Review: CLAPCLAPCLAP! by IV of Spades

CLAPCLAPCLAP! by IV of SpadesWell, surprise. Now it’s IV of Spades’ turn to drop an album in the middle of night, from out of the blue, although unlike with former vocalist Unique Salonga’s surprise release, we’ve heard a bunch of these songs before in recorded form. Still, it doesn’t change how exciting CLAPCLAPCLAP! feels. The energy from the get-go is irresistible; the record flows as if the three boys are saying “we cannot be stopped”, and that’s even in the slower moments. (Spotlight to the achingly beautiful album closer, “I Would Rather Live Alone”.) Some qualities here, we’ve already seen, particularly the continued mining of evergreen approaches that you’d trace from the pop-rock of the 60s and 70s. (It helps that Zild Benitez’s falsetto really reminds me of the Bee Gees, especially when they go glitterring disco.) If anything the record feels like the band’s been liberated from stylistic shackles, allowing them to explore a wider sonic palette without the burden of expectation. (That also helps to cover up the clear difference in the writing, which I expect to evolve soon – new paths and all, after all.) Perhaps the dramatic split last year served well for both parties; both Grandma and CLAPCLAPCLAP! feel essential, a rare feat for debut albums. But then, I’ll admit comparing the two is not what I should do. It does both a disservice and dilutes one important fact from both records: the future is secure. [NB]4/5

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Review: You Tell Me by You Tell Me

You Tell Me by You Tell MeYou Tell Me is a collaboration that occurred by chance. After performing at a Kate Bush tribute gig, Sarah Hayes of the band Admiral Fallow was approached by Field Music’s Peter Brewis – and the result is a record that shows intriguing potential. It’s an interesting cross: while both have distinct styles, in this project they manage to find the common thread: slow-burn pop that mine both traditional folk styles and experimental movements, without one or the other really dominating. All right, it’s a bad attempt at trying to articulate this record. Admittedly You Tell Me’s eponymous debut feels a bit tentative, but then this isn’t music that’s supposed to blow your socks off. It’s a record that blooms on its own pace, with little things coming clearly into view the longer you immerse in it. It’s not baroque but it’s not folky either. But Sarah’s distinct voice pops through, giving a serenity that feels slightly edgy. Ultimately, it is what it is – and it can only go up from here. [NB]3/5

Review: Time For Us by GFriend

Time For Us by GFriendMaybe I just liked “Time for the Moon Night” too much. I knew GFriend tends to not really commit to their concepts – they’ve had sad singles accompanied by the frothy stuff, although the mini that accompanied that single came close. I also dismissed the serviceable Sunny Summer as a seasonal aberration; maybe they’d continue with what they’ve had before in their next release? They’ve been sentimental to the point of killing Eunha off in their music videos, after all. Time For Us‘ lead track, “Sunrise”, does continue from what came before; while it doesn’t quite instantly capture the imagination the way its spiritual predecessor did, it has some interesting tricks – and it has Eunha doing the note, for once. Everything else is GFriend’s trademark upbeat pop, but somewhat more coy in its beats; I’ll reference the cool of Stellar’s “Sting” once again. But nothing stands out, and the fact that Time For Us is a full-length album means the monotony really drags out. Not even Sowon finally rapping – or the Korean version of “Memoria”, which is so badly mixed – could make this worth the anticipation. I’m not saying it’s a really bad album. I’m just extremely disappointed with everything else. Why can’t you stick with the sad concept? Or, why make this into a full album instead of a mini? [NB]2/5

“Are we in the clear yet?”

“Out of the Woods” by Taylor Swift | Now, if I really want to feel insecure about being 30 and having accomplished relatively (arguably) little in comparison to my peers, I should write about Taylor Swift. You can’t not know she’s turning 30 this year – she’s named an album after it, kind of. One of the biggest names in pop music, one who’s deft both in songwriting and in business (just think of how… cold her 78 Questions video for Vogue was) and one who seems to know what she wants to do before she even does it. Or she has good advisers. Often (especially lately) I stop and think, wouldn’t it be nice to still have the world in your palms when you cross the invisible, arbitrary threshold of turning 30? Or maybe not extra successful like her, but like my peers, with their five-digit salaries in the upper half (I assume) and the ability to indulge in their hobbies without having to worry. Like, this blog is a hobby but it’s increasingly untenable. And then I realize they have their problems of their own, and I’m fine, at least for the moment. But still… [NB]

“너무 부끄러워 쳐다볼 수 없어.”

“Gee” by Girls’ Generation | Yeah, we’re writing a lot about K-pop lately, so this was bound to happen. (That, and this song is turning ten this year.) Six of Girls’ Generation’s nine members – don’t get me started about how one member left and, just last year, how three left the agency, but not the group – are turning 30 this year, which reminds you that not everybody reaches this age in Korean music, especially on the pop side, and remains relevant. That tends to be reserved to groups that have attained legendary, industry-altering status (take the boys of Super Junior) or those who had relatively late peaks in their careers. (Solji, who turned 30 the day after I did, was part of ballad duo 2NB before joining EXID, just before they really got successful.) Yes, sadly, I am just an uncle fan. All these new K-pop groups have members who are just over half my age – IZ*ONE‘s Jan Won-young is just 15! – and they’ve likely trained for years before that. Here I am, cheering (and being skeptical sometimes) about little kids pressured by society to be the best version of themselves, make-up and all. Well, at least Squirtle is turning 28 next month. She’s closer to my age, even if she doesn’t act like it sometimes. No wonder I’m a MooMoo[NB]