Welcome back to another edition of the Grab Bag. To avoid boring you, we’ll just get straight into it this week. We hope you enjoy.
Block B – Montage
Block B are without a doubt one of the most understated groups in Kpop. Managing to successfully blend power-pop juvenility with sonic explorations into genre-less soundscapes, they’re more than just an average outfit, and have a palpable idiosyncrasy to them. Heavily aided by having a magnetic star such as Zico in their ranks – an asset they will undoubtedly miss upon any eventual return – they may be niché in terms of audience, but they deserve a much larger platform.
2017’s Montage, a more sanitised version of their relentlessly buoyant approach, was a sublime summation of their talents together, and proved definitively that Block B are just as consistent as ever. From the brassy undertones of the catchy “One Way,” right to the gritty, hip-hop-infused lead-single “Shall We Dance” which ripples with intoxicating bass beats and horn loops, there’s something alluring to be found everywhere. Even the stripped-back “Like This,” a piano-led ballad with sleek vocals and arpeggiated strings, shows a versatile side to the vocal line of the group, and offers a necessary change of pace from the unrelentingly in-your-face pop offerings which come before it.
Worth a re-listen during lockdown, this 16-minute EP should easily find a home on a playlist.
Jooyoung – N/A
In many ways, Jooyoung is a vastly under-utilised talent. Somewhat shackled by being signed to a pop label, meaning less advertisement and promotion, the R&B artist still manages to release genuinely intriguing offerings packed with more honest musicality, even if they aren’t exactly frequent.
Double-single N/A, which sought to continue the sonic poignance offered on his post-military releases, is a fantastic example of his honed creativity, and ballsy pensiveness. The titular “N/A,” which trickles with a higher-key, understated piano melody and ploddingly affecting percussion, allows for the artist to state his purpose clearly. Only ever interrupted by rings of distortion, his self-harmonies encompass the evident emotion of the track penned about a heart-to-heart with oneself. Heavily processed yet still intrinsically raw, it’s a phenomenal showcase of simplistic complexity.
Musical neighbour “Inn,” which begins with an acoustic riff punctuated by breathy whistles, is more of the same. Unrefined and vocally sublime, Jooyoung brims with star-quality here. It’s a real shame that he isn’t more prominent within the underground scene, as he really has a lot to offer.
Lee Sang Yeob – ‘Red Bag’
An ode to his on-screen past love, “Red Bag” forms part of SBS’ Good Casting soundtrack, and sees Lee Sang Yeob trade acting for singing. Fairly basic as he enthusiastically sings over a simplistic acoustic guitar riff and backgrounded keys, the strength here is in an earworm of a chorus. Irresistibly catchy and ever-so-slightly charming, you may just find yourself wishing your crush is the owner of a red bag so you can serenade them with this snappy number.
Ok, maybe you won’t go that far, but there’s still plenty of entertainment value in “Red Bag,” so listen to it.
IU – Nagging
An icon of the music industry, IU‘s double-single Nagging turned a decade old last week, so we’re here to celebrate it.
A collaboration with 2AM’s Lim Seulong, this juvenile pop-ballad perfectly captures all the youthful exuberance of flailing love. With the strong, resolute vocals of Seulong contrasting with IU’s lighter, more personality-filled tone effortlessly, the synergy stays relentless – the two rapidly dispatching note after note over colourful synths and vibrant string flourishes. A perfect smile-raiser, “Nagging” is pure pop fun.
Oh yeah, and there’s a B-side too. It’s called “Rain Drop,” and is decent in its gleaming intention. What it isn’t though, is “Nagging.” That’s the real recommendation here.
Jay Park – ‘All The Way Up’
On reflection, Jay Park is an ever-present entity when it comes to the Grab Bag. Often critiqued and occasionally ridiculed (also fairly praised when needed, though) for his try-hard attempts at hip-hop in these bite-size recommendations, the AOMG, H1GHR MUSIC and Roc Nation signee still finds his way to squeeze his way in to most editions, even if he only guests on a chosen song, EP or album. Perhaps it reveals a greater intention or learning, that the sole purpose of this weekly column is to discover a love for Park’s music, or to realise that the industry just cannot function without him.
Does the world need Jay Park more than Jay Park needs the world? Is the tattooed CEO the answer to all our woes, aches and pains, curing us in the form of hyper-sexualised lyrics such as “And let me call you mama, Cause we about to make a baby,” or “I’ll be deep in your legs// I’ll be making you wet// Like it’s my super power// You gon’ think I’m Aquaman”? Conceivably, no. But yet possibly. Perhaps the answer rests in one article looking at every single song in his discography, but even then he’d probably find a way back into the subsequent pieces, popping in to say hello with a new feature or album. God knows he released enough of them in 2019 to satisfy everyone for a lifetime, but that won’t stop a man who is “always on his grind.”
Regardless, the overriding point this week is that his birthday release, “All The Way Up,” is actually not bad. In fact, it’s rather endearing. Moulded with bubbly synths, looped keyboard melodies and trap hi-hats, the 33-year-old discusses everything from metaphorically going all the way up, to filling his cup all the way up, hitting the top (presumably after his journey “all the way up”) and, well you get the picture. Confident, assured and humorous when it needs to be, it mightn’t be the song of the year, nor rack any awards up, but it will almost definitely be stuck in your head as we proceed towards the weeks ahead.
Peejay – Walkin’ Vol.2
Prolific producer Peejay ventured out into a sonic world of collaborations and exciting soundscapes in Walkin’ Vol.2. A follow up to 2015’s first volume, the BLACK LABEL mogul upped the ante on the indie label affair, teaming up with the likes of Oh Hyuk, Taeyang, Zion.T and Crush.
Opening with “After Summer Day,” a track which breezes through coffee-shop R&B riffs, warm piano melodies before switching to atmospheric synths and sharp modulations, the album is intriguing from the outset. Largely instrumental, it serves best as a long-form introduction into “STRANGER,” a bouncy, bassy collaboration with Crush. Vocally lush, it’s a subdued number which plays nicely into the charismatic “NA B YA,” something likely to operate as a floor-filler more than anything else.
Elsewhere, there’s the grittier, more distorted “I Drive Slow,” which sees Beenzino add his succinct flair over consistent guitar licks and thrashing percussion, and most notably “Moonstruck,” which acoustically strips back a lot of the dynamic ambience to forefront raw, unfiltered vocals. Far from a lot of the sleek, refined content heard elsewhere on the ten-track release, it’s a brief moment of acute plaintiveness which gives the album a subtle boost.
All in all, Walkin’ Vol.2 is a seamlessly flowing mid-tempo affair which earns Peejay plenty of stars.
NCT 127 – WE ARE SUPERHUMAN
2019 was a phenomenal year for NCT 127. From a successful world tour to appearances on television networks across the globe, the youthful group seemed to really step their game up, showing signs of an outfit ready to take the world by storm.
In the midst of all this came WE ARE SUPERHUMAN, their fourth mini-album and follow-up release to full-length Regulate. Built around the quintessential SM experimental pop style and unwavering energy the eight-piece hold, it thrust them into the spotlight.
Lead-single “Superhuman,” which soars with industrial synths, sleek percussion and buoyant, harmonising vocals, is a tangible standout. Catchy and fun yet original enough to avoid falling into mainstream tropes, it’s an electro-pop show-stealer which will have you nodding along without even realising.
Not without some poignance across the release, with the rippling bass and shuffling drum fills of “Jet Lag” adding some nice momentum to the sleek, harmonising vocals as the group exclaim that “we’ve got each other.”
Inoffensive and uplifting, this mightn’t be NCT 127 at their envelope-pushing best, but it’s certainly worth a listen.
And that’s a wrap! See you next week.