This time next week, we’ll all be back in our cushy tier systems, wondering what on earth we can or can’t do, and begrudging the Government for putting us on a sliding scale which will presumably end in another lockdown. For now though, there’s one last edition of the Grab Bag to suffer through, but don’t worry, it’s a ‘Best Of’, so there’s bound to be something you enjoy in it.
Loco – Summer Go Loco
Loco has always added a bit of diversity to the AOMG roster. Although still a hip-hop artist, his sonic pallet is undoubtedly lighter than a lot of his contemporaries’, and often a lot more energised. Although there have been moments of keen introspection for the artist – think “Still,” “It Takes Time,” “It’s Been a While” – most releases have an abundance of personality to them, and never take themselves too seriously.
Summer Go Loco, his 2017 seasonal EP, seemed like a perfect amalgamation of this unrequited energy and charisma, delivering four diverse tracks which all have a unique charm. Whether It’s the titular lead-single which brims with funky synths and is syringed with a catchy hook, or “Alright, Summer Time,” a more relaxed, soulful collaboration with Sam Kim which chooses a breezy guitar melody as its central component, everything stays tight and compact.
With that being said, it is the trap-infused, bubbly “OPPA” which shines the most on the EP. Humorous without trying too hard, and accessible without sacrificing what makes Loco idiosyncratic and charming without even meaning to be, it’s a song which makes full use of its synthesised xylophone sounds to harbour a sticky melody, and emphasises Loco’s pacy, somewhat insecure rapping.
Pengsoo, Tiger JK, Bizzy, BIBI – ‘This Is Pengsoo’
Rumour has it than when Beethoven was passing away, his final wish was to have his soul inherit another musician. It’s unclear whether or not that rumour is true, in part because we just made it up, but it conceivably could well be, especially when one has heard the musical debut of Pengsoo. The parallels between the classical composer and the androgynous penguin are easy to spot; both ahead of their time, both compositionally flawless, and both likely to continue legacies long after their time.
Wisecracks aside, Pengsoo’s “This Is Pengsoo” is actually surprisingly charming, or at least is for a release born out of a YouTube star harbouring ambitions of reaching the top of the Billboard charts. Mostly simplistic, with BIBI engineering a processed, sleek chorus and Pengsoo delivering a youthful introduction to their personality during their verse (in the bridge they do pull off a yodel solo, though), it’s nothing too experimental, but it’s still something nonetheless endearing. Padded out with an appearance from hip-hop mogul Tiger JK, and Bizzy, it’s an easy-listen introduction to a global phenomenon worth no less than one visit.
Key – FACE
Despite 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.
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.
BIGBANG – MADE
Of all the eras in music that can go down in history as being exciting, engaging and memorable, BIGBANG’S MADE series has to be up there. 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, towards breezy, chart-centric melodies. Confusingly sublime, “BAE BAE” comes dually recommended.
Crush – with HER
Before leaving us for his mandatory military enlistment, Crush gifted the world with with HER. A collaborative EP made exclusively with female artists, it was a genre-defying project which showed both the 28-year-old’s competency in dipping in-and-out of musical styles, as well as his openness for fresh, exciting partnerships with some of Korea’s best female artists.
Proceedings start with “Let Me Go,” a warm piano ballad with Girls’ Generation‘s Taeyeon. Soft, fuzzy and soulful, it breezes through its runtime in a cosy manner, never asking its audience to do too much in the form of attentiveness. Melodically endearing, its a comfortable duet for the two which starts the EP in an accessible, easy-going way, even if the topic on show is a heart-wrenching breakup.
From there, though, the experiments come streaming in. First, there’s the synth-led, sensual “Tip Toe” with LeeHi, a subtly sensual number about sneaking around whilst getting up to some extracurricular activity. Full of chemistry and zip, this playful R&B number is full of the ’90s vibes Crush so evidently adores. After that comes “Love Encore” with Lee Sora, which hinges on its bossa nova groove and abstract feel. Rather philosophical in its lyrical reflections on what love truly is, its skeletal, drifting instrumentation allows for the vocals and message to come through unobstructed, in turn moulding a calming, yet thought-provoking mid-point in the EP.
“Step By Step,” a cut flanked with beatboxing and bending synths follows, enlisting the help of Yoon Mirae for its more mature themes. Everything from the underlying rhythm guitar to the spoken percussion works wonders here, and makes for a compelling, delicately full-grown offering which lends itself to the bygone eras of carefully methodical R&B bangers.
Not without a climax, though, “She Said” ends affairs in a seamlessly trendy way, driven by trap beats, freeform vocal delivery, and raunchy lyrics depicting a huge night of passion. Dripping with vigour, it’s a hip-hop tinged number which offers a straightforward punch, and closes the curtain with R-rated finesse.
All in all, with HER is a tour-de-force for Crush, and shows his powers as an artist able to add his signature touch on numerous styles, and work effortlessly with artists who all embrace their own strong, individual personalities.
Primary, Oh Hyuk – Lucky You!
An unlikely coming together, but one that was a welcome return to music back in 2015 for versatile and prolific producer Primary, this collaborative EP, which features a guest-spot from HYUKOH frontman Oh Hyuk, shines a light on both artist’s immense talents. Borrowing from a wide array of sub-genres, the four-track offering shines in moments of acid jazz brilliance heard on “eTunnel,” with its bass-heavy grooves and disco-borrowing vibrancy, whilst also showing glimpses of poignancy with offerings like the melancholy, sonically simple “Island.”
Overall, it’s a short-form release that combines the unique, raspy vocals of Oh Hyuk with the tangible knack Primary has for playing to his collaborator’s strengths. If you’re the kind of person who likes to try something new, then Lucky You! may just be what you’re looking for.
Jay Park – Nothing Matters
A really good Jay Park release is pretty hard to find nowadays. Much like Raymond appearing on your Animal Crossing island, it’s a rarity of sorts, but a welcome one; a kind you fondly ensure you don’t take for granted.
And so, after a clunky, uninspired full-length release failed to grab any attention, it was a relief that the AOMG CEO followed it up with a gem of an EP. Nothing Matters is firmly rooted in Park’s R&B wheelhouse, utilising his sleek vocals and weaving them in between tropical, playful melodies.
“All Day (Flex),” a particular highlight, mixes these tropical sonics with a pop-leaning hook, playful lyrics and a tangible groove. Whether it’s having his bills paid or simply just the fact he’s feeling great, Park wants to flex it on you, and who can really blame him? The 33-year-old seems to live for the limelight and his goofy personality really translates seamlessly on tracks like this.
Similarly, “Yummy,” a collaboration with Crush, is a high-energy R&B ditty bolstered by colourful synths and vibrant snaps. The two work in perfect tandem vocally, bringing out a summery, warm feeling to another earworm of an offering.
Somewhat magnetic in its carefree nature – aside from the slightly more introspective titular “Nothing Matters” – this EP is a perfect listen for those who want to chill with some summer-tinged tunes.
iKON – RETURN
It’s not an unfair statement to say that nobody quite predicted that iKON would become the breakout stars of 2018. It’s not to say that everybody had written them off, but their previous output had failed to really captivate mainstream audiences.
So, when “Love Scenario,” the lead-single for the group’s second full-length album, was released, it came as a hefty surprise to see it catapult the outfit right to the top of the industry. But, unlike a lot of their earlier material, this album had something to it which separated them from their peers. Packed with charm and idiosyncrasy, iKON crafted an album with RETURN which they have yet to top, and perhaps never will.
The aforementioned “Love Scenario” begins the LP with tangible synergy, expertly utilising the talent of each member as they deliver their respective parts over minimalistic instrumentation (mostly a piano melody, some trap beats and, surprisingly, a cowbell). Most of the appeal here does come from an unshakeable chorus, but when it’s that good, does anyone really mind?
From there, “Beautiful,” a groove-driven number with tinges of tropical flavour, adds a bit more pace and energy to the release. Bass-heavy in its verses before adding some tropical house to its catchy refrain, it’s a fairly simplistic offering to get your head around, but one which again shows off the tremendous chemistry the group has.
Similarly, “Love Me,” a track introduced towards the tail-end of the album, mixes poppy vocals and harmonies with heavy, thumping percussion expertly. Driven by an unrelentingly camp, colourful chorus, this uptempo ditty is a singalong anthem, one hard to deny has a transcendent sonic pull.
That’s not to say it’s all fun though. There are still other facets to the group on show throughout the 12 track offering. Whether it’s the pop ballad “Just Go,” or B.I solo effort “One and Only,” a brash, heelish track which sees ballsy, fast-paced verses delivered over jarring cowbells and trap beats, there’s a tremendous versatility to RETURN.
It may have seen iKON embrace their lighter sensibilities for a lot of its content, but this album is layered, intricate and simply sublime. If you’re ever stuck for 45 minutes during your time at home, why not treat yourself and give this a spin?
And that’s a wrap! Thank you for reading this edition. We hope you managed to find some semblance of enjoyment in it, and if not, we’ll probably be back at some point for a third lockdown, so maybe then, yeah? For now though, take care, and stay safe.