Easy-Listening, Hard-Hitting (Rise From The Ashes; Hitch)

Keeping up with new music is a force of habit for me, but there are still seasons when my attention is more limited. And even within the overall bustle of graduate school,  a big looming deadline like I’ve had this semester crowds out the times when I can really sit back and lean into a song.

So these days I’m particularly appreciative of music that immediately, clearly shows me the ways in which it’s good. The kind of stuff that hits like a ton of bricks, argues its own excellence, and stands out equally well in a crowded bus ride and in a focused work session.

Two of my favorite early-2018 releases are both like that, and I want to take brief notes on them before I start wearing them out. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with these in the next couple weeks, continuing to prep for my candidacy.


Rise From The Ashes, the solo debut EP of Lulileela (Lee Ru-ri, quadrupling as a member of Bye Bye Badman, Lee X Lee, and Seoulmoon), is five ethereal tracks driven by instantly memorable riffs. (Lulileela’s YouTube channel has the whole album here.) It’s a synthpop and alternative hybrid much like the recent Seoulmoon singles, and sharing that same ease of listening.

Lulileela’s bass is a key ingredient in each earworm motif, often accompanied by sparkling, breaking synths or electric piano. “선인장 꽃 (Cactus Flower)” is basically an entire song built around this, but the other tracks all feature at least one powerful melody snippet that distinguishes them. There’s something so viscerally satisfying about each – this being the artist’s talent.

The dreamy BBB-like arrangements are so absorbing that I’m not even listening to the words half the time, and after three months of having this in my playlist I still can’t tell you what “Light Beside You” is actually about without looking up the lyrics. But there are some moments of solitude and crystalline clarity, like the opening of “Oasis”, that have stuck with me. Forlorn, desperately seeking; the place between fatalistic and hopeful.


After hearing “안녕 (Hi)” when it came out in March, I only caught up with the rest of Echae Kang’s Hitch a couple days ago. I was already enamored by 2016’s Radical Paradise and subsequent singles, and I think she actually outdid herself with this little EP. It’s freer and more spirited, while holding onto the experimental spirit that made her solo debut great.

The key is in the big, bold movements comprising these compositions, the deep breaths they take in anticipation of the next step, the earnest joy they portend and then express. No filler track here either, which is always appreciated.

Kang’s violin is always soulful, and the lush and upbeat arrangements she tries here are a breath of fresh air. My favorite track, though, is still the heavier “둘 (Two)”, which is mesmerizing in its mysterious pizzicato and explosive groove. One of the best of the year, I think.

(Album available here.)


Works discussed in this post:

이루리 (Lulileela) – Rise from the Ashes (2018, Poclanos)
Peaches Label & Magic Strawberry Sound
1. Light Beside You
2. 깊은 밤 깊은 바다 (Seaside)
3. 선인장 꽃 (Cactus Flower)
4. 나비 (Butterfly)
5. Oasis

강이채 (Echae Kang) – Hitch (2018, Warner Music Korea)
Private Curve
1. HITCH (히치)
2. Foolish
3. 안녕 (Hi)
4. Morning Morning Love
5. 둘 (Two)

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Fromm’s Erica, and Oregon Week

fromm-erica

Because I’m the kind of person who posts things once every three months now, I meant to write about Fromm‘s EP Erica last week for Hellokpop. Didn’t quite have the time to do that, so just jotting down a few thoughts:

  • It’s good. Personal (positive) bias aside, there’s both preservation and innovation here. The big and sweeping instrumentation of Arrival is audible in a few places, while the forlorn tension of lead “서로의 조각” (“Pieces of You and Me”) is something I haven’t heard from her before (Giriboy appears on the track, and fits right in in a way that I never expected from the mellow-but-still-attitudinal producer.)  Like any Fromm release, the thing is held together by a great feel for melody.
  • There’s a sense of comfortable seclusion in listening to Erica. Lyrically and sonically, both “반짝이던 안녕” (“Our Sparkling Beginning”) and “Pieces” build a wall around the listener. Hyper-focused arrangements that eliminate background sound, intimate dialogue that creates separation between the narrator-listener pair and everything else. It’s not a wall in the imposing sense of the word – more like a tall, trimmed hedge, enough to create insulation but also creating an inviting space. (The opening line for the HKP review was going to be “Have you ever been inside a garden lined with hedges?”.)
  • My favorite track is pre-release single “달의 뒤편으로 와요” (“Come to the Back Side of the Moon”), which has a breathtaking chorus sung by about 50 fans. Fromm put out an open invite on social media for fans to send in their voices; I would have totally done this IF I HAD ACTUALLY SEEN THE INVITE BEFORE THE DEADLINE PASSED. FGHIEOWHOIGHOIBW WHY. Turns out the Facebook feed algorithm wants to show me every post from her except for the most important one. My chance to be on the production credits for a Fromm album will have to wait.
  • Lots of pretty shots of Hokkaido in the album jacket. I bought the iTunes copy because I didn’t want to pay for physical shipping this time around, but I had to think about it.
  • One critical note: I’m starting to think that rich (or at least, significant) instrumentation is more necessary to make Fromm’s music work than I had expected. Maybe it’s a melody thing and maybe it’s the voice, but the austere “Blue Night” is by far the least engaging song here – and that was similarly true of the acoustic mix of “좋아해” (“Like You”) from Moonbow, despite the fact that the original undoubtedly had great composition. It’s not necessarily a knock – Fromm has proven adept at arranging her songs for best effect – but it does make me wonder about a comment she made in a recent interview, saying she plans for her next album to be really laid back.

Last Friday was a lot of fun, and may or may not have had something to do with why the Erica review didn’t get written. There’s been plenty written elsewhere already about the win over Stanford, but from my perspective it was simply the most dominant, complete performance I’ve ever seen from Washington in my six years as a fan. The program is back in the national spotlight and it’s a brave new (old) world.

By any measurable standard, the Oregon visit should be a slaughter. But it’s rivalry week, the Ducks are backed into a corner, Mark Helfrich is potentially coaching for his job, and the UO offense has enough skill-position talent to turn the corner on any given week. The one spread offense Washington has seen this year gave them some trouble. They’re starting a true freshman at quarterback who’s played basically one drive this season. I think that in a rivalry game, anything that introduces uncertainty is seen as a bad thing by nervous fans; I still expect a comfortable win, but I wouldn’t be shocked by anything that happens.

That said, if they fumble this away to a bad squad and Oregon’s streak goes to 13 in literally the very first game after Washington justifies the hype, I’m going to break something.

(I’ve seen some opinions that if Washington wins, fans should act like it’s no big deal that the streak has just been broken; Oregon is a bad team this year, it should be expected, and it should feel like we’ve been there before. I can see that, and frankly this game somehow doesn’t feel anywhere near as big as 2013 – when Oregon was elite and UW had what was thought to be a realistic upset chance – or even 2015 with an UO team on the downswing. I’m still going to celebrate the streak being broken. Maybe y’all been there before, but I haven’t.)

The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs – #10~#1

[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]

Introduction
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

10. Fly to the Sky – Sea of Love

Fly to the Sky - Sea of Love

From Sea of Love (2002)
Label: SM Entertainment
Composition/Writing/Arrangement: Yoo Young-jin
Links: music video, audio, live

“Sea of Love” is what a lot of dance tunes, even many in this list, are not: evocative. A longing nostalgia pervades the song; the lyrics do part of that work, but “Sea of Love” works more effectively through its sounds. From the opening wave effects to breathtaking chorus, there is scale and wonder built into the medium-tempo composition that sets the song apart. Hwanhee and Brian also enjoy the best-balanced vocal rapport of their FTTS careers in this album, and it shows in their complementary harmony and weights that feel just right.

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The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs – #20~#11

[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]

Introduction
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

20. 2NE1 – Ugly

2ne1 - 2ne1

From 2NE1 2nd Mini Album (2011)
Label: YG Entertainment
Composition/Writing/Arrangement: Teddy; additional composition by Lydia Paek
Links: music video, live

Catharsis, validation, freedom. “Ugly” is an anthem for all of these things. Starring a narrator (presumably) with body image and self-esteem issues, 2NE1’s best song to date attempts to give voice to an underrepresented group of people and poke at an unhealthy culture. The cynic might say “marketing ploy”, but the end result is pretty effective. The effort is helped along by an explosive full-band arrangement and racing refrain with a satisfying payoff. It’d be the best dance song of 2011 (and I actually picked it as such at the time), if it weren’t for one upcoming track.

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The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs – #30~#21

[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]

Introduction
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

30. Koyote – 디스코왕 (King of Disco)

Koyote - King of Disco

From King of Disco (2004)
Label: Trifecta
Composition/Writing/Arrangement: Joo Young-hoon
Links: music video, audio, live

You rely on Koyote to deliver one thing: danceable jams. “King of Disco” is maybe their most danceable tune ever, lacking the minor chords and overpowered techno beats that characterize a lot of their work but instead filled with the titular disco embellishments and an easy singalong melody. Lee Soo-young (deservedly) won all the awards that year, but the runner-up was no slouch at all.

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The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs – #40~#31

[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]

Introduction
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

40. F(x) – 피노키오 (Pinocchio – Danger)

F(x) - Pinocchio

From Pinocchio (2011)
Label: SM Entertainment
Composition: Alex Cantrall, Jeff Hoeppner, Dwight Watson
Writing: Kenzie, Misfit
Arrangement: Hitchhiker
Links: music video, audio, live

We knew F(x) was weird, but “Pinocchio” showed us their weirdness could be coherent. The group’s utter disregard for narrative structure and sense continued here, but in a package that was more accessible than “NU ABO” and against much stronger musical backdrop. The lyrics could be interpreted to be unassuming, chilling or preferably both. Individual performances, like Luna‘s childish delight, brought the unlikely theme to life. This song was the first true glimpse at F(x)’s immense potential, and we haven’t been disappointed since.

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The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs – #50~#41

[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]

Introduction
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

50. GD & TOP – 뻑이가요 (Knock Out)

GD TOP - GD TOP

From GD&TOP (2010)
Label: YG Entertainment
Composition/Writing/Arrangement: G-Dragon, TOP; additional composition by Diplo
Links: music video, audio, live

Critical opinion of G-Dragon really did an about-face between the days of Heartbreaker and One of a Kind, and a big turning point was this album out of left field. “Knock Out” is remembered for its chewy series of hooks (both sonically and lyrically), and for good reason – the kind of careless swagger exhibited here is not made overnight. TOP is entirely in his element here as a charismatic rapper as opposed to a technical one. “Knock Out” has a solid claim to the title of best idol hip-hop song.

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