Welcome to another edition of the self-isolation grab bag. Whatever you’ve been doing this week, we hope you’ve been staying safe, and that the coming weeks and months can be easier. Additionally, we hope these songs, albums and EPs can be of some use to you during the weekend, and the week ahead. Take care, and we hope to see you next week.

P.O, Mino – ‘Promise’

Known behind the scenes as best friends, P.O and Mino teamed up for the cute romantic track “Promise,” a stand-alone single. Rippling with bass, tropical synths and strangely intriguing vocal effects, it’s a magnetic track which is powered through a slightly raw, yet nevertheless gummy chorus. Mino offers up a good diversion from P.O’s huskier style too on his part, filling his verse with summer-tinged auto-tuned rapping.

Consistent, somewhat repetitive but all the same worth listening to, “Promise” is a nice detour from the doom and gloom facing us all right now.

Epik High – Sleepless in ______

Free from the shackles of a major label, Epik High favoured pensive artistry on Sleepless in______.

Beginning with the haunting text-to-speech of “Sleepless,” the EP then cannons into the percussive “In Seoul,” a collaborative effort with sunwoojunga which keeps things low-key. “Lovedrunk,” a highlight, allows Crush to deliver poignant vocals during the chorus, dispatched alongside hard-hitting, soul-bearing vocals from Tablo and Mithra Jin.

Elsewhere, “Rain Again Tomorrow” serves up a fast-paced, memorable number whilst “Lullaby For a Cat” brings things to a tight-knit close, not only by looping right back to track one, but in favouring a talking, backgrounded verse layered under sharp, arpeggiated strings and melancholic keys.

It mightn’t be fun and frolics, but here, just as they always do, Epik High give a lesson in how to make meaningful music accessible.

Ovan – ‘I Need You’

Despite a little (unnecessary and unsolicited) controversy as to how Ovan’s “I Need You” rocketed to the top of the charts, the artist himself didn’t get bogged down. Instead, he let his music do the talking for him, and rightly so. This track, a 4-minute exercise in relaxing, inoffensive pop, is flawless in its intention.

Centred around a catchy hook, bubbly synths and ebullient basslines, Ovan perfectly crafts a song which highlights his slightly wispy voice alongside spirited harmonies and lyrics completely at odds with the cheerful melody. For someone who debuted as a generic, run-of-the-mill rapper, “I Need You” is a strong transition into popular music.

Beenzino – 24 : 26

As soon as you hear the synth-driven, percussive introduction of “Nike Shoes,” you know you’re in for something special. A catchy, exuberant track which brims with smarmy charm and a marked youthful conviction, Beenzino riffs perfectly with the experienced Dynamicduo. Penned about a stylish woman, the airy keys and simple drum beats help the song plod along with a mid-tempo charisma, never overpowering the listener.

Similarly, track three, “Boogie On & On” ripples with an R&B inspired groove, armed with handclaps, synth pads and squelchy bass which constantly pops up as the rapper swiftly dispatches his fast-paced verses and a danceable chorus. Carefree but never careless, this is a floor-filling anthem which has stood the test of time.

The juvenile skittering of fashion-savvy ladies and all-night dancing aren’t all the nine-track offering is about though. “I’ll Be Back,” which crashes into the listener’s ear with a sharp synth melody, aided by thumping kick-drums and claps, reminds its audience that even whilst they can listen to other rappers, he will always be back to reclaim his throne. His slump won’t last, and he’ll soon be self-assured again. More so, “If I Die Tomorrow,” a track laden with a mellow melody, minor keys and a more reflective tone, showcases some maturity, allowing for Beenzino’s raw, naturally flat vocals to flow without filter, translating meaning without compromise. It also has one of the more poignant, refined choruses on the album which helps things greatly.

Summer-tinged, ballsy but at the same time reflective, and always fun, 24 : 26 is a sublime showcase of Beenzino’s high musicality.

Fanxy Child – ‘Y’

Despite being a crew since 2016, Fanxy Child had, surprisingly, never actually released any official material as an outfit. They’d taken turns guesting on individual’s tracks sure, but nothing exclusively under the Fanxy Child banner had been marketed whatsoever. So, in support of a couple of live shows the elite cast of artists would undertake in the Summer of 2019, they gifted the world “Y.”

Although heavily processed which somewhat sanitises the raw, introspective hip-hop appeal, the song does have plenty of charm. Mostly, this is due to each vocal part offering something unique to the table, blending together seamlessly to mould a coherent, chemistry-filled offering. Filled with languid, hazy synths, trap beats and plenty of consistency, it’s a tight showing in terms of atmosphere; each component is barely given room to breathe individually, instead being tasked with providing the track with a tangible sense of sonic claustrophobia. As solid as a single which features the likes of Crush, Dean and Zico can be without bothering to step outside the box and experiment, “Y” is a perfectly melodic listen during these next few weeks.

Jay Park, Simon Dominic, Gray, Loco – ‘Upside Down’

Speaking of ensemble offerings, some of the cast of AOMG got together for “Upside Down,” a swagger-filled arena rap anthem.

Although largely adjacent to the abrasive, in-your-face Show Me the Money cuts such as “Who You?,” “Red Sun” and “Moneyflow,” “Upside Down” still manages the same level of hard-hitting impact, even if purely based around the skill of the bars, a surprising sentiment given the fact Jay Park is heavily featured.

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But alas, he does offer some evidence of skill, breezing confidently through his pick-me-up style verse on how good his label is and how he hustled “day and night,” backed by guitar loops, chopped up vocal effects and a largely consistent drum pattern. It then leads into a buoyant pre-chorus, aided with recurring peppy horns before seamlessly leading into a same-same kind of refrain, in which the melody gets louder, but the vocals largely remain as they did beforehand.

From there, Loco delivers a strong section of his own, particular shining in his effective pace-changes, before Simon Dominic, in typical fashion, steals the show with his idiosyncratic aura and relentlessly brilliant flow. He even leads a catchy middle-eight chant before Gray takes it away for one final chorus and ending refrain. Good stuff indeed.

BONUS PICK: Jay Park, HAON, pH-1, Sik-K – ‘GANG’ (REMIX)

This one speaks for itself. Seriously. But, if you do need convincing, “GANG” is an ode to Rain‘s newfound meme status, one which shouldn’t be as hilariously enthralling as it is, but yet actually makes for a very, very good song. Rapid verses compliment the dominating, abrasive synths and relentless percussion, before a sleek Jay Park chorus adds a sizeable amount of refined appeal to the effort. Complimented further by an appearance from Rain himself in the music video, this is a sleeper pick for one of the songs of the year.

BIGBANG – MADE

This past Monday marked five years since the second segment of BIGBANG’s MADE series, with the EP A hitting airwaves on June 1st, 2015. Special for a number of reasons, perhaps most notably it brought “BANG BANG BANG,” a genuine Kpop phenomenon, into the forefront of the general public. That song alone would go on to have over 500 million cumulative streams across platforms, and was also used in the South-Korean DMZ (demilitarised zone) to intimidate North-Korean soldiers.

Eventually, the MADE series of EPs was made into a full-length record, the third of the influential group’s career. Released December 12th, 2016, it amalgamated the four EPs together, adding three new tracks – “FXXK IT,” “Last Dance,” “Girlfriend” – to the initial eight released the previous year. It showed tremendous sonic versatility, and once again saw BIGBANG mould themselves into a fresh, exciting outfit who could only belong at the very top of the industry they’d helped amplify.

Opening with the aforementioned “FXXK IT,” the album gets off to a blistering start. Dipped in off-kilter electronics, vocal manipulation and EDM drops, it’s a prominent hip-hop-cum-dance track, highlighted by an irresistible refrain. Afterwards comes “LAST DANCE,” a more melodic number which sees each member sing over dull piano chords and an airy atmosphere. There’s some subtle, condensed percussion hanging around in the mix too, but it’s mostly the vocal talent which shines through here, particularly in its rousing final chorus.

Elsewhere, “GIRLFRIEND” once again relies heavily on an aggressively catchy chorus, but somewhat subverts expectations by having a mostly traditional makeup, utilising colourful guitars and a simplistic drum-fill. “LET’S NOT FALL IN LOVE,” a fast-paced song which does what it says on the tin, zips by with more of the same quality, just how a rap-infused pop offering should. “LOSER,” one of the more striking pieces, subdues the atmosphere to some degree, and sees each member offer some distinctive parts which would work perfectly well in isolation.

BAE BAE,” is a real highlight, though. Charismatic, experimental and quintessentially BIGBANG, it shifts constantly from trap, to acoustic pop, to breezy chart-centric melodies. Confusingly sublime, “BAE BAE” is must-listen.

BANG BANG BANG” is next, and it goes without saying that this is an unapologetic, fist-raising anthem. One of the most recognisable tunes in Kpop, it’s a high-octane, frantic piece of music identifiable from its coarse synth riff, to the sleek vocals of Taeyang and Daesung, right to its modulated drop. Phenomenally fun and armed with a chant at the end to tie things up nicely, there’s a reason this took the charts by storm.

SOBER” follows on nicely, riding the momentum that its preceding cut left by deploying arena-made drum fills, some subtle rhythm guitar and a colourful, synth choral backdrop. It’s a little more freeform than some of the tighter cuts on the album, and drives its point home on sheer personality alone. “IF YOU” then takes everything down a notch, opening with a finger-plucked acoustic guitar riff, before welcoming T.O.P’s smoky, husky voice for a vocal part. Afterwards, Seungri offers a hollow, breathy section until G-Dragon takes over with one of BIGBANG’s most vulnerable choruses to date. Daesung and Taeyang add some degree of sleekness, but “IF YOU” glistens in sheer rawness more than anything else.

ZUTTER,” a return of the GD & T.O.P duo, overflows with hip-hop swagger as the record’s penultimate offering before “WE LIKE 2 PARTY,” armed with a singalong-inducing refrain and bright acoustics takes the listener home with a smiley, unashamed pop track. MADE is a phenomenal album, and well worth revisiting over lockdown.

That’s a wrap! See you next week.

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