Woo-hoo! My favourite K-pop boyband is back! After an amazing 2011, which I considered INFINITE’s monumental year, the seven-member group from Woolim Entertainment return to the Korean music scene with their third mini-album ‘Infinitize’.
Of the countless rookie groups that debuted last year, very few of them really stood out to me. While many of them churned out the formulaic K-pop sound and image, few groups could be defined ‘unique’. One of those boybands was B1A4, and the other was Block B.
While I really liked B1A4’s debut single “OK Go,” I wasn’t too impressed by Block B’s “Wanna B”. But Block B still got my attention – mainly because of their attitude. Right from the get go, they didn’t seem to (or want to) conform to the cutesy, ‘act all innocent in front of the cameras’ image the other groups were going for. Instead, they were a little zany, and didn’t mind having some fun at red carpet events.
Now Block B are back with their second mini-album – and what an improvement it is!
Comprised of 5 songs (the 6th track is just an instrumental of “Narnina”), here’s a track-by-track review:
1. “LOL” – Clever title, great song! The album kicks off with an all-rap track, which at 2:25 in length, is all too brief to contain its awesome-ness. It could have been longer, but what’s the point – South Korea’s conservative party-pooper MOGEF and SM Ent.’s slaveKBS has already banned the song for “inappropriate lyrics”. Which sucks, because this song doesn’t deserve it given how good it sounds. I just hope the boys get to perform it on the other channels, because it has to be heard. – 4/5
2. “난리나 (NanrinA)” – The lead single (which I keep misreading as ‘Narnia’):
Who would have thought baby talk “goo-goo, ga-ga” would end up in a pop song! This song is such fun, and yet, manages to pack in the attitude that Block B wants to showcase with the band’s image. With random James Brown screams and a heavy Timbaland musical influence, “Go Crazy” is an uptempo song and one that should do really well for Block B on the charts. I’ll take this song any day over B.A.P’s pretentious “Warrior“.
As for the music video, it’s alright. They show off their swagger, how gang-like they are, and the dance choreography isn’t bad (though I’m not so sure about the gorilla arm wave during the chorus :)) – 4/5
3. “했어 안했어 (Did You or Did You Not)” – For a boy band that claims to be more hip-hop than pop, this track proves that they can still cater to the female audience. And although the rappers get most of the spotlight as far as lyrics go, the vocalists in the group get their chance and prove they have the vocal chops too. But sadly, this was another song that was banned by MOGEF and KBS. They suck, this song doesn’t! – 3.5/5
4. “싱크로율 100% (Synchronization 100%)” – The vocalists get to shine some more on this guitar-tinged track. No electronic hip-hop beat to this one, but instead you get more organic instrumentals. It’s well produced and yet another stellar track on the album. – 4/5
5. “Action” – The last song on the mini-album samples 70’s American funk, but the top-notch production makes it very uplifting and fresh. The chorus is great and the “ooh la la la” just makes you want to sing along! – 3.5/5
Most of the album was produced by Block B’s leader Zico and I can’t help but draw comparisons to Big Bang’s G-Dragon. Both leaders have proven to be effective songwriters and composers — a talent very few groups in K-pop can claim to have. Block B is lucky to have Zico and he’s surely got a bright future in the Korean music industry.
Last year, Block B were hardly seen much after their debut and were even neglected in the year end shows. Maybe it’s their ‘in your face’ attitude, which for old guard, maybe too much to handle. But you know what? Screw them! K-pop needs a shot in the arm and a change of attitude. Block B should remain the way they are, because they are definitely on my radar now.
‘Welcome to the Block‘ is just Block B’s second mini-album and judging by just how good this album is, they’re are about to get a lot bigger in 2012 — and censorship or not, you can’t hold these boys back!
I never thought I would be writing about this group. I mean, U-KISS/유키스! The boy band whose first two hits were catchy, but extremely repetitive hook songs like “Man Man Ha Ni” and “Bingeul Bingeul“. They followed it up with “Shut Up,” which featured one of the lamest dance choreography I’ve seen in K-pop. U-KISS, a band that’s has been poked fun at so many times for being “gay“. That U-KISS!
But you know what, I’m reviewing their music, not the members. And the music in their new album “Neverland” (their second full album)… well, call me impressed!
U-KISS has seen line-up changes around three times since inception, with the most recent one being in February this year when members Alexander and Kibum were kicked outreplaced by AJ and Hoon. NH Media, U-KISS’s corporate overlords, didn’t waste anytime in pushing the new line-up in front of fans with the release of “0330” a month later. The ‘updated’ U-KISS seemed to showcase a different direction the boys would be heading. No more formulaic, repetitive monotone songs with lazy choreography, or so it seems.
But listening to the songs on ‘Neverland,’ you know NH Media were serious about their US ambitions (though I hope they have come to their senses now). Many of the songs don’t sound like your average K-pop record. Here’s a track-by-track review:
01. “Intro” – 0:58 of nothing special
02. “Neverland” – The title track and main single:
If there’s a finer example of how one incorporates pure dance music and boy band pop, “Neverland” is it! It’s a fantastic single with great choreography, even though it is a bit heavy on the auto tune. (I’m not going to comment on the fashion or the wiping-fingers-down-face act, because it’s getting stale). Surely they must be some DJ out there already working on a remix of this song for the clubs!
The true test of how good this song is for U-KISS is when they perform it live. The video may not be anything special but I couldn’t help but hit replay as soon as the MV ended. It’s definitely one of my top K-pop songs of the year! – 5/5
03. “Baby Don’t Cry” – Upbeat, synthesized chorus driven pop bliss! Makes me wonder if this was produced by a foreign producer. Edit: Produced by Ryan Jhun, who produced most of the album. – 4/5
04. “Someday” – Listening to this, I couldn’t help but assume this is a kind of song one would find on a Westlife album! 🙂 Produced by Denzil Remedios, I wonder if this was one of the songs considered for U-KISS’s English debut. – 4/5
05. “Take Me Away” – The first ballad on the album and again, not the usual K-pop fare. Just when you think the instruments would keep piling on from the second verse onwards, they don’t. Instead, it’s just the boys and their vocals that carry this song all through the end. A very good track, and I hope they get a chance to sing it live on the music shows. – 4/5
06. “On The Floor” – With a track title like that, it’s fairly obvious what to expect. This one is from the K-pop electronic dance pop music factory. Not bad, but nothing noteworthy. If you listen to K-pop regularly, you have heard this kind of music before. – 3/5
07. “A Friend’s Love” (친구의 사랑) – Officially in familiar K-pop territory now. The first ‘standard’ ballad on the album, but still a very a listenable track. KissMe*s are surely going to sing along to this chorus! – 3.5/5
08. “April Story” (4월 이야기) – When the song first starts, I wondered if they dropped another artist’s song in here by mistake! But no, the woman voice belongs to Brave Girls’ Eun Young and this ballad is a duet with Shin Soohyun. Standard OST fare, but a well sung track none the less. – 3.5/5
09. “Obsession” – Half the song’s lyrics are “You are my obsession…” and “Love equals obsession, obsession equals love” 😀 Erm, no thanks. I don’t think I’ll be listening to this song often. – 2/5
11. “Tell Me Y” – While MBLAQ sang “Give it to my Yyyyy….” (which made little sense), U-KISS presents a brighter, piano-tinged, rap-filled track. Simple and one of the better album fillers. – 3/5
12. “We’ll Meet Again/다시 만나요” (U-KISS with Paran) – The first two & half minutes of the track are the boys of U-KISS and their labelmates (another boy band, but one that unfortunately never saw much success) Paran chattering and having fun. But as the laughter gives way, the final song on the album is an epic ballad, and a good one at that. A fitting end to the album. – 3.5/5
13. “Someday” (Instrumental)
Until last year, U-KISS and B2ST to me were in the same lower tier of K-pop boybands. Silly, lyrically bland songs with lame choreography, and always inferior compared to the likes of SHINee, BIG BANG and DBSK. Yes, I know the latter are from two of the most famous entertainment companies, but SM and YG didn’t get to where they are today if they hadn’t gotten their formula right. They knew where to invest their money to produce the best, in every regard — from appearance to the music, they know quality!
That is not to say the smaller entertainment companies haven’t stepped up their game. B2ST matured in 2011 and won me over with “Fiction“. And now, U-KISS has made me take them seriously as well. NH Media seems to have figured out the ‘right formula’ with this album and given the boys the best they have released to date.
‘Neverland’ is easily one of the best K-pop studio albums an idol group has put out in 2011. Far better than the last album I reviewed — and that came from SM Entertainment. U-KISS’s ‘Neverland’ is an album that manages to draw the listener in from the start and you won’t find yourself skipping past many of the songs. A testament to how well paced the album is with good songs.
So in conclusion, hats off to U-KISS (with its current line-up)! You guys (along with B2ST) have move up several notches in the Korean boy band world and can proudly claim to be one of the best the Hallyu wave has to offer today. I won’t call myself a KissMe because being an adult male, that would be, erm, gayawkward — but consider this: I will buy ‘Neverland’ legally and (if I ever get the chance) I would be excited to see you guys perform live in concert!