Sunday, September 23, 2012

NOW KPOPPING: Girl Group Gallery

With Girls' Generation planning their next big bow, 2NE1 dragging their feet for their next release (side eyes, side eyes) and T-Ara's career circling the drain, you'd think the girl group scene in Korea would be boring. Nope. Here's a quick catchup lesson of what you should be listening least until TVXQ drops their latest classic in a few minutes...

EVOL (pronounced like 'evil') - "We Are A Little Bit Different"
There's plenty of rookie girl groups coming out of the woodwork. Telling the difference between all these nugus is not something I particularly excel at, but from the minute I saw the music video for EvoL's "We Are A Little Bit Different" (too on the nose? No?), I found  myself quite taken by them. They have the spunk and "rebel girl" attitude that gave 2NE1 such success but is still very much within the cutesy-girl-group-with-latent-sex-appeal pocket that seems to be Korea's bread and butter.

EvoL is a five member girl group and at the moment are best known as being the "sister" group to fellow "rebel" boy band Block B. "We Are A Little Bit Different" isn't the best song from their debut EP, Let Me Explode (in my opinion, that goes to slightly harder "Magnet"), but still has a bangin' dancefloor, Guetta-esque feel. My only real complaint is the chorus is literally non-existent (Oo-oh-ohhhh Oh Oh Oh Oh!). Come on, girls. You can do better than that. Considering it's their debut single, I will give them a pass because I have a feeling they have more up their sleeves.

SECRET - "Poison"
Secret is a four-piece girl group that's been around the block a few times. They are best known in Korea for being the true queens of the vintage sound, so if you dug Wonder Girls' "Nobody" swing or TaeTiSeo's "Twinkle", you should be all about Secret. Signed to TS Entertainment (who is basically these days only relevant for the rampant popularity of the in-your-face boy band B.A.P.), the group debuted in 2009 (a year that also brought us f(x), 2NE1 and 4minute). I started paying attention thanks to 2010's "Madonna", a song that had a slight New Jack Swing kind of feel long before SHINee was oh-so-curious and their recent comeback, centered around the single "Poison" from their third official mini album, feels a bit like "Madonna" (Part 2!) in a really great way.

While I am a bit upset that Secret doesn't get the attention or credit they probably deserve, considering how vocally talented they are, "Poison" is a really fun song, albeit a bit repetitive. But then again -- this is KPOP, so...

And I know what you're thinking. Not totally unlike SISTAR, Secret is a girl group in Korea with curves. Astonishing, I know, but they do exist. 

KARA - "Pandora"
I'm gonna be honest when I say that I probably don't have the swag necessary to be the fifth member of 2NE1, and while I joined the KPOP fandom in 2009 feeling like perhaps I wouldn't mind being the sixth member of 4minute (don't judge me -- those neon-colored leggings circa the "Muzik" era were fierce), these days, I picture myself more along the lines of a BFF of the Wonder Girls and perhaps the sixth member of KARA.

While 2NE1 & Girls' Generation often gets lots of press for their success in Japan, if we want to be totally accurate, it's the girls in DSP Entertainment's KARA that are really making bank in the second biggest music market in the world. They also clean up in Korea, with a stack full of hits including cutesy "Wanna", butt-dance creating "Mister", the 70's disco-inspired "STEP" and everybody's fave "Lupin". They added to this hit brigade with their latest comeback in the synthy space jam "Pandora" -- perfectly fitting in to the KARA sound without feeling like a remash of what they've already done.

The song itself is very catchy (as is the case with most KARA jams) but recently gained a bit of criticism for being too sexy (this is Korea we're talking about, after all), as in the choreography, the girls pull down their shirts and exposes quite a bit of their back. Had KARA been a boy band, we all know this would have been totally cool and probably encouraged, but because they are chicks, we must shield the minors from this kind of total depravity. Sigh. Another day, another Korean Scandal. Doesn't make "Pandora" any less amazing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

PLAYING CATCH UP: The Autumn 2012 Edition

Can you believe it's almost October? Those of you who speak to me on Twitter or have read my blog around previous Octobers might already be aware that October is the general equivalent to Hell Month for me at the Day Job, so be wary of sparse updates. Rather than ramble on for too long, let's smash together a heck of a whole lot of what's been interesting me musically these days.

- In KPOP land (post coming shortly), there is no shortage of new goodies to groove to by some fierce females, but have no fear -- the boy bands are returning. In a possible repeat (read: obvious repeat) of 2011's glorious "Keep Your Head Down (Why)", TVXQ! (in Yunho & Changmin) will be returning to the Korean scene with a brand new single called "Catch Me" next week and there are rumours swirling of a World Tour to go with it. Whether or not this "World Tour" will actually stop at the rest of the world beyond Asia, we'll have to wait and see -- but fingers crossed, right?

- Super Junior M, the Mandarin-singing sub-unit of Super Junior proper (read: the one SuJu event that openly involves Henry & ZhouMi, and also the sub-unit that really encouraged me to like Super Junior in the first place) will be returning to the Chinese music market "soon". No word just yet on whether it will be a single or a full EP, but I'm hoping for the latter. Fresh tunes from by two main biases in KPOP? Happy Holiday Season, Mel -- indeed.

- P!NK recently dropped her sixth album, The Truth About Love, and in true P!NK fashion, it's pretty damn lovely. While I can sort of give or take the first single -- "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" -- the album is full of unexpected collaborations (Eminem, Lily Allen Rose Cooper, and Nate Ruess, better known as the lead singer of fun.) and overall some great tunage. However, my favorite of the set is the opener in the anthematic "Are We All We Are".

- Christina Aguilera has dropped the first single, "Your Body", from her upcoming fifth studio album (if you don't count Mi Reflejo and My Kind of Christmas, which I don't persay). The album is set to be titled Lotus, and rather than going the way of her past two albums (Back to Basics and Bionic), this one will not be considered much of a "conceptual" album, but more of a diary, a la Stripped. It's even set to contain the 2012 equivilant of a "Fighter" type song. Much of the production is set to be provided by the godly Max Martin -- including the dancey "Your Body" (more on that in a sec). Let's all keep our fingers crossed for when Lotus drops this November.

- Speaking of Xtina, she has officially announced this will be her last season of The Voice, at least for awhile, as she will be pulling a Jennifer Lopez and leaving the show to refocus on her career. However, this season's The Voice has already made good with a surprise appearance by none other than my favorite member of Dream Street, Chris Trousdale. Unfortunately for Chris, none of the judges picked him when he sang a bit of The Wanted's "Glad You Came". Watching his bit on the show, I find it quite heartwrenching to see the sad side of life after boy band success (he currently works at a sushi restaurant). You can watch the performance audition here. While the audience seemed to be with it, the judges ultimately decided he was too much of a dancer rather than a singer (he even did the moonwalk, even though the judges didn't see it). As for life after "The Voice", Chris has stated he will be continuing to work toward his dream. You can follow him on Twitter via @OfficialCRT.

- On a more positive note, another boy band alum seems to be having a bit more success. Travis Garland, formerly of the boy band NLT, has dropped another totally ace, chilled out cover on his YouTube channel -- this time of Taylor Swift's recent hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". The cover was premiered on Ryan Secrest's blog and can be downloaded for free here. According to Ryan Seacrest, a new EP of original tunes from Travis is set to be coming "soon".

- It might be unfair to label Carly Rae Jepsen -- (yes, the "Call Me Maybe" girl) -- as a one hit wonder just yet. She finally released her debut American album this past week and it is suprisingly jam packed with sparkling pop ditties. While admittedly, I didn't find too much of it particularly hooky and memorable within its first few listens -- with the exception of the stunning Dallas Austin-co-written/produced "Tiny Little Bows", if only for the Sam Cooke sample -- I was really pleasantly satisifed with the album. Even the handful of tracks co-written by Redfoo of the now "defunct" LMFAO (did you hear about their "break up"?) were quite listenable and not at all club thumpy and strange the way I pictured them to be when I first heard of their collaborations in the studio. Perhaps the Berry Gordy blood does run pretty thick within him, eh? All in all -- don't sleep on Kiss, it's a pretty great pop album.

- And finally, did you see "Gangnam Style" on SNL? It's basically the epitome of my worlds colliding. All they needed was to throw in a random boy band from the 90's, a cutaway of a member of Girls Aloud and Jared Padalecki from "Supernatural" dancing along in the background and it would be a video version of my audiography. No joke.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

MIXTAPE: The United SATS of America

LtoR: Vanessa, Mollie, Frankie, Una & Rochelle
It's really happening, ya'll. Excuse me while I shriek in happiness.

Thanks to those cuties in One Direction, the United States is finally starting to get hip to the plethora of danceable pop the UK churns out on the regular, with announcements of attempts to go "stateside" for a veritable pantheon of UK Pop Artists. Admittedly, many of them are attached to the UK X-Factor that birthed One Direction (Rebecca Ferguson, Cher Lloyd, etc.), but in the case of one of my all-time girl group faves, The Saturdays, it seems the fact that being attached the "UK Teen Pop Boom" could work also in their favor.

My love for The Saturday is well documented in this blog since their early days of "If This Is Love" back in 2008. They share a label with the iconic Girls Aloud (and also opened for them), and have done the majority of the "heavy lifting" (if you can call it that) whilst the Almighty Aloud dabbled in solo works and the Sugababes basically imploded. While some of their single choices lately have raised some ire in yours truly, at their heart, The Sats are a great, fun pop group that I have my fingers crossed that America will embrace. I mean -- we haven't had a fun-loving girl group since Danity Kane days of the mid 00's. Think about it.

The Los Angeles.

The group made their grand debut in the US this past Thursday, performing at a private party sponsored by Perez Hilton in Los Angeles where they unveiled their still underwraps new single "What About Us". The song will be their debut American single, set for release in January and will appear, most likely alongside "30 Days", their summer single released a few months back in the UK, on their upcoming fourth full length album. The will be making their East Coast debut tonight here in NYC.

While it hasn't been announced whether or not this all-new album will be released simultaneously in both the UK and the US, I've put together my wish list in terms of an imaginary "catch-up" album for the US while the world waits for Album #4. For those of you who haven't yet checked-in to The Saturdays, consider this your homework assignment until "What About Us" is formally released...

01. All Fired Up (music video here)
The second single from the group's third album, On Your Radar. The album's title came from a lyric in this song. Co-written by MNEK and produced by the Xenomania crew who literally define what makes UK Quirk Pop great, this song gets the party started on the dance floor. It remains to be one of the group's biggest hits in the UK.

02. What About Us
While not much is currently known about the song, you can check out a fancam of the live performance from Perez Hilton's showcase last week here.

03. Notorious (music video here)
The lead single from On Your Radar, this song defines "diva" and was on constant replay for yours during my birthday month last year.

04. Up! (music video here)
The second single -- campy, terrible music video in all, back from their "color-coordinated" days! -- from the group's debut album, Chasing Lights, "Up!" remains to be one of their biggest glory moments.

05. Higher (feat. Flo Rida) (music video here)
While it didn't do as well chart-wise as fans (and the group themselves hoped), the group decided to collaborate with Flo Rida in this second-off from the mini album Headlines! (a bridge between sophomore album Wordshaker and On Your Radar that overall, I was pretty disgruntled by). While it wasn't my favorite single, it was better than the previous single "Missing You" by miles.

06. Wordshaker (LISTEN)
The namesake for the group's under appreciated sophomore album, "Wordshaker" remains to be one of my favorite Satz songs of all time and the fact that it wasn't chosen as a single continues to irritate me. Lots of heavy synth abounds. Turn this up loud.

07. Get Ready, Get Set (LISTEN)
This song, the other Xenomania production on On Your Radar, was originally in competition to be single #3 following "All Fired Up" before it was pushed back and eventually scrapped in favor of the mid-tempo ballad "My Heart Takes Over". It's a shame, too, as it's a great straight-up pop song and sounds like a long-lost Girls Aloud b-side.

08. Ego (music video here)
The big mid-tempo "ballad-esque" second single to Wordshaker, "Ego" went Top 8 in the UK, Ireland and Scotland, and helps show off the group's vocals and harmony.

09. Forever Is Over (music video here)
"Over", co-written by James Bourne of the UK alt rock group Busted, was originally a pretty surprising choice as the first single for Wordshaker after much more dance-influenced singles in the Chasing Lights debut era. It's another shining example of vocal talent in the group's underappreciated power belter (and baby of the group) Vanessa White. It also went on to be arguably their biggest hit in the UK.

10. Issues (acoustic live version at AOL Sessions)
The requisite ballad single from the group's debut album, "Issues", went to #4 in the UK. The song got a little bit of "press" for it's potentially suggestive lyrical content in the chorus, which can sound like "Can't decide if I should stab you or kiss you' (although the group states the lyrics are "slap you"). In the single version, the lyrics were changed to become "Can't decide if I should leave you or kiss you."

11. White Lies (LISTEN)
Another great forgotten album cut from the group's third album. It was written & produced by Carl Falk, who brought us One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" and "One Thing", along with Nicki Minaj's "Pound the Alarm" and "Starships".

12. If This Is Love (music video here)
Finish it all off with the song that started it all, complete with obligatory 80's-influenced electropop sound and Yazoo! sample (it's 1982's "Situation", if it helps remedy that "I know that sample from somewhere" feeling).

BONUS CUT: Beggin' (Live Lounge Version Minus Frankie HERE)
In 2009, the group covered the classic "Beggin'" (originally by the Four Seasons, and at the time re-popularized by one-hit wonder Madcon) for their first live tour in the UK -- and it is freakin' fantastic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HEAR THIS: Rebecca Ferguson is "Backtrack"-ing

My girl Rebecca Ferguson, the husky-voiced Brit sensation who came in second on the UK X-Factor (in the same season that also brought us One Direction, Aiden Grimshaw, Cher Lloyd and Belle Amie) is continuing on her promotional trail with an upcoming re-release of her debut album Heaven, featuring five new songs, including the stellar new single "Backtrack."

Among the new bonus re-release cuts is a cover of Aqualung's "Strange and Beautiful" and Drake's "Take Care" (I'm guessing her version will rely on the song that is heavily sampled in this song -- Gil Scott Heron's "I'll Take Care Of You"), recorded live in Liverpool, as well as "I'll Count The Days" which will soon be featured in the runaway British television hit "Downtown Abbey".

"Backtrack" is the kind of foot-stomping, soul-influnced song that really chugs. Think Aretha Franklin (one of her chief influences) meets Tina Turner meets the more rollicking Adele (a la say, "Rumour Has It"). It sounds like it belongs in another era entirely rather than one so soaked in fuzzy electro, and that fact only adds to its already refreshing qualities. It's also battling prior single "Too Good To Lose" to be my favorite on the disc.

Unfortunately for US fans like myself, the video is blocked in our country on YouTube (What is the point of the country blocking again? I'll never understand). So instead, jam out to this lyric video. Here in the US, we take what we can, I suppose...

"Backtrack", the single, will be released in the UK on October 14th.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

HEAR THIS: Mark Russell 'Takes Two', Goes Solo

Where all my girls (and boys) at who were rooting for the likes of the 2008-era American Boy Band (only to have their dreams crushed)? You know, the Holy Trio. NLT. V-Factory. Menudo. Those guys.

If you were all 'bout it back then like I was, you were probably already aware the three toured together via the (Boy) Bandemonium Tour in 2008, packaged by sparkling pop extraordinaire and every fangirl's favorite manager, Johnny Wright (at that time anyway -- now it'd probably be Simon Cowell or Scooter Braun, depending on whether you dig 1D or the Biebz, respectively). You might also recall the three groups also touted around a duo group of equally handsome dudes who -- bonus points -- played guitar in lieu of cheographies in the fledgling group Mark & James. (You can hear their single "Best I Never Had" via this fan-made lyric video here.) The duo was essentially an "opening act", but also acted as MC during the tour. I was introduced to them mostly via the series of hilarious "diary" videos that featured all four groups -- they are still available on YouTube so check them out.

Not totally unlike the three aforementioned, Mark & James (who happened to be BFFs and college roommates, and were promoting their debut album while still in school) also parted ways, but not before also opening up on the road for the likes of OneRepublic, Avril Lavigne, the Jonas Brothers, The Veronicas, Hanson, Robin Thicke & Jon McLaughlin. Member Mark Russell maintained ties with the Wright Entertainment Group and has since gone solo. It was a bit strange to lump them in with such packaged boy bands to begin with, as their music was much more acoustically driven, and its a sound that Mark continues to put forth with his excellent solo works.

Mark Russell, looking a bit like a cross of Ryan Tedder, Chris Richardson & Blake Lewis...and I'm okay with that.
2011's One Take earned interest from the folks at iHeartRadio and features one of my favorite cuts by him, his debut single in "Dance", a very OneRepublic-esque jam that had not one, not two, but three music videos.

His most recent release, Take Two, hit shelves last month and is a full 13-track album (that does not include "Dance", it should be noted) that's available for perusal on Spotify. It features more of Mark's soulful pipes and is heavy on the guitar leanings. It's full to capacity to hidden gems -- my favorites being "Love Is War", "City Lights" (both featured also on One Take) and "Close My Eyes". "Eyes", at the very least, deserves a bit more production polishing for a radio treatment -- what a  great winter single it'd be! If you're looking for a fresh new voice in your pop music library -- I suggest you look no further. The album is available for purchase on iTunes.

For more updates on Mark, follow him on Twitter via @IAmMarkRussell.

Monday, September 10, 2012

HEAR THIS: Secondhand Serenade Returns to "Fall" Again

Let's flash back for a few minutes to the year 2008 -- Bush was still President and I was heading into my senior year of college in a sleepy, forgotten town in Upstate New York. Considering we're teleporting back four years, this post semi-qualifies as a bonafide Back In the Day type of ramble...
It was a time when a lot of singer-songwriter acoustic rock (and "emo" rock) was all the rage on the American airwaves and was especially popular in my suburban college environment. While I always loved my dancefloor pop, it was hard not to also expand my musical horizons to include songs from the likes of The Fray, Dashboard Confessional (who happened to stop by my alma mater while I was there) and Death Cab for Cutie amongst others. As I attended a school with a burgeoning music program, it shouldn't surprise you that this style of "MySpace-brand" artist was a huge influence on many of my classmates, many of which doubled as musicians.
John Vesely, of Secondhand Serenade

2008 also marked a spotlight moment for John Vesely, best known as the face behind rock band Secondhand Serenade, who scored big with the sleeper hit "Fall For You" that just about every band on my campus insisted on covering. The pretty ballad was a bonafide hit at Pop Radio and sat just outside the Top 20 on the Hot 100. Just hearing it now brings me right back to that place and imagine my nostalgia when I heard the group, who has recently gone the indie route, will be re-releasing the album that really launched them, A Twist In My Story, this Tuesday as A Naked Twist In My Story, featuring all the original songs in a more acoustic, re-imagined way along with a brand new song in "Belong To".
Take a listen to the original 2008 version of "Fall For You" below.


I got the chance to hear the re-released album ahead of its release recently and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. There's just something about poetically emotional lyrics set to a backdrop of acoustic guitar and piano that pulls at your (wait for it) heartstrings, and this is no different. Aside from the gorgeous "Fall For You", revisiting this album in a new light brought to me new faves in quietly somber "Why", the sparse and lightly island-influence feel of "Stranger" that lends itself to the resurgance of Jason Mraz post-"I'm Yours" and the lyrical desperation in "Stay Close Don't Go". New song "Belong To" is very piano-based and is yet another proof positive of the lyrical prowess in Secondhand Serenade.

You can hear a teaser of the new version of "Stranger" here:

Their brand of dreamy tunes is clearly a product of that movement of California Alt Rock (proof in point: the band itself is from Cali)  that many college kids (myself included) sought refuge in to express what we couldn't on our own -- and if perhaps you didn't catch them beyond "Fall For You" back in 2008, now is your chance to re-visit a great lyrical record.

A Naked Twist In My Story is available for purchase tomorrow, September 11th, 2012. An original album will also be coming along the pike shortly soon after. For more updates on Secondhand Serenade, you can follow John on Twitter via @secondhandjohn.

Follow Me on Instagram via @melismaticdiva