Friday, December 30, 2011

[#1] DBSK/HoMin - "Back To Tomorrow"

From: "TONE" (Album)
Released: September 2011, Japan
Rating: 5.00

Surprised? Nah, you know me well enough already.

I tried really hard to keep a DBSK/HoMin/JYJ song off the top spot this year, and I even thought of just revealing the top 5 songs out of order, because I know that there are people who will write me off and start raising hell if DBSK end up on top. Again. But after certain events, like hearing "TONE" in CDQ on extremely nice speakers, screw that.

Everyone has to understand that unlike other people, or even the people who raise hell at my choice, I like DBSK because of the music. My fangirling works the other way around -- I hear a song I like, I do my research, I hear more songs I like, I recognize their voices, I start learning about the members, I hear entire albums of brilliance, I pick a favorite voice, which becomes my favorite member altogether, and I begin spazzing on Twitter over their cats. For me, the music always comes first, and I'm a Cassie because of all the brilliant songs.

So if DBSK, or any part of, keep coming on top of my best of lists, it's because they really deserve it. I have explained time and time again that I KNOW DBSK aren't perfect, I know they have their flaws, I know they've had some really bad songs over the years, and before "Mirotic" they couldn't really hold a solid live performance in Korea, but the good outweighs the bad. At the end of the day they are immensely talented, they can carry themselves on stage like no other boyband in K-Pop right now, and they have some of the best material the Asian pop music industry has to offer.

"Back To Tomorrow" is one of those songs. It's epic, it's well-sung and well-arranged, and above all it's a beautiful song. I wouldn't describe it as stunning or gorgeous, because there's something lacking in those words, something inferior. Beautiful is a more apt term. Simple, but straight to the point, like the song itself.

You have all these heavy instruments, a bass line you really feel in your bones, a confident yet gorgeous string section, this very light, but firm, piano line, and despite everything happening, the song has such a strong sense of dynamics. The verses are quite packed, but them literally there's a BAM and everything explodes. And that explosion will literally reduce you into a puddle of goo because it's so beautiful.

The melody is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and Yunho and Changmin do it flawlessly, but one thing I noticed is that the melody is actually pretty tame compared to the epic instrumental. It sounds so humble and effortless. It's as if Yunho and Changmin are like "you want epic, here you go" without lifting a finger. Of course the song still has conviction, but unlike other acts, they don't have to try too hard to deliver something amazing.

With everything going on all over the place, you'd think that either the elements clash, or the melody will sound disjointed from the instrumental. They don't, and it's not. Everything gels together in the most natural way possible. Kind of like when you mix the yellow and white of an egg, and the mixture turns out yellow, but a little lighter than the original yellow. "Back To Tomorrow" is exactly like that.

To put it simply, the songwriters, and the arranger, knew exactly what they wanted, and they knew exactly what they were doing when they executed it. And Yunho and Changmin went in and executed it flawlessly, to make my favorite song of 2011.
[FULL][AUD]Tohoshinki - Back to tomorrow from manaras on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

[#2] Lee Haeri - "Can You Hear Me?"

From: "Tears of Heaven Soundtrack" (OST)
Released: March 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.95

In this world, there are emotionless ballads, there are ballads that give you goosebumps, there are also ballads that make you cry, and then there is "Can You Hear Me?".

"Can You Hear Me?" is beyond crying, it's beyond goosebumps, it's a million light years above emotionless -- it literally makes you want to crawl under a rock, curl up into a ball and curse everything for making something beyond stunning. It's as if you want to cry because it's so gorgeous, but your body says otherwise, because it's above gorgeous.

The song was for "Tears Of Heaven", and basically the reason why I even know of this song is because I wanted to hear a Junsu-Haeri duet recording but ended up with a Haeri song. Not that I'm complaining.

It's a very simple song, if you listen carefully. There's nothing out of the ordinary, nothing outside the standard piano, drums, bass, electric guitar here and there, and some strings later. However the song's beauty lies in the way everything was put together and executed. How Haeri's vocals were literally made to float above the very simple and light instrumental, and how the arrangement was made in such a way that the song builds up in an excruciatingly slow place, then dies down right away, leaving you stunned and wanting more.

And Haeri's voice is of no help to the situation, as usual (for those who didn't get it and might lash out on me because of that, I mean that it's just as stunning as the rest of the song). It's gorgeous, smooth and very feminine, but at the same time it's also mature, and her technique is really something else. The maturity, the stability, the control she has over herself to keep from just screaming her way through the entire song, now THAT is singing.

Like I said, the song itself is actually really simple. And if you notice, she doesn't really have any extremely high notes either, just a few at the tail end which she executes flawlessly, but apart from that the melody is very basic. What Haeri has is one, obviously a stunning AND learned voice, and two, emotion. I know I probably sound like a broken record already, but really, music is half heard and half *felt*. And this song, Haeri's vocals in particular, is the epitome of that.

[#3] DBSK/HoMin - "Before U Go"

From: "Keep Your Head Down Repackaged" (Album)
Released: March 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.75

It was a fierce battle between what's now my #2 song and this, but in the end, I'm afraid my beloved HoMin, and their gorgeous Korean single, will have to settle for #3 this year. But #3 is incredibly high too!

I really meant to publish this later in the evening because of my "11 albums you HAD to hear in 2011" post, so throughout the day, I was thinking of an appropriate food analogy for this song. I had a few ideas, including (leche) flan, and even royal icing for a while, but then I thought that maybe I should rest from comparing songs to food for a bit.


"Before U Go" is definitely not butter because even if butter is really smooth, it's kinda gross once it's melted and oily. Definitely not. So I went through the other possibilities, and I eventually settled. "Before U Go" is caramel. The hot, thick, incredibly sweet kind. It looks unsuspecting, it actually looks like your standard confectionary, but when you eat pure, newly-melted caramel it's so sinful. But so amazing, so much so that sometimes you need a sip of water because it's too much, but you still keep eating.

And because it's so sweet, caramel actually becomes a bit salty sometimes. It has dimension. "Before U Go" has dimension.

The song itself is so smooth, the orchestration, the melody, the background vocals, everything is so polished and smooth, but done with conviction -- that's the smooth, sweet part. The instrumental is very basic, but the melody oh my gosh the melody. It's a difficult song to sing, you have long lines that don't allow for much breathing, and high notes all over the place, but when it's sung well, the heavens rejoice.

The salty part is courtesy of Yunho and Changmin's vocals. They're not smooth like Kyuhyun or Jaejoong, they're not big like Junsu or Yesung, they're a bit thin around the edges, and not too flexible either, kind of like a thin sheet of plastic. You can bend it a bit, yes, but you can't really make it a completely different shape if you don't melt it or anything. But it's that firmness and the character of their voices that gives the song the dimension it needs.

But even with the dimension and the sinfulness, caramel is very basic. It's classic. You can put it on anything and everything, just like how "Before U Go" has the ability to transcend time. The song could very well be a classic, because despite everything going on, the foundations of it are very basic.

"Before U Go" is truly one of the most stunning, yet classic, songs you will hear.

Ripple Top Albums of 2011

As the year draws to an end, as we're naturally prone to do, it's time to come up with our views on the albums that left the greatest impressions on our psyches. And just like last year, we're thrilled to be joining an ever-growing, impressive collection of like-minded music writers, who've all banded together to share their thoughts.

At the end of this post, please check out the links to these other great sites and see their thoughts. Argue with us, agree with us, it's all intended to stimulate conversation.

As for our list . . . well, it's a bit different this year. First of all, we cover more than metal at the Ripple Effect, so only creating a Top 10 List of our favorite Heavy Albums seemed a bit too limiting. Also, with our ever-expanding roster of writers, all with different tastes, well, let's just say we're a bit eclectic.  It should also be noted that not every writer hears every album, so while I (Racer) may have loved Rival Sons or Dixie Witch, I simply haven't heard them.  Finally, while several Ripple writers were thrilled with Ripple Music releases, both Pope and Racer felt that it wouldn't be right to place our own label's releases on our lists (even though they should be there!)

With all that said, below we hope you'll find an eclectic collection of what passed through the Ripple this year and what we just couldn't forget.


SuperGiant - Pistol Star
Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned -
30 Weight
Roadsaw -
Ape Machine -
War to Head
Kamchatka -
Bury Your Roots
The Bloody Hollies -
Yours until the Bitter End
Rick Barton and the Shadow Blasters -
An American Rock Song
Gangstagrass (featuring Tone-Z) -
Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic
The 1-10's -
Fighting for a Golden Age


Year of the Goat – Lucem Ferre
SuperGiant – Pistol Star
Opeth – Harvest
Dornenreich – Flammentriebe
Elemental Zazen – Nothing to Lose But Change
Voivod – Warriors of Ice
Forgotten Tomb – Under Saturn Retrograde
Onslaught – Sounds of Violence
Horned Almighty – Necro Spirituals
Forest of Stars – Restless In Flight 


Grifter – s/t
Roadsaw – s/t
Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Rival Sons – Pressure And Time
The Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House Down
Sigiriya – Return To Earth
Heavy Glow – Midnight Moan
Samsara Blues Experiment – Revelation and Mystery
Gideon Smith and the Dixie damned – 30 Weight
Dixie Witch – Let It Roll


Gentleman's Pistols - At Her Majesty's Pleasure
Motorhead - The World Is Yours
Yob - Atma
Ghost - Opus Eponymous
Grifter - Grifter
Backwoods Payback – Momantha
Dixie Witch - Let It Roll
Pentagram – Last Rites
Loafass - Smoke & Mirrors
Groan – The Sleeping Wizard

Favorite reissues -

Miles Davis - Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1
Twisted Sister - Live At The Marquee 1983
Bossa Nova & The Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s
Alice Cooper - Old School box set
Deep Purple - Come Taste the Band
Iggy & the Stooges "Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans"


1.  YOB - Atma
 2.  Karma To Burn - V
 3.  Elder - Dead Roots Stirring
 4.  Borracho - Splitting Sky
 5.  Catapult the Smoke - Born In Fire
 6.  Witch Mountain - South Of Salem
 7.  Ogressa - Warts And All
 8.  The Heavy Eyes - The Heavy Eyes
 9.  Lo Pan - Salvador
10. Freedom Hawk - Holding On

Top Ten For 2011 In Alphabetical Order

2 Ton Bug - Wedding Of The Century
Beehoover - Concrete Catalyst
Conny Ochs - Raw Love Songs
Einvera - In Your Image
Jim Wilson - Jim Wilson
MC Frontalot - Solved
Mr J Medeiros - Saudade
Pharoahe Monch - W.A.R.
Rhode Island - Light The Windows In These Places Let Through
The Meads Of Asphodel - The Murder Of Jesus The Jew

Honorable Mentions
Random - Check out anything he put out in 2011, it's all good!
K-Murdock - Several high quality projects including 'The Ronin'

Reissue Crushing Most Of My New Albums
Mos Generator - Mos Generator Deluxe Edition


 1. Brutal Truth - End Time
2.  Revocation - Chaos of Forms
3.  Fuck the Facts, Die Miserable
4.  Lock Up - Necropolis Transparent
5.  Northless - Clandestine Abuse
6.  Yob - Atma
7.  Acephalix - Interminable Night
8.  Anaal Nathrakh - Passion
9.  Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
10. Atlas Moth - An Ache for the Distance


The Gates of Slumber – The Wretch
Atriarch – Forever The End
Bell Witch – 2011 Demo
The Big Wheel Stunt Show – Cheetah Milque
Curse Of The North – Revelations
Rich Robinson – Through A Crooked Sun
Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street
Electric Wizard – Black Masses
Ronnie Wood – I Feel Like Playing
Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Cicatriz: (in reverse alphabetical order as to not play favorites.)

Wolves Like Us - Late Love
Weekend Nachos - Worthless
Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command
Thrice - Major/Minor
Nick 13 - Nick 13
City and Colour - Little Hell
Childish Gambino - Camp
Cerebral Ballzy - Cerebral Ballzy
Bret Detar - Bird In The Triangle
The Black Dahlia Murder - Ritual


1) Lykke Li -Wounded Rhymes
2) Adele - 21
3 )Foster the People - Torches
4) Cults- Cults
5) The Black Keys - El Camino
6) Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
7) Zola Jesus - Conatus
8) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
9) Young the Giant- Young the Giant
10) Bon Iver- Bon Iver

Old School’s Response To A Top 10 List For 2011

“You want me to do what?!”, I thought when Racer said, “time to get your year end Top 10 list together.  We usually publish it the last week of December.   Should be new albums for this year  . . .”   

Come on Racer, give me a break.  Don’t you remember what I wrote when you asked for this last year (see Top Ten Lists Of Top Ten List Lists - by Old School?)  What makes you think I’d do this now?

Sure, I received and reviewed some awesome music this year.  There were Tom Principato’s “A Part Of Me,” Joe Purdy’s “This American,”  Modern Day Moonshine’s “Refuge,” Ari Hest’s “Sunset Over Hope Street,” Honeychild’s “Nearer The Earth,” Red Wanting Blue’s “These Magnificent Miles,” The Mattson 2’s “Feeling Hands,” Julius Pittman & The Revival’s “Live Tonite,” Aaron Williams & The Hoodoo’s “10:49” and Only Living Boy’s “Hide Nothing,” just to name a few.  Can I say one is better than another? No. 

Look, I’m not going to judge whether Metal is better than Alternative Rock or Classic Rock is better than Punk Rock or Americana is better than Electronica or Blues are better than Jazz, or vice versa.  I have no desire or need to try to discern which release was better than another in Maslow’s Music Pyramid.  It’s basically a “Beatles or Stones” argument and I don’t buy it. It’s all good and, each year, there is so much I haven’t heard it could never be complete.  How could one ever produce an empirically valid Top Ten List of artistic musical efforts?  You can’t. You’ve just got to make your own.

All Metal Resource
Bring Back Glam
Hair Metal Mansion
Hard Rock Hideout
Hard Rock Nights
Heavy Metal Addiction
Heavy Metal Time Machine
Imagine Echoes
Layla’s Classic Rock
Metal Excess
The Metal Minute
Metal Odyssey

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

11 Albums You HAD to Hear in 2011

I thought of mixing things up a bit this year, so instead of just laying down the best albums that came out in the past twelve months, I'm going to be talking about the albums that caught my ears, and maybe even eyes, this year. They are on the list not necessarily because they're amazing albums (but I have those too!), but because they've been talked about, or they've broken records, and basically because they've caught my attention. Therefore, I won't just be talking about the music, so I hope it's a welcome change!

The rules:

1. This list is exclusively for releases which contain FIVE (5) or more tracks. A mini-album must have the minimum five tracks, whereas a full-length one should feature at least TEN (10) original tracks. Only cuts which were released for the first time in 2011 are eligible to be counted. For example, in SNSD's Japanese album "GIRLS' GENERATION", "Genie" and "Gee" were Japanese singles in 2010, not 2011, and so they will not be included in the final, technical, count (exclusively for eligibility and classification), however they can be talked about in the review proper.
2. The featured artist must be an idol or idol group and of Korean nationality, regardless of where the album was released and what nationality the production staff were.
3. The featured artist must be the sole artist on least 75% of the songs on the album. So, for example, G.NA's "Black and White" (let's pretend rule #1 doesn't exist for now, because half of that album was from 2010) contains TEN (10) tracks. However, in SIX (6) of those ten tracks, she shares credits with other artists. Therefore, the album is disqualified.
4. One album per artist, regardless of territory. If the artist had two albums this year, only one can appear on the list.

I will not be writing full reviews for the eleven albums on the list, however, if available, I will refer you guys to my reviews of the albums, or singles. I don't have enough time to write eleven full reviews, but I hope the 2-3 paragraphs I wrote will suffice.

The Album: Super Junior - "Mr. Simple"
The Format: Full-Length
The Release: August 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Mr. Simple"
The PRN Review: N/A
The Reason: Because according to Hanteo, and several other Korean sales charts, this is the biggest-selling album in Korea for 2011. So far. Do I think it deserves that title? Honestly, no. And that's why it caught my attention, because this is the business side of the industry at work -- you don't just have to have superior material to be popular, you also need buying power and armies of fans who will buy anything you release at the drop of a hat. And sometimes, you can't have both. The material on "Mr. Simple" aren't the dregs of the earth or anything, but so much more could've been done, considering that one, Super Junior aren't completely lacking in talent, and two, SM Entertainment clearly have the money and manpower to get better material. I mean, if you put together a sub-par album then put Super Junior's name on it, since the buying public is stupid, then no one will really notice how bad the album is, right? "Mr. Simple" also demonstrates how stupid all these capitalists are for thinking that we're stupid.
The Recommended Track(s): "Opera", "My Love, My Kiss, My Heart"

The Album: Wonder Girls - "Wonder World"
The Format: Full-Length
The Release: November 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Be My Baby"
The PRN Review: Full Review, Best of 2011 - "Me, In"
The Reason: Best album of the year, and most definitely worth the long wait. I went from being this close to absolutely hating their Korean material, to worshipping the ground they walk on. I don't do that very often. But somehow, in this massive shift, the Wonder Girls managed to keep the sound that makes them, themselves. "Wonder World" is cohesive yet diverse, it's fresh yet familiar but confident, and the material is not only top-grade, it's also well-executed. Outstanding song selection and strong production, but not too strong, giving the album some character. Catchy hooks, simple melodies, a whole array of synth loops, and everything your standard pop album has to have these days, but done in a sophisticated and musical manner.  "Wonder World" is pop down to the last note, and it's not ashamed of that, but it also has kick. With tracks like "Me, In", why wouldn't it? It's one of those albums that you have to listen to from start to finish over and over and over again.
The Recommended Track(s): "Girls Girls", "Me, In", "Stop!", "Sweet Dreams", "G.N.O."

The Album: BEAST - "Fiction and Fact"
The Format: Full-Length
The Release: May 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Fiction"
The PRN Review: Full Review, Best of 2011 - "Though I Call"
The Reason: BEAST are solid proof that effort can, and will, go a long way. They have talent, they have good songs, but unlike other acts, they also put in actual effort to make up for what they lack in. Even if they got what is possibly the best material Cube ever provided, the album was a success because they knew how to deliver the material and how to make it work for them. The songs on "Fiction and Fact" have the potential to be classics, and it's not exactly impossible now that BEAST have the influence they have now. And also, the material allowed us to both look at how far BEAST have come, but also see what they still have to improve on, and something to make us look forward to their next release.
The Recommended Track(s): "You", "Virus", "Though I Call"

The Album: DBSK/Tohoshinki/HoMin - "TONE"
The Format: Full-Length
The Release: November 2011, Japan
The Lead Single: "Why? (Keep Your Head Down)"
The PRN Review: N/A
The Reason: It's DBSK, that's why. Even if it's just Yunho and Changmin now, doesn't mean it can't be brilliant. Despite the fact that DBSK are of Korean descent and thus are eligible for the "K-Pop" categories of major Japanese retailers' charts (like other Japanese-language releases by K-Pop acts such as SNSD and KARA), they do not appear on them. Instead, they are counted as a J-Pop act and are the only K-Pop group ranked alongside J-Pop artists. (see: my soompi article on HMV Japan's year-end rankings) Despite the influx of Korean acts in Japan, DBSK (and BoA!) are still much, much higher up the respect ladder than everyone else, and this album is solid proof of that. While the rest of the Hallyu wave is merely scraping the surface of Japan, DBSK are already a part of the Japanese industry. "TONE" is an amazing album, whether you hear it in CDQ or MP3, because every single track matters, and every single track was thought through and delivered outstandingly, but with such ease. Filler tracks, what filler tracks?
The Recommended Track(s): "Back To Tomorrow", "Thank U My Girl", "Duet", "I Don't Know"

Tohoshinki - Superstar PV from cTVXQmusic on Vimeo.

The Album: SNSD/Girls' Generation - "GIRLS' GENERATION"
The Format: Full-Length
The Release: June 2011, Japan
The Lead Single: "Genie"
The PRN Review: Single Review - "Mr. Taxi", Best of 2011 - "Let It Rain"
The Reason: It was SNSD's first Japanese album, the best-selling K-Pop album in Tower Records Japan during the first half of the year (despite being out for only a month prior to the chart), and it was their ticket to this year's Kouhaku Uta Gassen. In short, it was massively successful. And it's probably one of the most cohesive SNSD albums. Ever. With material from Swedish producers like Jörgen Elofsson, strong A&R, and generally okay vocals from the girls, this is probably the best album SNSD have ever released. Of course "Gee" sticks out like a sore thumb, and so does "Genie" at times, but the album proper, and the new material first heard in Japanese, is really good. Months after it's release, and a few hundred plays later, the good songs are still as good as they were back in June.
The Recommended Track(s): "you-aholic", "Let It Rain", "BORN TO BE A LADY", "Mr. Taxi"

The Album: MBLAQ- "Mona Lisa"
The Format: Mini
The Release: July 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Mona Lisa"
The PRN Review: Best of 2011 - "Mona Lisa"
The Reason: Apart from actually being a good, solid album, "Mona Lisa" was what I had been waiting for since day one. Like I said earlier this month, this EP is still not enough to make up for the disaster of the debut they had back in 2009, but it's a step in the right direction. We have actual songs now, people, ACTUAL SONGS! They've managed to deliver good, solid songs, without losing the MBLAQ sound, a bit thin around the edges and trying to be a Michael Jackson song, among others. And, I never thought I'd say this, but the album is filled with gorgeous songs. Stunning, almost. Everything, from "Mona Lisa" down to the last track, they're all such a pleasure to listen to. "Mona Lisa" is as cohesive as it is gorgeous, and it's also one of the few albums I can listen to without skipping a single track.
The Recommended Track(s): "Mona Lisa", "One", "말하지 말걸.."

The Album: Brown Eyed Girls - "Sixth Sense"
The Format: Mini
The Release: September 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Sixth Sense"
The PRN Review: SOOMPI - single review ("Cleansing Cream")
The Reason: "Sixth Sense" is girl group master class, courtesy of the Brown Eyed Girls. Even if you don't like their music, because even I'm very picky with the BEG songs I like, you have to hand it to these girls because my gosh the attitude is literally spilling out of the album. Even for a toned-down song like "La Boheme", which is also my favorite track. It's half the material, because the songs are so distinct yet tie together nicely, and half their strong vocals. They pull off the material because they actually have the vocals to jump through hoops and fire. While all the other girl groups were either going the cute route or trying way too hard to be edgy and "fierce" (I'm talking to you, SNSD and "The Boys"), the Brown Eyed Girls don't even have to lift a finger and BAM you have "Sixth Sense", both the album and the gorgeous, gorgeous single. Listen to it for the sake of hearing what kind of attitude everyone else should be channeling, regardless of the song.
The Recommended Track(s): "La Boheme", "Sixth Sense"

The Album: Big Bang - "The Fourth Mini Album"
The Format: Mini
The Release: February 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "TONIGHT"
The PRN Review: The First Quarter Report
The Reason: Big Bang not only did a lot for their careers this year, they also did a lot for K-Pop. I know I kept quiet about their EMA win, but I'd rather it be them than a lot of other acts who could've very well been nominated as well, because even if I don't worship Big Bang, they, as musicians, have my respect, something I don't give out a lot in k-pop. Their 2011 offering was tight, cohesive, strong, and distinctly Big Bang. Catchy hooks, synths all over the place, and your usual Big Bang chaos were all present, but with a fresher, more current sound. Even without watching their performances and just listening to the album, I could literally imagine the five of them running around and going wild on stage.
The Recommended Track(s): "SOMEBODY TO LOVE", "TONIGHT"

The Album: Infinite - "OVER THE TOP"
The Format: Full-length, counting the repackaged tracks
The Release: July 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Be Mine"/"PARADISE"
The PRN Review: N/A
The Reason: To the industry, and the fans, Infinite's success was one of the year's biggest surprises. You have here a group from a rather small talent agency, with okay, but not brilliant or stellar, vocals, and they actually won Inkigayo and M!Countdown this year. And who were they up against on Inkigayo? Oh, no one. Just the Brown Eyed Girls, KARA, Super Junior, B1A4, Davichi and Sung Shi Kyung. Although 4 wins is a far cry from the likes of DBSK, Big Bang, SNSD, BoA and a host of others, they have laid down the foundations, and they can only go up from here. "OVER THE TOP" is not the year's strongest album, but it's a solid effort, and a solid base to take off from now that Infinite are no longer rookies. It's a well-rounded and well-done album, that's very sure of itself, but it also leaves a lot of room for Infinite to grow with their subsequent releases, which I'll be eagerly waiting for!
The Recommended Track(s): "Amazing", "Julia", "Be Mine", "Paradise", "Because", "Tic Toc"

The Album: G.NA - "Top Girl"
The Format: Mini
The Release: August 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "Top Girl"
The PRN Review: Best of 2011 - "Banana (Feat. SWINGS, JC지은)"
The Reason: Because everyone should know of the injustice that is being done to G.NA. Sure, she's not the best singer in k-pop right now, she's a bit flimsy around the edges, but she's probably the most stable and one of the best voices in Cube! And she got *this* as a "big comeback single"? Blasphemy. The rest of the album, although the two recommended tracks are pretty, sound like leftovers from BEAST and 4Minute (and 4Minute didn't exactly get good material this year either) and even if I like "Banana", G.NA can't sing that song live even if she tried really hard. It's such a waste, because k-pop finally gets a young solo artist that is more pop than ballad, and who is actually from a talent agency with actual influence in the industry, and they just ruin her. "I'll Back Off So You Can Live" was light years better than this, I want that back.
The Recommended Track(s): "싫어", "Without You"

The Album: JYJ - "IN HEAVEN"
The Format: Full-length
The Release: September 2011, South Korea
The Lead Single: "IN HEAVEN"
The PRN Review: Full Review
The Reason: With all the intrigue that surrounded JYJ this year, and will probably continue to surround them next year, it's good to know why SME is so afraid of them that they take all these drastic measures to ensure that JYJ never promote this album on Korean TV, including banning "Pierrot" for mentioning "PSM", which apparently means "President Soo Man". JYJ denied it, and even if it's most probably true that it has something to do with SM, they didn't explicitly state it for heaven's sake! A "guess" cannot be grounds for banning a song. It's also good to know why, even amidst all the stupidity JYJ were faced with, this is still one of the biggest-selling albums of the year. Despite not being spoon-fed prime material from local and foreign songwriters and not boasting of "foreign producers" (they've already had their fill of that, thank you very much), JYJ deliver a solid effort with "IN HEAVEN". There's much to improve, yes, and it's only right that they learn to walk before they run, but for what it is, "IN HEAVEN" is a good album.
The Recommended Track(s): "Get Out", "Boy's Letter", "IN HEAVEN", "You're"

Agree? Disagree? What albums did I miss out on? Comment away! ^_^

MAAX – Unholy Rock N Roll

Unholy Rock And Roll (DIGI CD)

The press release that came along with this album says, “Maax can only be described as pure, old school, alcoholic heavy metal hellfire scathing the night with buzzsaw riffage of fist-banging, slutfucking black thrash n' roll to haunting passages of Luciferian menace.”  So I guess if that’s the only way it can be described, my work here is done.  Adios!

Just kidding.   Although there is a lot of truth in that press release, I can elaborate a little.  This is definitely an album with an old school feel.  The production values feel a lot more like a black metal release, especially the vocals.  And there is also that Motorhead-like, take no prisoners, vibe.  The first track smacks you right in the mouth and the hits just keep coming.  For an American band they sure have nailed the European metal style, and I certainly mean that in a good way.  From reading their bio it appears that they have an issue with revolving door band members and if they could stabilize their lineup I think this band could make some serious noise in the metal world.

I guess if you are going to use the phrase “slut fucking” in the description of your music, it goes without saying that you refer to women as sluts in your lyrics, and have lots of songs about fucking and drinking.  And fighting.  And Satan.  And lyrics like “Rot and roll, we are the new breed, Fuck you, this is our new creed”.  Good thing these guys came along now instead of the days of the PMRC.

There is actually an impressive variety of music on this album.  The first 6 tracks are along the lines of what you could call black n’ roll, mostly with an emphasis on just some solid rocking.  “Do What Thou Wilt” has that kind of punky, Motley Crue feel, like something from their first 2 albums, before they went all hair metal.   “Purge of Depravity” and “Overthrone” veer off into black metal territory.  “Black Thrash Em All” has a nice, thrashy feel, hence the name.  I tell ya, you don’t have to be a genius to write these things.

MAAX has 2 previous releases and based on what I heard here I will seek them out and see what they sounded like.   This is definitely a band that you want to file away in your memory and keep an eye on.   They are not a carbon copy of anything else that I am familiar with and take several elements of metal and combine them in their own way.  Metal is a genre that needs some originality and these guys have it.  Next time I go out on a Saturday night for some drinking, fighting and slut fucking, this is my soundtrack.


Mos Generator - Deluxe 10th Anniversary S/T Reissue

It was a dark and stormy night.  Inside an ominous castle situated atop the highest suitable perch in the Black Mountains of California a mad scientist was hard at work.  Frantic hammering along with high speed saws could be plainly heard above the angry growls of thunder.  Occasionally blinding light would burst forth from every window of the castle.  A careful observer would have been able to listen in to snippets of the scientist’s crazy ramblings.

“…take away my diplomas and honors, eh?  I’ll show them!”
“…call me crazy.  Me!?!?  After all that I’ve done…”
“…finish building this, my masterwork.  They’ll all have to believe…”
“…going to revolutionize everyone’s thoughts on the subject…”

Fast forward three months.  Fall was in full effect.  The 2011 California World Fair was scheduled to begin that very night with an elaborate ceremony that would be televised all over the world.  What no one knew was that the mad scientist Penfold planned to hijack the proceedings with the help of a select few hired hands.  After the sun had gone down and a capacity crowd had gathered in the Fair’s primary outdoor plaza the plan was set in motion.  When the Governor of California paused to take a breath following the first sentence of his welcoming speech, pyrotechnics exploded and the enormous black curtain concealing a large stage at the end of the plaza fell to the ground.  Standing in the center of said stage was a man wearing a startlingly white lab coat.  He raised both his arms, his palms pointed skyward, and began speaking into the microphone in front of him.

“Ladies and gentlemen!  Boys and girls!  Thank you for coming to my grand unveiling!  My name is Penfold.  I apologize if I startled any of you with those loud blasts.  I’m a showman at heart I’m afraid.”

“Now wait just a minute,” screamed the Governor from across the plaza.  “I don’t know who you are or what you think you’re doing here, but you have no idea what kind of trouble you’re…”  The Governor’s voice abruptly ceased after Penfold made a quick ‘cut his mike’ gesture to one of his team members.

“Thank you Governor, but your teleprompter reading services are no longer necessary.  Folks, I don’t wish to waste your time so allow me to cut to the chase.   I’m here today to show you my latest invention.”  He held up a small black box and proceeded to press the circular white button in its middle, raising a small podium beside him on stage to the level of his waist.  On top of the podium was an object covered by an opaque sheet.  “People, I ask you.  What is the number one concern of humanity going forward?  I’ll tell you.  It’s energy!  Clean, sustainable energy!  No one has been able to solve this perplexing riddle…until now.  With my new invention, I can harness the power of rock and roll to generate immense amounts of electricity.   Citizens of California, and everyone watching this around the world, I give you…the Mos Generator!”

Penfold quickly withdrew the sheet covering the object on the podium unveiling what appeared to be an old Victor Victrola machine.  The only noticeable difference was a thick cord running out of its back that disappeared through the floor of the stage.

“Judging by the amused looks on some of your faces, I can see that a demonstration is in order.  I completely concur.”  He reached inside of his lab coat and brought out a vinyl record.  “This is the debut album of the band whose name I borrowed for my invention.”  Penfold pulled the record from the sleeve, placed it on the turntable, and lowered the needle.  The music started.  Moments later countless machines whirred to life behind the stage and a wonderland of lights nearly succeeded in turning the night sky into day.  The crowd collectively gasped and gawked.  The mad scientist smiled so widely it nearly tore his face in half.

“Hahaha!  I guess none of you knew that there was a fully functional amusement park behind this stage.  Take a good look folks.  Everything you see is made possible by my Mos Generator.  I invite you to enjoy yourselves with the amusements on offer.  I assure you, I’ll be available to anyone who has a question for me, scientific or otherwise.”

And with that, Penfold walked confidently off the stage.

Waveriders please excuse me for a moment, because I’m going to break one of my cardinal rules.  If you have read any of my previous reviews you might have noticed that when it comes to language I like to keep my writing G rated.  Well…I’m afraid that I can’t contain myself this time.  Holy ****!  The debut album by Mos Generator is so ******* awesome I can hardly ******* stand it!  This thing is so ******* fantastic, it makes every other hard rock album I’m listening to (and I assure you that includes some very good albums right now) it’s *****!  ***** *****!  ******* ****, why did I not know about this album ten years ago when it first came out?  Palm meet forehead repeatedly.

Right, now that I've purged myself of the need to use coarse language let’s get down to business.  Mos Generator is a power trio out of Port Orchard, Washington.  The three titans of rock who make up the band are Tony Reed on guitar/vocals/keyboards, Shawn Johnson on drums, and Scooter Haslip on bass.  Yes that’s right, I said titans of rock and I meant it.  Mos Generator play rock and roll music.  They play hard rock music, the kind of hard rock that is clearly rooted in the 1970s.  That means their songs are built around tremor inducing guitar riffs coupled with a lock step rhythm section that is both backbone and harmonious support structure.  Yes the obvious go-to reference point is Black Sabbath.  That’s unavoidable but honestly, being a huge Sabbath fan myself, I never find myself listening to Mos Generator thinking boy, that sure sounds like that (fill in the blank) Sabbath song.  On reflection, that is one of the biggest compliments I can give this band.  Despite wearing their influences on their collective sleeve they are clearly their own band sonically.

My first actual exposure to Mos Generator came through a Facebook post made by one of my two bosses, Pope JTE, which allowed me to listen to one song from the debut album.  Waveriders, I played that song at moderate volume and I had to question whether or not I had just lived through an earthquake.  Shortly thereafter I heard the song “Sleeping Your Way To The Middle” and I knew I couldn’t live without a copy of this album any longer.  While I realize that all three band members had been making music with other acts before forming Mos Generator the quality level of this, their first album, is stunning!  Top to bottom it is smack you in the face, forehand and backhand good!  The original album is made up of seven songs that clock in at just over thirty minutes.  I know that may not seem like a lot of time but trust me, you won’t be left wanting.  This album is the very definition of ‘all killer, no filler’.  I guarantee that you’ll be hitting the play button again and again in record time.  Oh, and I suppose I should mention the bonus materials.  Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.

With this deluxe reissue not only do you get the bulletproof original album, you also get about two hours of extra music including unreleased studio demos, a half hour rehearsal jam, and all kinds of live tracks.  And waveriders let me tell you something.  Those live tracks, including one full show that saw limited release under the name Live At The Manette, are awe inspiring.  Yes there is plenty of energy in the studio recorded songs, but live Mos Generator sounds like a runaway train that’s about to derail itself!  I can’t imagine anyone attending one of their shows and remaining seated.  Well…unless they lack a pulse or they happen to be deaf.  Truly, when the band gets going it feels like they are performing a high wire routine with no safety net underneath, and it is intoxicating.  I would happily pay for these ‘bonus tracks’ separately no questions asked.  The amount of musical goodness contained within this reissue is positively absurd!

Let’s put a bow on this shall we?  You may have never heard of Mos Generator, or you may be a fan wanting to complete his or her collection.  The bottom line here is this waveriders.  If you are looking for an ultra-high quality 1970s inspired, ridiculously talented, musically inventive band your search has ended.  You know what, scratch that.  If you call yourself a hard rock fan you absolutely must own this album!  Believe it!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

[#4] Infinite - "Nothing's Over"

From: "INSPIRIT" (Single)
Released: March 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.60

I must keep surprising you guys. Don't think that I didn't have an extremely hard time deciding which song to include this year, because believe me, I did. So before you start raising hell about how it should've been "Be Mine" or "Paradise" or even "Before the Dawn", I bring you a food analogy. (I couldn't help myself, I'm sorry!)

"Nothing's Over" sounds like a steaming hot bowl of ramen, whether Japanese, Korean (Ramyun) or even Chinese if you want (La Mien). It sounds like ramen because ramen's quite unassuming, I mean a bowl of soup with some noodles and a few bits and pieces of meat isn't something to write home about, right? Wrong. Ramen may be simple in theory, but getting the elements, the soup, the noodles, and even the toppings, right is truly a science. I didn't think that way when I was a kid, but when I went to Shanghai and Xian last year and tasted the real thing, MY GOD was I missing half of my life (the other half of course is Xiao Long Bao, but I'll save that for another song).

But we deviated a bit on that last bit. My point is, you may *think* that ramen is a very simple dish, and "Nothing's Over" a very simple song, but they're not, because it isn't the idea that carries the package, it's the execution.

And "Nothing's Over" was spot-on.

It matched their vocals extremely well (we're talking about the recording here, not the live performances), so much so that even the possibly boring chorus wasn't as boring as it could have been. So let's just say that the vocals are the noodles -- it seems like they're very basic to make, but making them well, so that they're nice and firm but still soft and chewy, is extremely difficult. Then you have to match the noodle to the specific type of soup stock, which in this case, is the melody and song itself.

And the instrumental is stunning. It's kinda like the toppings, meat, dumplings, whatever else, it gives the food dimension, but also choosing the wrong toppings for the noodles and soup can completely destroy the dish. Not in this case. Everything, from those warm electric guitar lines to the trumpet-like sounds to the percussion, they make sense together, and gel the entire song together.

But also, to take things a bit more literally, "Nothing's Over" sounds very familiar, it sounds very warm. The vocal treatment and instrumental sound like they can envelope you in a hug any time now. It sounds like a bowl of your mom's (Or dad's!) homemade ramen on a cold, rainy day.

So, apart from probably making you all salivate with hunger over ramen, that is also exactly why Infinite are the most junior act in the top five this year.

The Bailey Hounds - Along the Gallows

I have a soft side, too. Catch me at the right time and I might even have a tear building up in one eye. I'm not just about those huge fuzzy riffs or deafening bass and drums. Sometimes I just wanna relax and forget about all my troubles - to drift away quietly and comfortably while acoustic guitars and a soothing voice tell me everything's gonna be okay. Don't you?

Lately when I want that part of my brain tickled, I've been reaching for Along the Gallows, the debut full-length album by The Bailey Hounds. Uh-huh. I like this one a lot. Ironically, I discovered this band via Pantera's Phil Anselmo, who shared a video of them playing an extremely unique cover of "The Great Southern Trendkill". Now I have another reason to thank Anselmo and I'm including the video here, along with an acoustic version of the title track from the album.

Philly's The Bailey Hounds have been called indie-folk or even alt-country, but I prefer 'cemetery blues', like the band members say. I think that describes them, and Along the Gallows, much better.

From their press kit: "The Bailey Hounds are an open grave in autumn or a dilapidated cabin in the dead of winter. Old sounds of Americana peak through their often melancholy & sometimes raucous collection of tunes stirring up images of withered cemeteries, lost love, and the devil Himself. The Bailey Hounds fall somewhere in the musical realm of Gothic Americana, playing folk & blues-inspired songs with lyrics of a melancholy and often macabre nature."

Ryan Pedrillo (vocals, guitar) is an accomplished songwriter/lyricist and has one of the most calming and reassuring voices I've ever heard. I say that even though I don't usually put a huge focus on vocals. Every once in a great while, though, a voice will touch me like no other and I'll be sure to let you know, just like I'm doing now. Ladies, you might even start to cream your jeans when you first hear this guy, so prepare yourselves.

"Along the Gallows is an album we've been waiting to make and release for a while," Pedrillo told me. "We worked on these songs and reworked them and explored opportunities in the studio and ended up with what we feel is a cohesive work, representative of the styles of music we enjoy writing and listening to. Americana is woven throughout, and there's some dirt and grit rubbed in there, too. Circus freaks and gravediggers. Ghosts of the Civil War and Satan. A few headstones pokin' through the grass here and there. Yeah, we're pleased it's finally out, and we've started working on our next batch of songs."

I'm happy it's out, too, and I can't wait for more. Honestly, I could tell I was gonna love their music when I first heard The Bailey Hounds play that Pantera cover. Along the Gallows might the only Americana-infused album on my portable music player, but that's okay with me. It's fulfilling enough.

Harmonica and a delicate drum beat greet me instantly on "Those Devils Don't Scare Me", a wonderful opening track, but like a lot of albums, one of my favorites ends up being the last song. "Devil Tree" is touching and sweet-sounding musically and gets kinda psychedelic near the end, but I think the lyrics are definitely some of the darkest on the album. I wanna climb that tree.

"Devil Tree was originally going to be a straightforward acoustic track, contrasting the Satanic imagery of the lyrics with a soft, melodious tone," Pedrillo said. "I think I had Lars von Trier's Antichrist in my head while writing this...along with 15 years of listening to Pantera, White Zombie, and Danzig, I suppose. Anyway, we started playing it as a band in the basement and it just progressed and developed into its own beast. Lyrically, there's a lot of personal stuff going on, but on the surface, you know, there's some Alighieri in there...with some Anton LaVey too, of course."

There isn't one song out of the 11 on Along the Gallows that I even think about skipping over, but a couple other standouts to me are "Malleus Maleficarum" and "Gold & Bones". I don't know exactly why, but these two touch me so deeply on an emotional level that I do end up wiping away a few tears, and I'm not bashful about admitting it. I 'm too lazy to look it up for myself, so I have to ask what the first one means.

"Malleus Maleficarum literally translates into "The Witches' Hammer", The Bailey Hounds frontman said. "The 'Malleus Maleficarum' was essentially a witch hunter's manual created by two inquisitors in the 15th century and was used for prosecution, persecution, and determining whether or not someone was, in fact, meddling in the dark arts. This is one of the earlier songs written for the album, but I recall giving it that title almost immediately after writing the first verse. I wrote this a few days before leaving for Scotland for a year. Anyway, witches & wolves...aye."

Aye, indeed. Now, I'll admit that I don't listen to a lot of music that's labeled 'Americana', and maybe you don't either. Maybe you've never listened to it. Well here's your chance, people, but once you let The Bailey Hounds sink their teeth into your emotions, you might not want them to ever let go. Don't say I didn't warn you.

You can stream and buy Along the Gallows at The Bailey Hounds site . They're also offering their Bob Dylan cover, "Don't Think Twice, It's All right", for free download. I highly recommend you get both the album and the single, and if they would've recorded that Pantera cover, I'd say get it, too.

Excuse me, but I have the sniffles now and I need to go blow my nose.


Monday, December 26, 2011

[#5] Seungri - "What Can I Do"

From: "VVIP" (Mini-Album)
Released: January 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.50

Surprised? You shouldn't be, because I believe I've made it clear in the past that Seungri's "VVIP" is one of the few albums I will gladly shell out money for, just to hear in CDQ. His entire solo effort this year was so strong and cohesive that I had a hard time choosing which song of his to put on the list!

From the very beginning, "What Can I Do" was my favorite track from the EP, and months later it's still as glorious as it was when I first heard it.

It's very synth-heavy, with the instrumental packed beyond belief and Seungri's vocals just adding more to the mix, but everything just works together. The melody breaks the very stiff and packed instrumental, and Seungri's strong vocals carry both the airy and powerful sounds so, so well and that hit of nasal-ness actually adds to the sound instead of turning people off -- it's as if this song was made for him.

One of the main things I like on the song is the use of dynamics all throughout. Everything is packed together, yes, but the instrumental isn't ALL in your face, it pulls back at times and lets the brilliance of everything sink in, before completely letting loose, and even then you can still hear everything that's going on. And it sounds so sophisticated when you take a step back to just take everything in.

"What Can I Do" sounds like a cup of Filipino hot chocolate, the really, really, reaaaaaaaaaally thick kind that you can either drink or dip churros in. It's kinda like you boiled a bar of dark chocolate with 2 or 3 teaspoons of water. It has this really thick, almost gooey, texture, but it's still fluid and it isn't just flat sweet, it's a bit bitter around the edges, but by the time you're done drinking it you're literally O.O And it's for that reason that this song has to be heard in 320kbps AT LEAST, and if possible, physical CD quality.

Cults - S/T

I love music duos. Whether it’s rock, electronic or whatever I love when two awesome musicians come together and create wonderful music. Ever since The White Stripes were fading away in the mid millennium, it seems like I was going to have a void with music duos. Luckily, awesome artists like Justice, She & Him, The Ting Tings, The Kills, MGMT, The XX, The Black Keys, Matt and Kim, and the Cults emerged.

Depending on if you wanted a louder hard rock sound (The Black Keys), electronic (Justice), indie electronic (MGMT), indie pop (She & Him, Ting Tings, The XX and Cults) and/or indie/garage rock (The Kills), there was a music duo to cover your needs. Until now I never consciously realized there has been a resurgence of quality indie music duos. Cults is one of these mysterious bands worth discovering.

Cults is shrouded in mystery, both musically and physically. For the longest time I had no idea who Cults were…literally. It wasn’t until I searched deep in the liner notes and cross referenced with the internet that I discovered there are only two permanent band members in this fantastic, fresh and fun band.

New York duo Cults is the latest music duo that has captured my heart and ears with their infectious indie pop music. The band is comprised of former New York University film students turned musicians Madeline Follin (vocals) and Brian Oblivion (vocals, guitar and percussion). Their throwback 1960s sound instantly blew my mind away with this sensational debut album. I hope more people will soon discover this mesmerizing, mysterious band.

Much like the band Fitz & The Tantrums, Cults rely on a melodic vintage sound that possesses a twist, which makes their music sound both classic, yet fresh. If you enjoy bands like Dum Dum Girls, Drums, EMA, Girls, Yuck, Tennis, Phantogram, and Smith Westerns then Cults is a band up your alley.

Cults electric and invigorating eponymous debut album kicks off with “Abducted,” which describes falling in love as being kidnapped. The heartbreak of someone “stealing your heart and running away” is just one of the many relatable emotions conveyed on this album.  Follin’s addicting, sensual voice is so sweet and innocent that I missed what “Abducted” was all about upon my first few listens. After several more times I heard the message loud and clear, “I knew right then that I'd been abducted/ I knew right then that he would be taking my heart… He tore me apart because I really loved him/ He took my heart away and left me to bleed out, bleed out/ He broke my heart because I really loved him/ He took it all away and left me to bleed out, bleed out.” I love discovering something new with a song I thoroughly enjoyed. You may even say I have been “abducted” by Madeline Follin’s voice.

Their 1960s pop/ girl group sound embraces the wonderful quality of that musical era and at times feels reminiscent of a Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” production. There is something irresistible of combining the innocence of catchy choruses, yet at the same time remain mysterious while describing dark emotions. The dreamy “Go Outside” is the second song featured on the album and is their best known song. The song encourages listeners to do something instead of just laying around all day inside and actually “go outside” to enjoy life. It’s the perfect song to motivate yourself and remains one of my favorite tracks to listen to while working out.

The moment “You Know What I Mean” came on I honestly thought my iTunes was messing with me because the 1960s girl group aspect sounded too realistic. After double checking my iTunes library a few times I was relieved to find out it wasn’t on shuffle and I didn’t randomly download The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Supremes, or The Shangri-Las. Follin’s youthful voice perfectly captures that 1960s element efficiently, energetically and most importantly, effectively. “You Know What I Mean” is a song you can lose yourself in.

The deep, dark “Most Wanted” utilizes Follin’s unique and childlike voice. When it’s accompanied by a treacherous instrumentation, her voice showcases the drifting feeling we occasionally experience when contemplating doing something we know is wrong. “Back in my home late at night/ All alone, I'm flying/ Flying above all my troubles/ My mind's a gull/ When I am happy my heart starts to slow/ What I most want is bad for me I know” are just some of the stellar lyrics used.

 “Never Heal Myself” is the next track worth mentioning. Follin’s conviction, whether sweet and sincere or a frustrated outburst, is always able to convey mystery with whatever she is singing about. This song is one of my favorites and I really love the ending lyrics, “Yeah I try to heal myself/And turn around cuz someone else/ But I can never be myself so fuck you.”

Powerful beats propel this album to create an exhilarating mixture of emotions. The combination of wonderful melodies with Follin’s flawless voice produces the best damn debut album of 2011. For the past four years, one of my favorite albums of the year also happens to be a debut album. This year is no different. Those artists and albums for the previous four years were Vampire Weekend with Vampire Weekend (2008), The XX with XX (2009), Neon Trees with Habits (2010) and now Cults.

Without a doubt, Cults is an awesome album that entertains you for over 30 minutes and is a must buy. I absolutely adore everything about this 11 track gem. Go discover their wonderful wall of sound and you won’t be disappointed when you join this cult. After all, there is no punch drinking involved.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

[#6] Wonder Girls - "Me, In"

From: "Wonder World" (Album)
Released: November 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.40

I've made it no secret that I think "Wonder World" is one of the best albums of the year, and that initially, my favorite song was "Girls Girls", which they're now promoting (and we see the return of my knack for predicting post-album singles!), so you must be wondering, why is "Me, In" on the list and not "Girls Girls"?

Apart from the fact that I genuinely like "Me, In" just as much as "Girls Girls", no matter how much I like "Girls Girls", even if I overplayed it a bit and now it's pretty generic for me, any other girl group can put out something like that, and there are a host of other girl groups who can actually pull it off too. Some better than the Wonder Girls, live at least. And it's stupid how they gave Sohee so many singing parts when they probably already knew they'd be doing this live.

"Me, In", however, is a different story. It's a cover of a Korean rock classic, so I've heard (both figuratively and literally), and I'm not very fond of the idea of covers altogether, but for the Wonder Girls it works. And it's not like they're putting out multiple albums full of covers (*ahem*WESTLIFE*ahem*), so all is good. And really, there are only two our three other groups who I can imagine pulling "Me, In" off as well as the Wonder Girls. Yes, BEG is one of those groups.

I watched a live performance of the original version of this, and it was all loud, high-intensity, near-screaming (in a good way) and it came off really as a hardcore rock song. The shift from that to this is really something else. It still sounds like a rock song, but much tamer around the edges and slightly more pop.

You have attitude, spunk, class and a hint of pop all rolled into one. That, paired with Ye Eun and Sun Ye's stunning and powerful vocals, which were vital to the success of the delivery, and wow. Just, wow.

And what I find even better is that even if, when you think about it, it's really out of sync with the rest of the album because everything else is so pop and then you have this rock song in the middle of it all, it actually blends with all the other tracks on the album, due to the production and the vocals, but without losing some semblance of individuality.

So it's only right that they're the highest-placing girl group on my list this year.

[#7] SNSD/Girls' Generation - "Let It Rain"

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all had a great day spent with your loved ones, and that you got lots of presents and ate a truckload of food! :D But on to today's matter.

Released: June 2011, Japan
Rating: 4.30

Despite the fact that I'm not your biggest SNSD fan, and there are so many things I find unfair in the way their Japanese career is going, their Japanese album was clearly light years ahead of anything they've put out, and so I had quite a difficult time deciding which song to put on the list. For a while it was "Mr. Taxi", then it became "Bad Girl", then "you-aholic" then actually "I'm In Love With The HERO", before I settled on "Let It Rain".

This is something I don't think they'd ever make a major release in Korea, and that's one of the main reasons why I settled with "Let It Rain" as somewhat the representative Japanese song (even if I hear there's a Korean version). It's something they'd do only in Japan, not because this is better or anything, but because this is simply not Korea's taste. It's too slow to be danced to so it will never be a lead single, but on the other hand it doesn't fit the standard ballad OR midtempo formula, so it'll just be another overlooked album track in Korea.

In one word, the entire song is epic. The bass line is felt rather than heard, and all the instruments, though amazing in themselves, are slightly dulled to let the vocals float. The structure is simple, but the melody is gorgeous and flows so well with the rest of the song. And, above all, "Let It Rain" is so easy to listen to. It has some bite around the edges, courtesy of the vocal treatment, but as a whole it's so smooth.

I have another food analogy for this song. The instrumental kinda reminds me of plain tortilla chips, which are okay on their own, but a bit flat and more focused on texture than taste. But then you add in this awesome tomato or garlic cream dip, which in this case is the melody and vocals laced together, and everything explodes in your mouth. Or in this case, your ears.

cuttooth - Elements


My friend and fellow music writer, Racer, forwarded an email from Nick Cooke who records under the name cuttooth.  Nick had submitted his new album, Elements, for review by The Ripple Effect and Racer knows me well enough to sense that I’d click with this release and as usual he was right. I tend to like trippy, spacey music and ambient hip hop and Elements hits on all of these styles.

Elements opens with "Intro", a spacey little appetizer reminiscent of Boards of Canada featuring a single spoken line slowed down to eerie effect.  The second track, "In A Dream", opens with a bright and echoing guitar chord ringing out as a downtempo beat slowly fades up underneath.  Not that it was necessary, as the track is dreamy enough, but a voice chanting “in a dream” repeats in the background.  This creates a nice bit of tension in the piece.

cuttooth makes excellent use of ambient sounds, spoken word samples and layers of disconnected sounds to weave a dreamscape.  Rather than bore you, dear reader, with a track-by-track analysis I will attempt to describe the album as a singular piece of work:

Are you a fan of lucid dreams?  Are you apt to daydream?  Do you go off into a reverie when your senses are hit with a certain sound, smell or visual that suggests something beyond our limited physical surroundings?

If you fit the above profile, I’d highly recommend giving this a listen.  This is an album for the dreamers among us.  This is headphone music.  For me, that’s the highest compliment I could pay Mr. Cooke.


Cuttooth - Elements [Psychonavigation Records] PSY045 Samples by psychonavigation

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Young The Giant- ST

Sometimes I get spoiled by living in Los Angeles. Whether it’s walking down the street and bumping into a celebrity or knowing about a “hot” band before they make it seems completely normal. Sure the latter part of that statement will probably ostracize me from some of my readers, but it’s true.

Although it seems pretentious and snobbish, it feels weird constantly saying, “I have been listening to this band for X amount of years before anyone knew who they were.” After a while you become accustomed to this feeling and jaded since a lot of breakthrough bands emerge from the LA area. Even when I travel in “touristy areas” of Hollywood and LA I feel so cynical because it’s no big deal. Every once in a while I get that way with music, but it’s not entirely on purpose. I just assume everyone knows who I’m talking about when I mention popular LA artists like Baths, Local Natives, Active Child, Warpaint and Young the Giant. It’s the last band I want to discuss.

Since they first emerged several years ago, Young the Giant has been a band to watch. Originally named The Jakes and after a few personnel changes, they became Young the Giant in 2008. After playing South by Southwest and receiving some airplay from KROQ with their hit song “Cough Syrup,” Young the Giant was signed to Roadrunner Records. In Fall 2010, their eponymous debut album, Young the Giant, was digitally released and a few months later it was physically released on January 25, 2011.

While hanging out with some friends recently we read about possible bands playing KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas in December and came across Young the Giant. Everyone then looked at me and asked, “Who are they?” I knew then I absolutely had to write about them. This is my daily plight: knowing way too many good bands that most people haven’t “discovered” unless you follow the alternative/indie music scene and are a music aficionado.

Over the past few years, KROQ has done an awesome job of noticing local bands that have created some of the best mainstream rock songs in recent years. Certain bands that I first noticed because of KROQ airplay early in their careers included Redlight King with “Old Man,” Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” and Awolnation’s “Sail.” I believe Young the Giant’s “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” are two of the best songs physically released this year.

The album Young The Giant was mixed at the world renowned Electric Lady Studios in New York and was produced by multiple Grammy award-winner Joe Chicarelli, who has worked with Tori Amos, Beck, Minus the Bear, My Morning Jacket, Oingo Boingo, The Raconteurs, The Shins, The Strokes, U2 and The White Stripes.

Young the Giant is composed of Sameer Gadhia (vocals and percussion), Jacob Tilley (guitar), Eric Cannata (guitar/vocals), Payam Doostzadeh (bass) and Francois Comtois (drums and vocals). Ehson Hashemian and Sean Fischer, former band members of The Jakes, contributed additional help to the album Young the Giant. Hashemian contributed additional keys and vocals on “Garands” and additional vocals on “Cough Syrup” while Fischer played cello on “Strings,” “12 Fingers” and “Cough Syrup.”

The album kicks off with their first Australian single “Apartment” and we’re introduced to the sweet voice of Sameer Gadhia. The dreamy, sweeping sound of Gadhia serenading listeners is a great way to introduce yourself to this amazing alternative band.  The hooky and infectious “My Body” grabs a hold of all your senses. With catchy guitar riffs and a song so danceable you can’t help but rock out to multiple times, it’s no surprise why it remains popular. After all, “My body tells me no/But I won't quit/Cause I want more/ Cause I want more.” This irresistible rock anthem with an awesome chorus is a song you just want to leave on repeat. I could listen to this song all day and still be content. “My Body” is one of my favorite and best songs of 2011.

The melodic “I Got” follows up, but seems more of a buffer between two great songs “My Body” and “Cough Syrup.” At times it feels a Coldplay and Fleet Foxes hybrid song, but is still quite enjoyable. Gadhia’s voice at times does sound reminiscent of Chris Martin, but it doesn’t bother me. Like I just mentioned, “I Got” is overshadowed by Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup,” arguably their best known and most famous song featured on their debut album. The song was previously released when they were still known as The Jakes on their 2008 EP Shake My Hand. “Cough Syrup” is by far the best song on this album and is one of the main reasons to check out this delightful debut album.

“Cough Syrup” highlights the immense talent possessed by Young the Giant. The song starts off, “Life’s too short to even care at all oh/I’m losing my mind losing my mind losing control/These fishes in the sea they’re staring at me oh oh.” I guarantee you will be humming this song all day. Even as I finish this album review I have played it ten times thus far since starting. I absolutely love this song and it’s definitely in my Top 5 Songs of 2011.

The fantastic “Your Side,” the absolutely amazing “12 Fingers and the breezy “Strings” makes you feel like you’re in paradise. You can close your eyes and immediately feel transported to a beautiful beach lying in the sand and sitting back enjoying a delicious beverage. The summer vibes presented by this tropical trio gives you a warm feeling inside.

Two other songs worth checking out are “Garands” and “St. Walker.” Overall, Young the Giant is a magnificent, memorable debut and one of the year’s Ten Best Albums. It’s not surprising that Young the Giant has opened for bands like The Futureheads, Neon Trees and Minus the Bear. Starting in February, Young the Giant will embark on their 2012 North America Headline tour with Grouplove and Walk the Moon.

If you like alternative and indie bands like Voxhaul Broadcast, Bear Hands, and/or any of the bands previously mentioned in this article then you should absolutely enjoy the greatness that is Young the Giant.


Friday, December 23, 2011

[#8] DGNA/The Boss - "Lady"

From: "Lady" (Single)
Released: October 2011, South Korea
Rating: 4.20

Laugh at me all you want, but I actually liked "Lady", and this is a list of my favorite songs, so this belongs here. "Lady" is a gorgeous song, but it also made some kind of statement -- that just because The Boss come from an obscure little agency, doesn't mean they can't be talented, because my goodness are they amazing.

And actually, this is their first formal ballad release. Which is surprising because they've always been pushed as an "idol group who can sing" and usually in Korea that equates to ballads. But I'm not complaining, because I liked their uptempos!

Everything starts out simple enough, with minimal instruments and their gorgeous voices, but slowly, the entire thing just explodes into a glorious mix of epic instrumentals and a gorgeously sung melody. By the end my jaw dropped, and when the resolution came around everything just went blank. The good kind. The kind where you're literally stunned and can't say anything cohesive anymore,

The vocals, oh dear Lord the vocals. They may not be up to par with older, more experienced singers, but for their calibre, my God. The harmonies, the solo lines, the belting -- stunning. Their vocals literally shine, and after hearing this, I don't think anyone can discount the fact that, vocally, they're one of the best idol groups in a long time. Like I said earlier this year, there's still so much they have to improve on, but put them beside any of the newer idol groups and they crush them.

Which is why, even if "Lady" in itself is pretty generic, and if you're not listening well enough it can bore you, they've made it work. The arrangement is simple, but the vocals carry the entire song.

Impetuous Ritual - Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence

 Rites of Darkness

Y'ever watch True Blood or read the Sookie Stackhouse novels?

You say you're a heterosexual male... so no?

Let me re-phrase.

Have a girlfriend/wife?

Y'ever passively listen while True Blood plays in the same room as the couch you're sitting on, while waiting for Anna Paquin to get naked again?

That's what I thought, you coy motherfucker.

In said world, "V" (vampire blood) is used as the ultimate psychedelic/ opiate/ steroid/ stimulant drug.

Impetuous Ritual and their full length, Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence, is like V--

but only if it came from Cthulu!

That's right-- Impetuous Ritual creates the suggestion of mainlining the very life fluid of the most ancient of the Old Ones.

More evidence of said controversial thesis:

One, it's like they're seriously trying (facetiously?) to out-complex-name Carcass and the 1000 death metal bands and their obsession with medical textbook terminology that followed in their wake (e.g., just dig that album title);

Two, if Portal weren't fucking weird enough for you;

Three, if you love Sunn O))) and their obsession with sound and its effects on the human body for their own sake (rather than as music);

Four, if you love that photo above (no shoes or shirt, big-ass 7-string string guitar, grizzly fuck-off beard, bloody face, wrist spikes);

Then THIS is the death/black metal/noise band for you.

Impetuous Ritual, Australian, formed from two members of Portal, released Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence (on Profound Lore)  in late 2009; since then apparently it has been worming its way to me, presumably via the Pacific then Atlantic Oceans.

That's a creepy thought-- thought it somehow also makes me feel loved. Or at least attended to.

It's low-fi, noisy, blast-beat-ridden, shriek-filled, violent, menacing, incoherent fury that very nearly, if not altogether, transcends the normal functions of music as we know it.


"Convoluting Into Despondent Anachronism" blasts out of the gate and later drops into a sweet noise/doom riff at about 3:00; "Coalescence of Entropy" features some stupid-hard drums, both blast-beats and wildly high-metre 4/4 (I'm guessing around 350 bpm-- and the music-training programs I usually use to practice only go to 340); "Ceremonial Disembowelment," at about 0:50, lurches down into a great tremolo-picked doom riff before it takes off again periodically into blast beats; "Destitution" (instrumental, and my fave so far) is nearly all doom, with a a stupidly-detuned riff in what sounds like fourths (not the fifth of the power chord we all know and usually love); "Ritual of the Crypt" has a fucking cool vibrato'ed doom riff at about 0:50 (new favorite!), and the album closes out with the slow, dirgy "Dirge."

If you're in a mood that's open this type of sound (only scarcely a type of music-- though this isn't an insult)-- this is some cool shit.

Though in all honesty, if you consistently have this on, and love it-- you might seriously consider antipsychotics and/or antidepressants. No functioning human being should be in this mood all the time.