It has officially been ten weeks since we started this project. At the time, the UK was in full lockdown. People were confused, worried, and bored, wondering what would happen with their lives. Thus, we set out to do something which we hoped would occupy people, even if it was only for a short while. Now almost two months on, a lot of the confusion is subsiding – despite still being present – and alert levels are going down. So, in two weeks, the Grab Bag will finish. That way, these bite-size recommendations will have taken you from the peak of the lockdown to the re-opening of things such as cafes, pubs and hair salons (even if in a completely new way). We hope you’ve enjoyed these articles, and whether you’ve been listening on a break from work, walking home from work, or with a bit of gentle encouragement, we are grateful for you. Stay safe, and enjoy the piece. FYI, there are ten recommendations this time around. See you next week.
Gray – ‘Remember’ X ‘Take Me There’
Gray’s projects with Co:lab and glo – two visual art companies – towards the end of 2019 bore two excellent pieces of music which propelled the producer’s otherwise scarce, mildly enjoyable content to the next level.
First, in October, came “Remember.” Full of juicy, thick tones and driven by a sharp, consistent guitar riff flanked by kick drums and atmospheric synths, the song doesn’t exactly burst into an energetic free-for-all, but does maintain a level of reserved buoyancy which adds pace and vigour. The 33-year-old’s largely processed vocals help keep a level of sleekness too, and the catchy chorus drives home the song’s largely maintainable impact. A smart offering, even if it is one which is quite formulaic in its structure, “Remember” works well within the confines of what it’s supposed to be.
However, it was “Take Me There,” December’s offering (and collaboration with MOON), which really shone. Moulded with bouncy synths, groovy electric guitar loops and some of the same kick drum resilience heard in “Remember,” it’s a rather mid-tempo, plodding affair until its colourful, vivacious chorus kicks in. Again, the processing on both artist’s vocals works well in creating a more electronically-geared soundscape, as well as ensuring consistency. Less safe than its collaborative neighbour, “Take Me There” is a fantastic summer-tinged piece of music.
Yi Sung-Yol – ‘Outsider’
Somewhat of a soundtrack expert, Yi Sung-yol has been adding his touch on K-dramas and films for well over a decade now. From Misaeng to Signal, his voice can often be heard adding depth to scenes, aiding the emotional aspects of narratives with his raw, plaintive vocals.
One of his most poignant efforts comes from WATCHER’s original soundtrack, with his single “Outsider.” Crafted with a mournful, reflective electric guitar melody which intertwines itself around the unfiltered, shaky voice of Yi, it’s a sorrowful affair which ponders one’s being. Complete some affecting harmonies which add some extra layers of vehemence, it’s a transcendental effort which shouldn’t have to be confined to *just* being part of a soundtrack.
Eric Nam – Honestly
Before flipping his career goals around to focus on the US market, Eric Nam was hitting his stride as a reliable hand in the pop scene in Korea. Honestly, an EP released in April of 2018, cemented his charm as an act in Asia, but also, perhaps with hindsight now in effect, showed some signs that he could make it within the confines of a country he once left.
Tracks like “Potion,” which zip along with Latin-tinged acoustics, shuffling percussion and some of Nam’s best vocals, is quintessential listening. Even the chorus section, a largely low-key singalong of “oohs” has a certain quality to it, and the bridge, which contains Woodie Gochild’s impressive feature, also adds a nice bit of diversity to proceedings.
More emotionally, there are even showcases of wispy emotion in songs akin to “Lose You,” which is centred around a downcast, condensed modulated guitar riff and the rawness of the Korean-American’s voice. It’s a nice change of scenery from the spliced trickery of “Don’t Call Me,” an inoffensive sanitised attempt at the dynamism of pop’s infatuation with EDM, and adds a more emotional element to the shortform release.
A solid building block on 2016’s Interview, Eric Nam’s Honestly is a great listen if you’re into the type of pop which packs a punch without needless bells and whistles.
HAON – BwB
Enjoyable pop-cum-hip-hop here from the youthful HAON, as he sings about someone special’s birthday.
“BwB,” which is driven instrumentally by an acoustic guitar melody, condensed trap beats, and subtly atmospheric keys, contrasts nicely with the pacy, slightly juvenile vocal delivery from the 19-year-old. Intrinsically catchy, the track reaches a nice equilibrium between lyrical sweetness and the youngster’s newfound confidence, making for something undeniably compelling.
Colde – ‘Control Me’
Colde has an undeniable knack for crafting healing, melodious tracks which are filled with sonic enjoyment. “Control Me” is no different, a bossanova number which drifts along breezily with repeating acoustic melodies and intertwined jazzy elements. It wouldn’t sound out of place played at a modern coffee shop, with Colde’s non-invasive vocal delivery helping things stay understated.
A perfect listen when you wish to wind down for a while, “Control Me” is a brisk offering which brims with quality.
G-Dragon – KWON JI YONG
KWON JI YONG in many ways was yet another successful stride in staying ahead of the pack for G-Dragon. Released physically as a USB stick (a format which didn’t catch on as it rendered those sales unable to count towards chart position), it allowed for a different way of musical consumption, and brought with it an innovative attempt at originality sonically.
And, whilst the EP itself isn’t exactly earth-shattering, it’s still well worth a listen. Beginning with the uptempo flourishes of the right hand side of a keyboard and truncated horns, opener “Middle Fingers-up” soon bursts into life with a free form quality which is as playful as it is confident. Influenced at times by trap – a sub-genre which he helped bring over to Korea – it’s an agile offering which serves a necessary purpose as an upbeat introduction.
From there, the deep, gritty hip-hop “BULLSHIT” continues proceedings, and is chock full of interesting samples and spliced modulations. Emphasised by its powerful, blasting chorus, it’s a more blisteringly abrasive offering, one which masks a lot of the insecurities heard elsewhere on the release.
In general though, the EP’s highlight comes from the phenomenally affecting “Untitled, 2014,” a pensive ballad which relies on the synergy between G-Dragon and a poignant, emotional piano melody which personifies the longing heard in the vocals and written in the lyrics. Explosively introspective, there’s a reason why this swept the charts upon its release.
Cho Yong-Pil – ‘Short Hair’
From time to time, a song comes around which is so ahead of its time it is almost hard to believe. Even if it ends up taking the charts by storm – take for example La Roux’s excellent synth-pop classic “Bulletproof” – it’s not until years later that you realise just how good it is, and just how much of its formula people borrow from.
1980’s “Short Hair,” a track from the legendary Cho Yong-Pil, is exactly this type of song. Penned all about a girl who once made his “heart alive” Cho sings buoyantly, including performing one verse entirely in a Bee Gees-esque falsetto, over era befitting synths, funky basslines and groovy guitar licks. Relentlessly catchy and enthralling, it holds up with a perfect amount of singalong fascination even now. Long live “Short Hair.”
FR:EDEN – Novel : Rear Blast
A promising talent in the industry, FR:EDEN is an interesting diversion from a lot of the cacophonous drops and predictable melodies heard amongst the pop genre these days. Although not wholly experimental, with his style firmly rooted in some of the popularised soundscapes heard across countries, there is something in his sonic choices which adds a necessary layer of idiosyncrasy.
Novel : Rear Blast, is a shining example of this. Highlighted by the brisk, acoustic “Sigh,” which builds in intensity with more urgent, prominent strums, crashing cymbal crashes and rapid whistles and “oohs,” the EP has an effervescent appeal to it. The culmination of the aforementioned “Sigh,” an angsty, insecure embodiment of the track’s message which welcomes distorted electric guitar and choppy vocal screams before slipping towards a more direct and mellow direction, is musical perfection, and showcases clear potential.
Even more simplistic showings, like “Anniversary,” which mostly relies on low-key, understated vocal performances from FR:EDEN and collaborator FRED. is still cleverly composed. Utilising traditional sounds with a studio drummer and feedback-filled guitar, it drifts by with ease, making for a refreshing little listen.
Overall, Novel : Rear Blast is a smart blending of acoustics and electrics which looks to more low-key methods like distortion to drive home its focal points, as opposed to fanfare-filled EDM-inspired mess.
punchnello, meenoi – ‘us’
Since his debut release in 2016, punchnello has always been artist worth keeping an eye on. At just 23, his music packs a precocious maturity, as well as lyrical quality a lot of his hip-hop peers lack.
Returning recently with “us,” a song which shifts between steel drums, programmed clicks and Latin-inspired melodies, the AOMG artist sing-raps plaintively about a relationship. Intentionally off-key at times as he stretches for range, it’s a nice, unfiltered offering which captures a decent dynamic between the young artist and collaborator meenoi, with whom he harmonises with excellently at times, complimenting her soulful, breathy vocals seamlessly.
Simmering with subtle groove, “us” is sublime in its low-key experimental choices, and unwavering consistency.
Key – FACE
Despite only being released in late November of 2018, Key’s FACE was one of the albums of the year. Full to the brim with tempered experimentation, personality and undeniable quality often somewhat hidden when he hits the stage as a member of the formidable SHINee, it’s near-perfect in execution. Whether it’s the acoustic pop powerhouse of a lead-single “One Of Those Nights,” which undulates with house rhythms and vocal chemistry between him and Crush, or “Imagine,” an English-language nu-disco number which glides with gloss and pomp, there’s something gripping about the entire release.
Elsewhere, there’s the ‘80s-tinged “Good Good,” which ripples with stuttering basslines, key synths and handclaps (oh, and a falsetto chorus), “Chemicals,” which invites some jungle trap to compliment EDM modulation, and catchy electro pop served in “Honest,” a softer blending of the synths and splicing heard across the board.
And, in case you’re in search of poignancy, “This Life,” which amalgamates a syncopated rhythm, touches of guitar and thumping percussion before building into a choppy, modulated EDM drop in the chorus, is surprisingly resonant. Delivering his vocals with a little more resonance, even with hints of pain heard at times, it floats through its run-time as an enjoyable, yet thought-provoking closer.
Fantastic work all-round, FACE is a must-listen.