Pop Cult: Eye of the Shinsadong Tiger
T-Ara N4 – “Countryside Life” : B-
Producers Duble Sidekick pinged my radar when they produced Two X’s fantastically melodious debut single “Double Up”. Since then they’ve worked their way into notable ranks, winning the Melon Music “Songwriter Award,” ahead of guys I’ve written effusively about. These guys seem to hit a sweet spot in pop terms, producing both hard, energetic ballads and softer, more harmonious dance songs to equal degree. But they haven’t had a huge hit since Sistar’s “Loving U,” and that probably has to do more with the faces on the product than the music.
Cut to 2013 and here they are producing the first real, non-Shinsadong Tiger single that T-Ara has ever marketed. And, yes, it’s a subunit song. But it’s arguably the A-Team of T-ara, with Eunjung, Hyomin and Jiyeon (and Areum) all participating. And sometimes A-Team work can really excel, as seen with After School Red.
So is it good? Good enough, I guess. It borrows heavily from SSD Tiger’s “hook music” style, with that lead sax acting as a poor man’s version of the main gimmick of 4Minute’s “Volume Up”. And since this a subunit, Duble Sidekick have to fake the power behind the choruses with some double/triple tracking that is kind of disappointing. But I love that accordion/eurotrash flavor they’re trying out, and “Countryside Life” never seems out of place for a T-Ara song so, in that it didn’t completely ruin everything, Duble Sidekick did a pretty good job here.
Basement Jaxx – “Back 2 The Wild” : C+
“Back 2 The Wild” is about as seapunk as Azealia Banks. Which is to say not at all. But Basement Jaxx is all about salvage. From Bollywood to Dancehall they’ve dipped their toes into every pool imaginable with varying degrees of success. Here the duo tries their hand at not specifically seapunk, but the whole of Web 2.0 sourced music. But rather than capturing the whimsy and precious naiveté along with it, their version comes off as jaded and grating, basically everything they think this sound represents.
What the guys in Jaxx don’t seem to understand (or take seriously) is that, while these micro-trends are as much about visuals as it is about the music, it’s not because the proprietors of these slivers of aesthetics don’t care about either. If anything, these subcultures reek of too much effort. “Back 2 The Wild” does the exact opposite, filling in the spaces between the beats with apathetic pantomime of sexless sex and uncool cool.
“Back 2 The Wild” has a lot going for it: the rhythm is the densest heard from Basement Jaxx since Rooty, and that crescendo around 2:00 is ebullient. But these verses are just awful, stupid shit; they’d still be awful if it wasn’t even the worst vocalists this side of “Where’s Your Head At” delivering them. Basically I want 2:05 – 2:35 on an infinite loop; keeping anything else in there makes the experience infinitely more cringeworthy.
4Minute – “What’s Your Name” : D
4Minute return as a complete group with their first single since their stellar Volume Up EP. But instead of Shinsadong Tiger, Cube Entertainment enlists Brave Brothers for their comeback. Unfortunately, “What’s Your Name” is basically a clone of HyunA’s “Ice Cream,” in more bad ways than good. Again, the bridge is the best part of the song, not because it’s amazing, but because the rest of the tune underwhelms. “What’s Your Name” has a beat ripped straight from GD&TOP’s “Knock Out,” and spreads a thick veneer of autotune all over each girls voice. I can understand giving HyunA a boost, but smothering GaYoon, JiYoon and JiHyun’s accomplished tones is a crime and a half. Come baaaaaaack, Tiger.