Concerts Galore: Monsta X and G-Dragon

There have been so many K-Pop concerts, in Texas, lately. In 2017 alone, we have had SHINEE, B.A.P. and, DEAN. Tonight MONSTA X will be performing, in Dallas, while       G-DRAGON will be in Houston. SEVENTEEN and Taeyang have already announced Dallas concerts in the coming months. I am happy they are all coming here. If only I had the money to attend all of them 😦

I must admit that I am not too familiar with either MONSTA X or GD’s discographies. Neither of them have, consistently, put out music that draws me in. Today I decided to put together a list of my favorite 5 tracks for each of the artists.

 

G-DRAGON

  1. Crooked – This is essential K-Pop listening. This is GD doing what he does best and showing why he is one of K-Pop’s biggest stars.

 

2. Untitled, 2014 – I did not think I would like this track as much as it did. It is not typical GD style and it is refreshing to listen to his singing voice.

 

3. Today– An excellent B-Side that greatly appealed to me because of, Nell singer, Kim Jong Wan.

 

4. ROD (feat. Lydia Paek)- Many consider Coup D’Etat one of the best K-Pop albums. It’s not really my style of music but this particular B-Side is one I greatly enjoy.

 

5. One Of A Kind- This track was my introduction to GD. It really highlights his unique rapping style as well as personality.

MONSTA X

 

  1. Fighter– This track is quite different from the rest of their discography. The B.A.P style with the rock sounds make it a clear favorite of mine.

 

2. Hero- This is probably their most iconic song. When it first came out, I was a little surprised by the choreography and even now it is impossible to listen to this track without thinking of the dance routine.

 

3.All In- One of Monsta X’s most melodic tracks. Although it did not receive great reviews when it came out, I was always a fan. It seems to be inspired by some of BTS’s successful music and the epic music video makes it all the more memorable.

 

4. Beautiful- One of their latest releases that took a while to grow on me. The combination of the aggressive, Monsta X style, combined with the falsetto chorus makes for a very interesting production.

 

5. Hieut (with Nochang, Junggigo, and Vasco)- Technically not Monsta X since this track came out before the group was officially formed. This was one of their first tracks that I listened to and I was pleasantly surprised.

 

What do you think of these artists? What are some of your favorite tracks? 

Soloists dominate first half of 2017

So far, 2017, has been a slightly underwhelming year for K-Pop. There haven’t been that many outstanding tracks in the first half of the year. Many of my favorite groups released mediocre tracks which meant my Top 10 list had a lot more soloists than usual. Considering this, I am happy that a number of excellent albums that have come out this year.

These are not necessarily the most popular artists and these are albums that I might have easily overlooked. But there is some really good music that I hope listeners do not miss out on. As with all album listens, it really helps to read the lyrics in order to better appreciate the works. These albums may not have individual tracks that really stand out but the albums, as a whole, are cohesive and well-crafted.

Jonghyun- The Collection: Story Op.2

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I have been a big fan of Jonghyun’s solo work and his last album She Is was one of my favorites last year. I enjoy his quirky style and I see his albums as an opportunity for him to experiment outside the SHINee style. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed by the title track, Lonely. I did not expect the rest of the album to be much different. I was pleasantly surprised when I gave the entire album a listen. The songs are not necessarily linked to each other and therefore have a lot more variety. The compilation album is entirely written and co-produced by Jonghyun himself. As always, the highlight is his unique vocals.

Favorite track: 따뜻한 겨울 (Our Season)

 

Zion. T- OO

Zion.T_-_OO

Many feared that we would lose the Zion. T style music after he moved to YG Entertainment but OO assured us that we can continue to expect his unique music no matter what company he is with. In this album he sticks to his signature R&B style with some hip-hop and jazz. As with much of his work, OO makes for easy listening in large part because of his laid back vocals. This whole album goes to further establish his musical identity while also showcasing his skills as an artist.

Favorite track: Complex (feat. G-Dragon)- you need the lyrics to really appreciate why G-Dragon is such a great choice for a featuring artist.

 

Jung Joon Young- The First Person

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I enjoy pretty much all the music Jung Joon Young has ever released. First Person shows a different side of Joon Young where, instead of the usual rock sounds, his deep vocals take center stage. This album has more emotional and melancholic tracks. It highlights his versatility and ability to create some excellent ballads while staying true to his style.

Favorite tracks: Sympathy (Orchestral version), Echo

Akdong Musician (AKMU) – Winter

AKMU_Winter_album_cover

Although, I have enjoyed all of AKMU’s previous title tracks, I had never been tempted to check out their full albums. Winter was an exception. This album really defines and establishes the AKMU sound. Their ability to make fun, lively songs about everyday things, is what sets them apart. Winter gives them another opportunity to show off that style while still maintaining a sense of growth.

Favorite tracks: Play Ugly, Reality

 

PSY- 4×2=8

PSY_4X2=8

It is easy to forget that there was an entire 10 track album behind I LUV IT and New Face. You really have to check out the lyrics to understand what makes the album special. The themes presented in the tracks include, references to his own works, his relationships with other people, and his own growth. The collaboration tracks are particularly well done.

Favorite tracks: LOVE (feat. Taeyang), Auto Reverse (feat. Tablo) [It is hard for me to be unbiased when it comes to Tablo but their track, about fears of growing old and being forgotten, is my favorite.]

One word I would use to describe all of the albums I listed would be introspective. Whether the artist is defining their musical style or making observations about their own lives, the content for each of these albums is very personal. With all the latest comeback announcements, I am hoping the rest of the year is better for K-Pop. I look forward to more great albums in the next half of the year.

Are there other albums that you would consider must-listens of 2017? Do let me know so that I can continue to explore.

Mid-year Best of K-Pop 2017

I had to make a list of my favorite K-Pop songs from 2017. I thought I would share it here as well. I would say it is a pretty diverse list in terms of musical styles but there are only 2 female artists. There are some lesser known artists and even some rookies.

Here are my top 10 in no particular order:

Changmo- Maestro

Changmo is a relatively new rapper and is signed to Dok2’s Ambition Musik. He has become very popular, very fast and it makes sense because his songs are excellent. This track, Maestro is what introduced me to his work. Lately, I see his name every where. His track for Voice OST was one of my favorites. He also collaborated with Hyolyn for a tropical house track, Blue Moon. I also found out that he was recently nominated for a BET award. The guy is going places and I look forward to his work.

Highlight- It’s Still Beautiful

Highlight is my favorite K-Pop group and I already reviewed their entire album, Calling You. It’s Still Beautiful was their pre-release and it was better than anything I could have imagined from the group. The guys have never sounded better.

I’M- Save Me

To be very honest, I had no idea who this guy was until I looked him to write this post. Turns out I’M is the stage name for former Topp Dogg member Seogoong. I don’t know much about Topp Dogg or their music but I am glad this guy is doing solo work. It is not what I would expect from an artists’ solo debut. It is much more interesting and that’s what makes it such a good song.

FTISLAND- Wind

I must admit, I didn’t pay much attention to FTISLAND until I watched one of their members take part in a gaming competition against GOT7. Then I heard, Take Me Now and I was a fan. I cannot believe that a K-Pop group has been together for 10 years and stuck to their roots as a rock group. And as a 10th anniversary song, you need an epic song and Wind fits the bill perfectly.

 

Kriesha Chu- Trouble

She was runner up on K-Pop Star 6. She is one of the cutest K-Pop idols and has a great voice. This is a happy and fun track produced by the awesome, Yong Jun Hyung and Kim Tae Ju duo. This is not their usual style of music but I am very happy to see them do something so different.

 

B.I.G- 1.2.3

It is hard to believe that B.I.G has been around since 2014. They are one of those groups that have never gained much recognition. But they keep coming back with solid tracks. This is the song that I think should help them gain attention. I am a fan of songs that are truly pop without so much of the hip-hop or EDM influences. 1.2.3 is simple pop at heart with some elements of disco and funk. Definitely their best tack to date.

 

SF9- Easy Love

Having this track on my list just makes me happy because I saw them live at KCon this past weekend. SF9 can definitely be considered successful rookies. They have put out good tracks back to back. It seems like it is essential for new groups to make constant comebacks and remain in the public eye until they are established enough to make 1 release a year. SF9 has definitely gotten noticed and it looks like they are here to say.

 

Jerastar- The Dream in Dreams

This is probably the most interesting song on this list. Another, relatively unknown artist with a unique voice. I don’t know much about the artist except that she is the singer-songwriter and also writes all her own lyrics. I hope this track gets her plenty of positive reviews so. that she can continue making great music.

 

Crucial Star- You Can Rest (feat. Babylon)

Crucial Star has been around for a really long time. He is rapper and producer. He has done quite a few collaborations and has been a featured artist on plenty of tracks. This is not a typical hip-hop track. This is a much slower track that works perfectly with Crucial Star’s rapping style and for Babylon’s super smooth vocals. The music video is wonderful and adds to the appeal of this song. It is hard to read the lyrics and watch this video without feeling like your heart is being ripped out.

 

Rose- Knock Knock

I have no idea who Rose is. I tried and have not been able to find information on this artist. Knock Knock is his 2017 single release and I found one other track of his, Coffee. I hope to hear more from him. The man’s vocal range is pretty impressive and the song is very reminiscent of Chancellor and maybe even Crush.

 

What are some of the tracks that would make it to your Top 10 list?

Why I love K-Drama OSTs

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My favorite OST: On the Way to the Airport (2016)

I know that for many K-Pop fans, drama OST is considered a boring genre. Among the international K_Pop fandom, OST tracks often have a bad reputation and it is not uncommon to describe a song as “OST-like” to mean uninteresting.

This does not mean that OST music is not popular. They seem to do extremely well in Korea. In fact Ailee’s OST track for Goblin, is the song that has held the number 1 spot on the charts for the most number of weeks in 2017. And if one were to go by YouTube views, Stay With Me by Chanyeol and Punch (Goblin OST) has close to 75 million views.

Although there is some variety among OST songs, there is a specific sound that is associated with K-Drama music. It is often slower, focused on the vocals, and often not in line with K-Pop trends. But rap is quickly becoming incorporated into many K-Pop songs as well. I wanted to take a moment to explain my personal love for this type of music.

For many who have gone from K-Dramas to K-Pop, like myself, OST is the gateway. The music will hold a place in my heart as my first exposure to K-Pop. I listen to the music while watching the drama, I decide I would like to download the music, I see the names of the artists and find that they are sometimes K-Pop idols. After this happened repeatedly, I just gave in and decided to listen to K-Pop. Some of my friends have had a similar experience by following the work of idol actors they might like in a drama.

OST music is nice when you listen to it while watching the drama but it is much better after the drama is over and the song comes up in your playlist. It is the nostalgia factor. Not all dramas are good so not all associations are positive but sometimes the music just reminds me of watching something you really enjoyed. For me, more often, the song reminds me of what my life was like when I watched that drama. Was it a good period in life? Was I happy? Was I busy? etc…

Not all K-Pop listeners look up the lyrics of the songs and understand the meanings. I didn’t either, at the beginning, but now I do it more often. And many of us international fans, do not understand the language so we have no idea what we are listening to. Drama OSTs kind of force you to pay attention to the lyrics just because they appear along with the drama subtitles. Those are much more difficult to ignore. There is something very enjoyable about understanding what songs are about.

I will admit that I do like OST style music. I do enjoy the ballads with the focus on vocals. But that’s just a personal preference that makes it easier to enjoy those songs. The tracks also highlights some of the best Korean vocalists like, ALi, Gummy, and Ailee. Even when you have idols, you get to see a different side of them when they perform individually as opposed to with their group. Individual performances by the Super Junior members are a good example.

I think one of the best part about OSTs are watching the sweet fan-made videos on YouTube. Individuals put in a lot of time and effort to make some really nice videos for the tracks. Watching these videos often feel like I am experiencing these dramas all over again.

And I wanted to share with you some of my favorite OST tracks in no particular order:

Here is a playlist if you are interested

  1. Ali- I’m Sorry I Love You (Angry Mom, 2015)
  2. Sandeul (B1A4)- One More Step (Introverted Boss, 2017)
  3. Changmo- My Ears are Open (Voice, 2017)
  4. Suho ft. Remi- Starlight (The Universe’s Star, 2017)
  5. Ann & Yoon Mi Rae- Goodbye (Queen of Mystery, 2017)
  6. Jang Jae In ft. NaShow- Auditory Hallucinations (Kill Me, Heal Me, 2015)
  7. ALi- Carry On (Faith, 2012)
  8. Navi ft. Kebee – Incurable Disease (Secret, 2013)
  9. Taeyeon- And One (That Winter, The Wind Blows, 2013)
  10. Elsa Kopf- Days and Moons (My Beautiful Bride, 2015)

Do you like Drama OSTs like I do? If so, what are some of your favorites?

My Top 10 uses for “Red Sauce”

I talked about the versatile “red sauce” in my previous post and I wanted to share with you the many ways in which I have used this sauce. I like to find new uses for products that I make in bulk so please share any other ideas you might have for me.

1. Pasta Sauce pasta sauce

Probably the most obvious use of the red sauce is to modify it to make a pasta sauce. The basic additions, for me, would be more garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley), and olive oil. These modifications give me a multipurpose pasta sauce to which I can add meat, vegetables, and/or cream depending on the dish I want to make.

Lasagna is pretty much the only pasta dish I make on a semi-regular basis and this is my go-to homemade sauce.

2. Pizza Sauce pizza

It is very similar to the pasta sauce. In fact, you could substitute one for the other. I like to thicken the sauce by cooking it down. The thicker sauce is less likely to make the crust soggy. Other than the pasta sauce additions, I also add a little bit of parmesan cheese.

 

3. Eggplant Parmesan 4278933964_471403b8ab_o

Another sauce that I think need not be very different from a pasta sauce. I do like chunks of tomato in my eggplant parmesan so I like to add some fresh/ canned diced tomatoes in addition to the herbs and parmesan cheese. I do not bother with any additional oil because there is plenty in the dish.

 

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27129991@N03/4278933964/

4. Ratatouille Ratatouille02

I eat a lot of ratatouille in the summer because eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers are all in season. My lazy version involves adding the sauce to the sautéed vegetables + onions and cooking for at least 15 minutes. The only herb I add is basil. It is always better the next day thought.

By Tomáš Zeleninský – Ratatouille, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2967226

5. Soup

Tomato_soup,_Turkish_styleA Hungarian goulash- style soup is one of my favorite uses of this red sauce. It is definitely nothing like the time-consuming-but-worth-it traditional version but it is satisfying.

It can also makes a great tomato soup to satisfy a last minute craving. In fact my simplest tomato soup combines this sauce with some butter and onions and broth/water.

By E4024 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43108039

6. Chili 1024px-Bowl_of_chili

Chili is one of my favorite one pot meals. I eat it all year round. Using the red sauce as the tomato component of the chili allows the flavors to come together quicker. I would still add some fresh or canned tomatoes for the chunks.

By Carstor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Stew

Any meat-based stew, that calls for tomatoes, could use some of this sauce. It also makes a good addition to any bean based dishes. As with all stews, I like to add some tomato paste as well.

8. Cajun Cuisine gumbo1

This red sauce works well in many Cajun tomato based dishes. Combined wit the Cajun seasonings (oregano, paprika, cayenne, and black pepper). My favorite use of it is in seafood gumbo where the combined with onions, celery, and bell pepper give a flavorful base for the seafood.

9. Sauce for baked/ grilled chicken 

It can be used as a sauce for a quick chicken meal. The red sauce can be combined with some sautéed onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. This mixture served over some pan fried or grilled chicken makes a quick meal.

10. Indian curry 

1024px-Chicken_makhani

By stu_spivack (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I left this one for the end because this is the cuisine I am most well-versed in and therefore find it very difficult to write tips for. Sometimes you see recipes for Indian restaurant style dishes (eg. chicken tikka masala, paneer mattar, etc.) that ask you to puree onions and tomatoes before cooking. This sauce takes care of part of the process. The spices are added to the onion tomato mixture along with your main ingredient to make a thick, smooth sauce for your curry.

Do you have any other suggestions for what to do with the red sauce? Do let me know.

 

Top 10 Korean & Japanese Food Dramas

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By jqn (a flickr user) (http://flickr.com/photos/jqn/290210441/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I must admit that I have not watched as many food dramas as I would like. There is never enough time to watch the all the dramas one wants to. As a follow up to a previous postI wanted to share some of food dramas I think are worth watching. Whether you are new to drama-land or a longtime viewer and looking for something to watch, I hope you find some ideas here.

1. LIQUID – Oni no Sake, Kiseki no Kura (2015)

This is a short Japanese drama special that focuses on sake, the alcoholic beverage. It is one of my all time favorite shows. If you are interested in learning about Japanese  food culture and traditions, this is a great show. LIQUID tells the story of a banker who inherits a failing sake brewery and decides to use traditional methods and ingredients in order to produce a high quality product. (Japanese)

2. Fermentation Family (2011)

This is an underrated drama about a restaurant that specializes in kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Every episode begins with the story of a different type of kimchi and the parallels between the dish and the lives of the characters. (Korean)

3. Shinya Shokudo Series (2009)

Shinya Shukodo is one of the most well-known Japanese dramas and has spanned 4 seasons. It is about a diner that opens at midnight. Every episode tells the story of one of the diner’s patrons as it relates to that night’s special dish.This is a wonderful drama with plenty of heartwarming stories. (Japanese)

4. Gochisousan (2013)

Gochisousan translates to “thank you for the meal.” It tells the heart-warming story of one’s woman’s love and passion for food. The drama follows her life from childhood to old-age as she moves from one region of Japan to another and tries to incorporate both cultures into her cooking. If you love learning about food and cooking this might be the best one for me. (Japanese)

5. Let’s Eat (2013)

There is not much of a plot to this show that can be rightfully called “food-porn.” This is a noona romance (older woman- younger man) show about 4 people eating delicious food. Beware, this show will make you hungry. If you are a fan of Korean food at all, you will learn about a lot of new dishes. (Korean)

6. King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo (2010)

This one is an older drama set in the backdrop of a large bakery business. From a young age, the hero is drawn to bread baking and after going through many episodes of birth secrets, the family business is settled. The only food that is comes up in the show is bread so if you are looking for variety or Korean food, this is not the drama for you. (Korean)

 

7. Antique (2001)

This  is one of the most visually appealing food shows out there. It is a combination of comedy and mystery set in a bakery.  The best parts of this show are the delicious looking pastries and  the amazing Misu-Chiru (Mr. Children) OST. If you are not interested in watching an older Japanese drama, there is a Korean movie remake called Antique Bakery(Japanese/ Korean)

8. A Girl & Three Sweethearts (2016)

This was one of the most popular J-dramas of 2016. The cast included some of the most popular young Japanese actors. It focused on the business aspects of food where all main characters were involved in different aspects of running the restaurant. It is not my favorite on the list, most people enjoyed it. (Japanese)

9. Oh My Ghostess (2015)

This show is set in a restaurant owned by the main lead where the female lead joins as an apprentice chef. It is more of a romantic comedy than a food drama. I really enjoyed this drama. It does have a some fantasy and mystery but at its heart it is a simple romance. A good watch if you are looking for a drama with a restaurant setting. (Korean)

10. Flower Boy Ramen Shop (2011)

A very popular drama from the Flower Boy series. The story is nothing unique and even the challenges faced by the leads are very predictable. A large part of the drama takes place in a ramen shop where the female and male leads are teacher and student respectively. Not my top recommendation on the list but it is a pretty popular drama that many would consider a K-Drama essential.

 

Have you watched any of these dramas? Are there any others you think should be on this list?