The crash course: the evolution of GFriend, K-pop’s unlikely heroes

[Update: the “anything drastic happening” at the end of this entry took place – GFriend’s Manila gig has been moved a week to Sunday, 26 August, because of the closure of NAIA’s runway.] This Sunday sees me take this K-pop thing further: I am watching my first K-pop concert. As it turns out, this is also Shalla’s first – and I thought the person responsible for introducing me to this world would have seen at least one Super Show. (She did see Siwon in the flesh, though.) We’re watching GFriend, and she’s really excited about it – she’d call herself a Buddy. I wouldn’t, mostly because I’m a stick-to-one-group guy, but I’ve learned to appreciate these girls enough to make sense of just what makes them tick, in that overanalytic way so-called music critics do. And that means a crash course, which might be unusual considering this is a girl group that hasn’t quite reached astronomic levels of fame (at least compared to Twice or Blackpink) – but then again, I’m writing.

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“Talk about a long way to die.”

“Dime by Dime” by Nathaniel Talbot | We’ve written about Nathaniel Talbot some time back, and now the folkie from the Northwest is taking a different tactic on his new album, Animal. “Dime by Dime”, which was released last Friday, is the first single, and from here the new direction is evident. Then he played a lot with traditional Americana instruments; now he’s gone electric, resulting in a brooding, differently gritty, yet surprisingly easy record. I listened to it twice, once on a rainy day and once on a slightly sunnier one, and somehow the record manages to contort to your conditions and still feel impactful. I thoroughly enjoyed the record, and can’t wait for you to be able to listen to it – the whole thing drops in September. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

Review: Grandma by Unique

Grandma by UniqueWhen former IV of Spades vocalist Unique Salonga announced his first solo concert, on the back of just one single, many were skeptical. “What’s he going to do?” Nobody doubts his abilities, but why a major concert, so soon? Two weeks later, a whole album drops from the middle of nowhere, and the reaction was one of stunned awe. “It’s such a good album,” the general consensus went. You might even think they’re calling him the next Messiah or something. The reaction felt similar to when Harry Styles dropped his solo debut, although in that case his rock star tendencies were somewhat tucked away underneath One Direction’s pop sheen; IV of Spades always had that quality. With Grandma, Unique now feels liberated to tap his inner Paul McCartney, the result being languid, slightly idiosyncratic, ultimately sly pop-rock that can get to you. Can, because, let’s be honest, this album is not the second coming. It feels a bit random sometimes. But there are shades of where he can go next: “Ozone (Itulak Ang Pinto)” is a surprisingly funky groover set in the catastrophic fire that enveloped Ozone disco in 1996, while “Goodnight Prayer” sees him ruminate his mortality without really pushing it. The hope now is that the goodwill this album has provided him won’t be wasted. Some of the stuff on this record were tucked away while Unique was still with IV of Spades. Now he’s truly free, what can he still do? [NB] | 4/5

Review: Vacation by Outerhope

Vacation by OuterhopeNot that I’m expecting a completely carefree album from Outerhope, but this one is called Vacation, and the tracklist suggests places to go to and adventures to be had. Instead we get a really intense rumination on beginnings and endings, on that’s all drenched, Cocteau Twins-like, with hazy uncertainty. And it’s beautiful, even if all throughout you feel that inevitable sort of pain, the hesitation in pushing through knowing this is the last few moments you’ll ever have, the acknowledgment that you have to make the most of these moments. As the album progresses the themes move, from more modern takes on shoegaze and psychedelic, to somewhere by the final third, a bit of 80s groove, a final nod of nostalgia – this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we’re headed. I’m afraid I cannot really give justice to this record in words. Outerhope smartly steps back when the inevitable begins to creep in – plug your own meanings here, but let’s do this, one last time – and by the album closer “Boarding Area”, a short burst reminiscent of found sound and buzz, I feel pretty overwhelmed. This isn’t escapism, but an outright confrontation. And what a beautiful job they have done. [NB]5/5

Review: Coup de Grace by Miles Kane

Coup de Grace by Miles KaneFrankly, even if it shouldn’t be, it’s quite difficult reviewing a Miles Kane album. On the one hand, it is a fun listen. That’s Coup de Grace on the surface: a quick-blitz romp through every jam and style, with a swagger that Miles is known to deliver. Or at least it feels like swagger, because you know where the influences are and you know he’s really aping it the best way he could – convincingly, somewhat, but you feel it’s really just an act and you want to go beyond that. That’s where the other hand comes in: a Miles Kane album ultimately feels empty. It’s fun to listen to, but there’s little you take away with it afterwards. Pop in the record, and it’s a fun thing. Pop it out, and you’ve forgotten the lot. But then, should we demand so much? Can’t we have a record that whisks us, throughout its duration, to a different vibe, a different world? Does every record have to linger with us in the long run? Or maybe it’s because this is the very template Miles did in his last record, only with a different collaborator (this time it’s Jamie T)? Or is it because this record also runs a good half-hour, and you really just want more? I really don’t know. But Coup de Grace is fun while it lasts. [NB]3/5