Single Review: Younha – “好きなんだ”

Tracklist:
1. 好きなんだ (Suki nan da; I Like You)
2. Sunday

This is Younha’s tenth single and it was released on November 18, 2009.

I’m liking her haircut! The stripes in the background look kind of dated, though.

~

Although I liked Younha’s single well enough, I must say that 好きなんだ is an improvement. The two singles are fairly similar, however this song has a more natural acoustic feel to it, ignoring the small keyboard parts. Younha herself sounds more or less good, although the melody isn’t one that seems particularly challenging to her, so we don’t get to hear her amazing belting or anything like that. The production values have also improved since Girl, but we’re still not seeing the high quality of her Korean works, which is slightly saddening. However, all things considered, I’m happy with this song because it’s very pretty and just an all-around nice song.

I have two words to say about Sunday: STEEL. DRUM. xD
Not to say steel drums are a bad thing at all or anything – in fact, I rather like them. I just felt they were so random, but in a good way. Sunday starts out with a laid-back tropical feel and then becomes a fast rock track with electric guitars and the whole nine yards. Overall it was pretty good, and Younha really gets into the rock feel toward the end, but it still feels a little like she’s holding back. For what, who knows.

Summary: Younha has got to be one of my favorite artists for a few reasons. For one, she’s a terrific singer, and another, because her music has a certain girlish charm about it that I can’t help but identify with. It seems like she’s really been trying to break back into the J-Pop scene lately, and she’s done a fair job at it – first with Girl, a generic though passable pop song, and now with 好きなんだ and its B-side Sunday, which I both found to be pleasant if not a teensy bit mediocre. For whatever reason, Younha’s music is just not being given the same treatment as it does when she’s in Korea, and for this same reason is not reaching the standards set by said Korean music. However, she’s going in the direction, as exhibited by the improvement in production in this song over Girl. She’s getting closer, which I’m glad to hear.

Single Grade: B

Single Review: Younha – “Girl”

Tracklist:
1.  Girl
2. 贈りそびれた言葉 (Okurisobireta Kotoba)

Younha’s 9th Japanese single was released on July 22, 2009. The single was released simultaneously in Korea and Japan.

Allow me to take this moment to celebrate Younha’s return to J-Pop. Yay, finally! Okay. Now on to the review. Girl is just the kind of uplifting piano pop that Younha has made herself famous for. It’s pretty, simple and breezy. The mid-tempo strings and keyboards are very charming and compliment Younha’s voice nicely, although she sometimes sounds a little strained and nasal in the high sections. All in all, however, I am very impressed with this cute and girly (pun totally intended) song she has put together.

I had heard that 贈りそびれた言葉 was a re-arranged version of the song Saranghada from Younha’s most recent Korean album, but what I did not know was the degree to which it had been reworked. Aside from obviously being in Japanese, it has also been turned into a funky dance number while retaining its original melody. I’m a bit guilty for admitting this, but I’m pretty sure I prefer this version to the original. Call me crazy, but I just think the melody is better suited to an upbeat arrangement than a slow one, and Younha’s voice is gorgeous. And hey, it’s still got the piano, so it’s not too drastic a change.

Summary: After a long hiatus from the J-Pop scene wherein Younha made some truly amazing music back in her home country, our favorite Oricon Comet has finally returned. Although not entirely up to the standard she’s set with her Korean music, I’d say Girl is a great place to start again. It’s nice and fresh while not too far a cry from her roots. The same more or less goes for the B-side. I’m very happy that Younha is back with such a solid release.

Single Grade: A

Album Review: Younha – “Part A: Peace Love & Ice Cream”

Tracklist:
1. Peace Love & Ice Cream
2. Black Rain
3. Break Out
4. 1,2,3
5. She Is
6. 사랑하다 (Saranghada; Loving)
7. Luv U Luv U Luv U
8. My Song and… (Korean version)
9. 1,2,3 (Instrumental)
10. 사랑하다 (Instrumental)

Younha’s third Korean studio album, Part A: Peace Love & Ice Cream was released on April 16, 2008. No word yet on chart performance or number of copies sold.

The first song, Peace Love & Ice Cream, which is also the title track, is a cover of a song by the same name performed by a Dutch singer named Sandy Dane. The two versions sound basically identical save for Younha’s voice and, of course, the Korean lyrics. It’s a calm, acoustic track but it still retains a very distinct pop feel. Younha’s soft vocals suit the music very well and brings the album to a pleasant start.

After listening to Black Rain, I definitely get the impression that Younha has been taking a cue or two from Ayumi Hamasaki. Black Rain is an interlude, the beginning of which consists of the sounds of a thunderstorm mixed with foreboding piano. The last 18 seconds or so are an interesting mix of electronic and rock elements.

The transition between Black Rain and Break Out is awesome. The same synths and drums we heard in the end of the interlude run straight into this great rock track. I was a bit disappointed by the tameness of Younha’s vocals – we’re all well aware of just how capable she is of really belting out on tracks like this – but the sheer catchiness of the hook is more than enough to compensate.

The next track on the album is the upbeat and happy 1,2,3. Before I address the controversy surrounding this song, I’ll put in my two cents; 1,2,3 is basically like sunshine in a bottle. Younha’s voice is filled with the enthusiasm and innocence of a young girl in love, and the ska elements make the song all but irresistible. Younha has truly concocted the perfect spring anthem. This song has actually put Younha in some hot water due to its striking similarities to the Jackson 5’s “ABC”. Now, I will admit that the two share things in common, but not enough for a serious comparison to be made, in my opinion. Another song on this album has stirred up controversy for supposedly plagiarizing a popular artist.

She Is is a piano interlude. A long one. Nothing really special here, but it’s pretty.

사랑하다 (Saranghada) is a great combination of R&B stylings, piano and Younha’s gorgeous voice. I always find Younha’s ballads to be really great because she’s got a very unique way of conveying emotion through her voice, even despite the language barrier, a sign that she is a truly masterful artist.

Alright. I won’t even try to avoid it – Luv U Luv U Luv U sounds exactly like “Just Dance”. Although the former has its own unique elements, it cannot be denied that the music sounds nearly identical. Luv U is catchy in its own right, but the similarities between it and Lady GaGa’s hit are almost distracting and detract a bit from the song. I would not be at all surprised if Lady GaGa decides to pursue this issue legally as she would certainly have a case for it.

For the last track, Younha decided to take My Song and…, totally in English and one of the best songs off her previous album Someday and rewrite the lyrics in her native language. And thus we have My Song and… (Korean version). I am normally the first to say that Younha sounds better in Korean than she does in any other language, but I will make an exception in this case as the original English version of this song was, simply put, brilliant. Aside from the fact that her English was absolutely awesome, she also sang more passionately in that version. So while pretty in Korean, it’s my opinion that My Song and… was just meant to be sung in English.

Summary: With her third Korean album, Younha has proven that she can deliver great new material over and over again. The cool thing about Part A: Peace Love & Ice Cream is that is contains more variety than either of her previous Korean albums, and even her Japanese albums before that. From acoustic pop, to rock, to electro, Younha covers pretty much all the bases as she can in one album. Other than the supposed plagiarism issues, which I feel I’ve addressed sufficiently already, the only thing I feel could have been improved about this album is that it is way. Too. Short. If you exclude the two interludes, instrumentals, and the reworked version of My Song and…, we really only have five new tracks. I think it’s clear that Younha is beyond capable of giving us more than that.

Album Grade: A

Album Review: Younha – “Someday”

 Today I’ll review Younha’s second album, Someday, which was released on August 28, 2008. The album has a total of 17 tracks including two instrumentals. This will be the first music release by a Korean artist that I will be reviewing fully on this blog.

 The first song on the album is Gossip Boy, which also happens to be the song that introduced me to Younha’s music. It starts off sounding almost R&B, but evolves into a fun and young-sounding pop/rock song. Younha’s vocals are smooth, upbeat and very enjoyable throughout the duration of the song. A great way to start off the album.

기억 (Memory), is the next on the list, and boy, did it catch me off guard. The beginning sounds very ambient and calm, with peaceful synths and electronic beeps. Younha sings the verses in a hushed voice, a very melodic whisper. The song positively comes alive with the chorus, introducing strings and an uplifting beat that highlight Younha’s voice. I’m also happy to report that  Tablo’s rap verse doesn’t detract from the song at all. It was pretty short actually, so I barely noticed it. In short, this is an incredibly beautiful song.

Totally on the other side of the spectrum from the last track, Hero comes in as #3, a positively epic flurry of strings and rock guitars. Younha’s voice is fairly calm during the verse, opposite intense rock arrangement, but the chorus will knock your socks off. I actually had the goosebumps for about three-quarters of the song, and that’s saying something. There could not have been a better song to showcase Younha’s incredible vocal talent. 

Next we have the title track, a slightly slower rock song. Younha’s voice, once again, is really spot-on in this track; I especially enjoyed the “la la la’s” after the chorus. I don’t have much else to say about Someday other than it’s very pleasant.

텔레파시(Telepathy) is the first big hit off the album, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Another rock song, it’s just oozing perky teenage pop sensibility, with all its hand-claps and “HEY! HEY!s”. This is the kind of song Hannah Montana would sing here in the States if she had any talent, and it seems as though the Korean audience is pretty much into the same sort of thing. Although it’s very, very short, (only 3:17) I enjoyed this song immensely. 

I didn’t understand the title of Rain & The Bar until I actually listened to the song. It starts off with the sound of rain and footsteps. Then, people talking. Finally, I understand – Younha is actually in a bar. As it turns out, Rain & The Bar is just an instrumental introduction to the next song, 빗소리 (The Sound of Rain). Soft piano, jazzy guitars, and sultry vocals ensue. For those of you who are familiar, this song may cause major throwbacks to Norah Jones hits “Come Away With Me” and “Don’t Know Why”. It has that same gentle, soulful arrangement, but Younha’s pretty, young voice brings something different to the table. 

Younha seems to be taking a few pages from the BoA playbook with Rainbow, a song that immediately calls on the essence of spring. Although there isn’t anything all THAT spectacular about this particular song, Younha’s vocals are soothing and pleasant as usual. The melody picks up a little bit towards the end, but other than that it wasn’t all that remarkable.

Best Friend sounds pretty similar to 텔레파시, despite being a lower-tempo song and altogether less happy-go-lucky. It’s a cute song, and fun. I don’t really have much else to say. I like this song.

Our next song allows us to take a deep breath and relax. Despite the cutesy title, Strawberry Days is one of the simpler songs on the album, with only an acoustic guitar and drum set as Younha’s accompaniment. It sounds very summery and seems to fill the room with soft sunlight while you listen to it. A very pretty song.

  For Catharina is an interlude, and a nice one at that. All it is is piano. Very simple, very beautiful.

 The ending of For Catharina runs straight into the beginning of 미워하다 (Hating), a touching, lovely ballad. The arrangement is largely unadorned in the beginning, consisting only of the piano we heard in the preceding interlude, but becomes sweeping and emotional as the song goes on. There’s even an 80’s-esque distorted guitar solo. Younha’s voice is, as always, beautiful, making for a very enjoyable song.

 When I first heard that My Song and… was entirely en English, my first thought was, “Oh, God.” A cynical response, I know – Asian singers, historically, do not have the greatest track record when it comes to singing in English. However, Younha’s performance left me pleasantly surprised. Her English is nearly perfect throughout the song, and, save for some very minor pronunciation issues, she could almost be a native speaker. Linguistics aside, My Song and… is a fantastic song, made better only by the fact that Younha sounds like she’s singing straight from the heart the entire time.

Hmm, I’m not sure about 울지마요 (Don’t Cry). The feel of the song is dated, and even a bit cliché. Even though there’s nothing wrong with the song in terms of Younha’s vocal performance, I simply failed to find anything special about anything else in the song. Ah well. At least she sounds good XD

기억 (Original Mix) is basically the same as the version earlier on the disc, only missing Tablo’s rapping section. It’s basically the same, but one would probably enjoy it more if they didn’t like Tablo’s part in the rap version.

The last two tracks on the album are 텔레파시 (Instrumental) and 미워하다 (Instrumental).

In conclusion, Younha’s second album, Someday, is truly an excellent CD. This is not something I throw around lightly, but I would go so far as to say that this album is one of the best I’ve heard in recent memory. For anyone who enjoys K-Pop but has not listened to Younha’s music before, or would like to start listening to K-Pop, do not miss out on this fantastic release by an immensely talented artist.

Album Grade: A