite like it, but the song is definitely not as exciting and as it goes on, it can get a bit dull. I do like that A-mei tries to spices things up with some riffs and runs around the end of the song. It’s a decent song.

Impulse finally gets us up and dancing as it gives us a funky dance-pop tune where A-mei tries to edge it up a bit. I quite like the verses as they are definitely something sexy and one of the first glimpses of these kinds of songs from her. The chorus is still catchy and her voice is great, but I do find the chorus can get a bit grating at times as there is a part where it pushes her to sing a note in her head voice and it comes off like a squeak. The electric guitar refrain for the instrumental break really helps bring things back up though. It’s a cool song.

My favourite song from the album is actually Sea-foam Blue Tears. Not released as a promotional song, this is definitely one of the strongest songs from A-mei. A heavy focus on the acoustic guitar, I love how edgy it sounds. That and the emotion that she sings really echoes through here. She is able to inject the melody the needed amount of edge and emotion. The chorus is a bit different as it gives something with a touch of funk in its music, but it’s a nice touch that helps keep the energy up with the song. This is just a stellar tune.

Cut Love is one of the more traditional ballads on the album. It is very reminiscent of the types of songs that came out in the 90’s in Taiwan. The focus is largely on the piano, especially in the quieter verses, which are meant to show a contrast to the more hook heavy chorus. The chorus here does a great job of highlighting how strong A-mei vocals are, especially when the song starts to have the heavier percussion and electric guitar for the last one. I don’t think it’s the strongest ballad, but it is quite nice.

Betrayal is a really cool song with its stronger R&B elements. I think it has similar qualities to that of Impulse, but instead we are given something a bit more laidback and I’m happy with that. However, the odd thing with this song is the odd transition from the prechorus to the chorus. It’s quite unpredictable as things comes off a little poppier in the chorus. However, I really enjoy the melody and it reminds me a bit of early 00’s J-Pop. Definitely one of the more fun songs despite being a bit outdated.

Love Until You Can’t Receive is a really interesting ballad. It’s much more toned down and slower than the other songs. It starts off really ethereal and while the chorus does continue that with the music, I do find it all comes off a bit more emotional in this section. Her voice just really works so well here and I like how dramatic the whole song comes off.

Seriously also continues the more dramatic ballad sound of the last song. However, I don’t think one comes off as emotional as that one did. It’s much more your standard Mandopop sound of the 90’s. The chorus is really explosive and I quite like it, but I do find the song to be one of the weaker songs on the album (it’s still good) as the melody doesn’t come across as memorable as other songs and it drags on a bit as it progresses. It really does show off A-Mei voice really well though.

Ending the album is I’m a Dreamer on Air. This was actually released before the album and was a promotional song for the UFO Radio Station in Taiwan, which is why there is a weird line where she says UFO. With that said, the song itself is really good. It’s a bit more dreamy than the rest of the album, but it still fits in well. I think the highlight is that the melody is quite solid and comes off really sincere. There is a certain charm to it and A-mei’s vocals just carry the song really well. Great!


Overall: This is one of my favourite C-Pop albums and one of the strongest I’ve heard. While there are definitely some stronger tracks, all the songs could potentially be singles. I quite like how there is a lot of variety and A-mei is able to bounce back and forth from ballads to midtempo pieces to something a bit more upbeat. Her voice really helps to bring the album up a notch and she shows her versatility.

A+

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[Album] Morning Musume – First Time

Before there was AKB48, Morning Musume was probably the biggest girl group to come out of Japan. Well-known for their ever-changing line-up that saw girls join and “graduate” every few years, the group swelled with popularity in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, Momusu has lost a lot of steam since then, but they have still retained a solid fanbase (and even saw a bit of a resurgence in the 2010’s). First Time is the group’s first album and was released after just two (+ one unofficial one) singles. It only features the members of the first (Abe Natsumi, Iida Kaori, Nakazawa Yuko, Ishiguro Aya, and Fukuda Asuka) and second generations (Ichii Sayaka, Yasuda Kei, and Yaguchi Mari).

firsttime
Released: July 8, 1998
1. Good Morning
2. Summer Night Town (サマーナイトタウン)
3. Dou ni ka Shite Doyoubi (どうにかして土曜日; Do Something about Saturday)
4. Morning Coffee (モーニングコーヒー)
5. Yume no Naka (夢の中; Inside a Dream)
6. Ai no Tane (愛の種; Seeds of Love)
7. Wagamama (ワガママ; Selfishness)
8. Mirai no Tobira (未来の扉; Door to the Future)
9. Usotsuki Anta (ウソつきあんた; You Liar)
10. Samishii Hi (さみしい日; Sad Day)

Good Morning is a fun way to start the song. It’s pretty happy pop song and does an interesting thing with the focus on the piano. I do feel like it is trying to take on the sound that their first (mainstream) single had with its more upbeat nature. Even the structure of the verses is very similar to that song. However, I do find this one isn’t as pieced together as nicely. The chorus is nice, but I feel like the music doesn’t totally work with the melody. The melody always feels like it is hovering just above and doesn’t totally blend in as well as I want. It’s a cute song though.

summernighttown

Oddly, Summer Night Town comes swinging in right after and it’s just a huge switch in sound. While there are the nice harmonies that the group carries from the first song, the music is on a much darker scale and features a bit of dance and jazz elements. The best part is that we actually get to hear some of Ishiguro Aya as her lower voice really helps bring some character to the song. I also love how everyone plays off of each other. There are some really cool aspects as the verses sound like a dialogue before switching to something a bit more streamlined, but strongly executed. One of my favourite Morning Musume songs and was rightfully released as the group’s second single.

Dou ni ka Shite Doyoubi is a really interesting switch again as we get something a bit lighter, however this one sounds like it takes a lot more elements from Japanese enka. It all comes off across a bit more older sounding and like something that could come out of 80’s J-Pop instead. With that said, I absolutely love it. It’s a really interesting twist from the group and the girls sound great. The subtle harmonies really help to fill out their vocals and the song is actually very catchy.

morningcoffee

Morning Coffee is considered the group’s debut single and what a great song it is. It has a much poppier sound to it and follows similarly to Good Morning, however I feel like there is much more nostalgia attached to the song. I do find some parts to be a bit rough around the corners, but the general delivery of the song is one that is quite sincere. All five of the girls sound great and each other them are able to express the songs lyrics in such a great way. The music itself is quite interesting with its steady beat and touches of guitar and synths. I do enjoy how even the music comes off a little unpolished because it just ties everything together so well. Quite touching.

Yume no Naka starts off in a bit of an odd way with its vocal intro. However, things start to pick up once the great brass instruments come in. I do feel the song matches well with its title as everything comes off a little dreamy and laid back. This is a good instance of where the melody blends nicely into the music. My only problem is that I wish the chorus was stronger. The transition into it is a bit difficult to tell and the melody isn’t particularly catchy. I also find that the pitch is a bit high in this part and the straining vocals comes off a bit odd considering the music. It’s a cool song, but could be worked on a bit.

ainotane

Ai no Tane is Morning Musume’s unofficial debut single. It was used for a challenge given to the girls, in which they had to succeed in selling 50,000 copies of the single to officially debut. The song itself has very similar qualities to that of Morning Coffee, although I would actually say this one is a bit more nicely pieced together as the production seems to have blended everything well together. With that said, I don’t think the song comes across as emotional. However, it’s still a great listen. I like the steady percussion tied with the touches of xylophone and guitar riffs. The girls also sound great and each one of them is able to carry their line nicely. Everything is pretty laidback and while the song does lack that impactful moment, it’s a solid tune.

Wagamama is one of the heavier songs and focuses on Ichii, Ishiguro and Yasuda. I do like the nice bass that carries throughout the song, but I’m not the biggest fan of the transitions that the song has. The verse to pre-chorus is a really odd one and while the prechorus to chorus is still a little off, it is more nicely played out. This is unfortunate as each section of the is quite nice to listen to. I do enjoy the heavier rock elements that the song has in comparison to their other material as this affects how the chorus comes off, which is a bit more emotional. I do feel like things could be smoothed out a bit better though.

Mirai no Tobira is a really weird song… probably the weirdest on the whole album. The music in the verses is really funky and has some strange electric elements to it that just comes off a bit weird with the unpredictable melody. However, the oddest part of the song is the transition into the chorus. The song goes from being awkward and edgy to something more streamlined pop and a touch of disco. The chorus is nice, but I don’t think its as catchy as it could be and it comes off a bit too fast and feels like it ends too quickly. There are some really fun elements to it though.

Usotsuki Anta comes across a bit more on the calmer side of things and focuses on the original five members. I think the most interesting addition to the music is the tambourine, which adds a nice touch to things. However, it’s that cool bass that hides under the rest of music that helps to give the song a nice edge. The melody is quite nice and I actually really like how the focus is on Ishiguro and Nakazawa as their voices have the most character. This a more midtempo song, but it still has a bit energy to it that keeps everything afloat. It’s a fun tune.

Samishii Hi is the first and only full-scale ballad on the album. The music primarily focuses on the piano as the whole song features the girls singing with just a piano. I think this is the weakest song because everything just comes of a little too dull. The piano is quite nice and there was a lot of potential in it, but the problem is the melody is not interesting at all and the girls just don’t have the vocals to really a song like this. It’s all a bit too slow and monotone.


Overall: I was actually rather impressed with this album. Even though it was released 19 years ago, the songs don’t sound as outdated as I thought they would. Actually, many of them capture a feeling of nostalgia as well as come off a little rough around the edges, which allows the album to have a certain charm to it. While there were definitely some highlights, the general material was solid. I do feel like the album would have been better if some areas of the B-sides were worked on. Also, I wish the ending ballad was just much stronger as it really brings down the energy of the album.

B

[Mini-Album] 4minute – Volume Up

Volume Up is the third mini-album released by 4minute. The title track was used as the promotional song.

volumeup
Released: April 9, 2012
1. Get On the Floor
2. Volume Up
3. I’m OK
4. Say My Name
5. Femme Fatale
6. Dream Racer
7. Black Cat

Get on the Floor is a pretty cool electronic-hip hop tune. I do find the verses to be really cool, but I’m not a huge fan of the chorus. I do feel like it’s a bit too messy for me. I do like the concept of the song though with its attitude.

I do find the transition into the title track a bit weird. Volume Up is an exciting piece and one of 4minute’s strongest tracks. It’s a bit different since it has a really heavy beat and makes good use of a wicked saxophone refrain while giving us something a bit darker. I think the best part is definitely Hyuna’s part in the pre-chorus that helps build up the energy for the chorus. The chorus is great, although the main focus is on the belting. I’m really impressed with this song as it is really something different from their usual sound, but still ties in with their image quite well.

I’m OK is a really nice change of pace with its midtempo balladry. What I’m most surprised about is the fact that there is finally an album track from 4minute that I like! I do feel like this song could have been used as a pre-release single for the mini since its really good, but also does a good job of giving us something a little more downtempo. I love the chorus with its light synths and R&B beat. The melody is also quite catchy and the girls do a good job of giving the right emotion. My only gripe would be that the vocal editing seems a bit weird and could have been polished a bit more. Great though!

Unfortunately, we have the incredibly outdated Say My Name. I feel like even for this time, this song would be better in 2009 or 2010 than in 2012, let alone 2017. The song does have potential, but it just turns into a mess. The beat is a lot of fun, but the array of synths just seemed a bit misplaced. However, the worst culprit is that chorus. The melodic bits are actually really great, but then these weird repetitive parts (Get it up x3) that sort of ruin its flow and causes everything to sound a bit too choppy. Not my cup of tea, but it does have some interesting parts.

Femme Fatale is a bit better. I do find the chorus to be exciting and it is quite fun at times. I just wish the music was a little more in tune with the rest of the song and it comes off a little disorganized. Actually, the whole song reminds me of a f(x) song with its more adventurous sound and odd transitions. The song has an odd prechorus that slows things down, but it does add an interesting aspect to the overall delivery. I think if this was under SM, the song would come off a little more streamlined and polished. It has a lot of potential, but is lacking in a few areas.

Dream Racer does a similar thing with its Frankenstein mixture. The verses are more singing-rapping and have a lot of attitude, but the chorus is totally different with its explosive and bright pop sound. I actually like the verses since there is a wicked bass. However, it’s that amazing first part of the chorus that really brings the song to the next level. The bridge is also a really interesting piece. Fun!

So unfortunate that the mini ends with Black Cat. I’m not sure how to describe this song. It has an interesting arrangement with its touch of saxophone and heavy beat, but everything about this song just comes off horribly messy. The chorus is just weird with the “I’m a black cat” lines used as the hook because it really isn’t that catchy and the music is just a blur right behind it. It just sounds like a jumble of noise put on top of a beat. Not an enjoyable ending for me.


Overall: This is probably the group’s strongest mini since their first one, which is a lot considering their last three releases have been weak for me. This time, we actually have some strong album tracks like I’m OK and Dream Racer. Unfortunately, the mini is still bogged down by the unfortunate inclusion of some generic and messy tracks that could really be worked on more.

B-

[Single] LABOUM – PETIT MACARON

LABOUM is a girl group that debuted under a joint project between NH Media and Nega Network. The girl group has yet to get their breakthrough despite a slew of high quality songs, although a scandal earlier this year caused quite a stir. PETIT MACARON is the girl group’s debut single with Pit-a-Pat being the promotional song.

petitmacaron
Released: August 29, 2014
1. Pit-a-Pat (두근두근)
2. La li:Lalala (주문을 풀어)
3. What About You (어떡할래)
4. Pit-a-Pat (inst.)
5. La li:Lalala (inst.)
6. What About You (inst.)

Pit-a-Pat is an interesting debut. While it is a fun song, I feel like it’s missing something. It’s a cute song and has an exciting musical arrangement with its heavy beat and explosive synths. However, I feel like the melody doesn’t have as strong of hooks that match up with the music. That and the use of autotune on the vocals is just so odd and a bit outdated. I feel like it takes a lot away from the song and it’s a prime example of where autotune just should not have been used. It’s a decent tune, but more B-side material.

La li:Lalala continues the more saccharine pop feel, but in a more laid back form. It has a nice bouncy beat, but the melody is definitely much slower. I’m not quite sure if I like this song all that much. I feel like the chorus should create more of a contrast to help give the song some energy cause it just goes on in a monotone way. The girls do sound good and I like the rap, but it just doesn’t have much an impact.

What About You is probably the strongest song on the album. It has a more electropop sound, but with a really fast-paced and exciting feel. I do feel like the music doesn’t totally mesh with the melody, but everything is definitely more interesting with this song. The hooks are much catchier and the chorus brings enough contrast that it helps keep up the energy. I sort of reminds me of 2008 Brown Eyed Girls. A bit outdated, but a fun song.


Overall: I’m not totally sure how I feel about this single. I think the title track should have been more impactful since it is the group’s debut. While the song has grown on me, I feel like there were some unnecessary parts that dragged it down. One of the B-sides was decent, while had potential but was bogged down by its slow tempo.

C+

[Mini-Album] KNK – AWAKE

AWAKE is the first mini-album released by KNK. BACK AGAIN was used as the promotional song.

awake
Released: June 2, 2016
1. GONE
2. BACK AGAIN
3. I Remember (요즘 넌 어때)
4. I’ll Try (노력해볼게)
5. DAY N NIGHT
6. Propose (고백)
7. BACK AGAIN (Inst.)
8. I Remember (Inst.)

GONE is a really interesting opener. Just shy of two minutes long, it utilizes a really interesting background vocal arrangement. The song has a cool arrangement to it that really helps highlight the vocals of each member. It’s a nice midtempo pop tune with a slight R&B twist. It’s a bit unfortunate it is just an opener.

I do love how the background vocals transition right into BACK AGAIN, which is like the more upbeat cousin of the last song. A song that brings back the sound of the more dramatic styles of 2009-2011, BACK AGAIN fuses the more ballad-like melody with a heavy dance beat. I love this style and it’s a nice return to this sound. I think the best part is how each section of the song brings a bit of a twist. The verses with its fusion of rap and singing, while the choruses bring a high-energy and passionate intertwining of a more melodic style and repetition. It’s great.

I Remember brings it down a notch again with something more midtempo. Unlike the last two songs, this one is definitely more lighthearted. I do wish the music a bit more organic though. There is an interesting synth-piano refrain, but it would be better if it was just a piano. With that said, the melody is quite nice. It’s sweet and reminds me of something done by a few other groups before. The melody could be more memorable, but it’s a decent tune.

I’ll Try is the first ballad and features a nice R&B beat. It kind of reminds me of the ballad version of the first two songs. However, I just find something is missing with this one. The melody just isn’t very memorable to me and it is quite unpredictable, but in a way that leaves it sounding a bit messy. I do enjoy the rap break that comes in, but the song is a bit forgettable as a whole and I don’t like how the vocals are sung.

DAY N NIGHT finally gives something a bit more fun. It’s an upbeat pop song with a stronger electronic feel, but it still ties itself into the rest of the mini-album. I quite like the electronic refrain that’s happening in the background and it works nicely with the rest of the music. However, I feel like the chorus could be a bit stronger in its delivery. Still, a decent tune.

Propose is a nice laidback midtempo pop song and is quite similar to I Remember, but with a fuller arrangement. I do feel like this one is one of the stronger songs on the mini and the guys sound great. The music is more interesting and the melody is definitely much catchier. It’s a nice ending.


Overall: For their first mini, this was a pretty decent delivery. The promotional song was definitely the highlight, but there were some pretty good listens throughout. I do wish there was a bit more surprises because while there was a nice cohesion, many of the other songs lacked strong hooks that would make me want to listen to them again.

B