When one listens to Peggy Hsu’s music, one enters a whole new universe created note by note by Peggy herself, and her creative team of course. This time around with her latest album “Swing Inc.”, Hsu transports us back to the Swing era of the 1930s-1940s; but of course with her own unique take on the genre. This album is even more immersive than the last; Peggy’s lilting voice seems to have adopted a little of the dulcet tones of crooners such as Billie Holiday. Keeping her tone light and sweet as always, Peggy’s timbre seems a little richer this time, and I even noticed that the frequency of her melismatic singing style which was previously more relaxed as heightened in frequency, reflecting her dedication to perfecting the art of Swing music.
First listening to this album in the sweltering heat of Taipei’s weather, something to me was not right. Uncomfortable subway commutes and listening to snippets of her album while waiting for appointments or meet-ups with friends, there seemed something very wrong with me treating Peggy’s music in this manner. Indeed, so rich and vivid is the concept of this album that for me, it has to be listened to in the right place, at the right time where perhaps the crisp feeling of autumn against the backdrop of melancholy guitar acoustics in “Autumn Swing” would not be jarringly interrupted by the blazing heat of a Taipei summer’s day. Because that wouldn’t be fair to Peggy at all, would it?
Yen-J’s sixth album “Why? Art?” promised to be one of his most creatively charged works yet, as Yen-J expressed this album to show off a darker side to him than the clean-cut image presented in his previous albums. And as always, Yen-J was true to his word. Although the Jazz maestro threw in a couple of Jazz tracks such as the easy listening “Traveler” and “4 days 23 hours” which was a jolly Swing piece, the remaining tracks sampled from a darker set of genres including EDM, Rock and Hip Hop to give each song a moody undertone, before skilfully layering in elements from other genres in each song.
Although Yen-J had given fair warning that the album might be a bit more radical than his previous ones, I was in fact more than pleased to see him taking a more critical approach to his music. Although I have always appreciated Yen-J’s authenticity and zest for creating new fusions and combinations in his music, I have always yearned to hear him use not just his melodies, but also his lyrics as a tool to discuss topics other than love and the usual light-hearted fluff he usually sings about. This time however, he did exactly that, launching into a robust critique on society within the first track on the album, “Ashtray”.
Letting his unlikely background in hip hop and rap shine through, Yen-J’s first song “Ashtray” sets the scene for the album with a skillful rap that uses an ashtray as a metaphor for the waste, materialism and negativity that we bring to society, and brings to light the flaws of the human condition in blunt, yet carefully selected phrases and imagery that hit the nail square on the head and drove his point home. Yen-J really showed his potential to be critical and creative in the lyrics of this song, and I’m especially liking this particular verse in the song which resonated especially well with me: “getting lung cancer/in just one moment/all the money and glory vanishes in the fog/ we stupidly persevere to create a pile of ash/to fill the ashtray”. I’m no rap master, but I think Yen-J has a pretty good flow going with the song too!
His second song “Why? Art?” was a piece that fused rap with EDM to create a dystopian mix of mild terror (yes, the stuff of Chucky films) and a huge dose of irony. The lyrics are once again a high point of the song for me as they were completely ironic, but fit in perfectly with the darkly humourous arrangement. Almost like an EDM version of Amit’s “Freak Show”; but in this song Yen-J is not critiquing media as a spectacle, but the superficiality of some media’s obsession with art. He did get some negative comments about this song as people thought he was directly critiquing contemporary art, but take a closer look for yourself and I’m sure you, too will realize that’s not what he’s trying to do at all. Spitting out those words at breakneck speed to create a sense of urgency mirroring the cluttered nature of society, Yen-J’s rap gradually adjusts and slows in tempo to coincide with the EDM drop in the chorus where a minor key emphasizes the irony of his words. A skillful fusion as always, but Yen-J should be commended on his heightened cohesiveness of his lyrics and arrangements this time around.
The third track “Sampling: On Green Dolphin Street” shows that Yen-J truly has his head wrapped around the fundamentals of Jazz as he smoothly integrates Western-style rap and hip-hop into a sampling of John Coltrane and Miles Davis’ classic track “On Green Dolphin Street”. One of the most fluid Jazz fusions that I’ve ever heard, like the previous two songs Yen-J truly strayed from the norm by not using the conventional song structure and instead allowing his rap flow to change after each verse. Rapping about dreams and not needing fortune, it seems that a decrease in materialism and a renewed passion for music is what Yen-J has found on his 2-year break from the scene.
Another one of my favourites from this album was “Typhoon” for its unique and seamless fusion of a Chinese traditional melody and an acoustic folk arrangement. Using nothing more than a little percussion, guitar and a violin, it’s a solid little creative piece that is perfect for easy listening. As usual, Yen-J’s songwriting game was on point for this album and it was clear that it was from the fact that I truly enjoyed every single song on this album. Other favourites of mine include “Trojan” which showcases Yen-J’s more laidback version of an EDM/R&B arrangement, with lyrics about chasing your dreams which totally resonate with me.
Another heartwarming track on the album is “My Future Child” where we see a little sunshine coming through against all Yen-J’s social critiques as he details pieces of advice for his future child. Drawing on his own experiences to tell the story, its truly a touching track that tells me how far Yen-J has come since entering the industry at 19. The grooving hip hop song is just what I need to add a spring to my step.
Some critiques for the album-I’m sure everyone’s aware that Yen-J isn’t the best singer, but he does play to his strengths for the most part of this album with a lot of rap and more toned down tracks. However on songs such as “Time Out” he could still work on his higher notes which are still a little abrasive. Also if you listen to the entire album in the correct sequence, you’ll hear that Yen-J has cleverly arranged each song so that elements from the next track appear in the previous and vice versa, so that in fact the entire album is essentially all linked together. It’s pretty cool in the sense that it rounds everything up, but I think it would have even more meaning if all the songs told a story in more of a chronological order. Yen-J writes songs which all have meanings individually, but I think that creating an album with more of an overall concept would create even more resonance for listeners, and could even get him that Golden Melody nomination? In my opinion, anyway.
Overall, an easy and meaningful listen. Always a pleasure listening to Yen-J’s works, this time I’ve truly seen his growth as a person and think he’s taken a huge step in terms of releasing music that truly speaks his own mind without a care for mainstream tastes. Smart, full of dreams and always creative, the Yen-J I know is all there-and more.Well done!
Album Review (From Hello Asia)
Check out my album review of this album for Hello Asia here: http://www.helloasia.com.au/reviews/albums/jj-lin-from-m-e-to-myself-album-review-taiwan-2015/
1. 序曲：調音 Tuning Up
2. 不爲誰而作的歌 Twilight
3. 序曲：中場休息 Intermission
4. 關鍵詞（Horae Beauté 韓媞形象主題曲） The Key ("Horae Beauté" Theme Song)
5. 只要有你的地方（晚安版） By Your Side (Bedtime)
6. 彈唱 A Song for You Till the End of Time
7. 有夢不難 Adolescent
8. 序曲：Welcome to the Livehouse
9. Too Bad
10. 你，有沒有過（Livehouse版） Roll On (Livehouse)
11. 序曲：12年前 12 Years
12. 現在的我和她 No Longer Us
13. 序曲：海邊 初 The Beach Arrival
14. Lier and Accuser
15. 獨舞 The Lone Ranger
16. 序曲：海邊 終 The Beach Departure
17. 你，有沒有過（電影《破風》主題曲） Roll On (“To The Fore” Theme Song)
18. 只要有你的地方（電影《消失的愛人》主題曲） By Your Side (“The Secret” Theme Song)
Bonus CD：全面開戰（《部落衝突Clash of Clans》主題曲） Clan Wars ("Clash of Clans" Theme Song)
Mandopop ballad prince JJ Lin is back again this year with his experimental album "From M.E. to myself", and not only include 18 songs, but also a documentary including interview clips with JJ himself that allow him to share a more intimate side to his personality.
"One year ago I started an entirely new journey, and I decided to tear away from the packaging of popular music, and start anew in categorising myself and my music. I asked myself a question: in the production of music, what else is there I haven't tried?
So I began this project. I hope that through exploring the depths of my heart and unspeakable emotions, using the sound of instruments, melodies, using my own voice I can express these feelings. I hope these actions will allow me to see a side of myself I had never seen before, talking and interacting with those parts of me that had always been hidden beneath the surface"
These were the thoughts going through JJ's head that led to the conception of this album.
Going even further to describe this album as a milestone for the Chinese pop music industry, I am increasingly intrigued by this concept, given me always having wanted to see the true inner part of JJ Lin that I had never experienced.
Lin also used the 'Dummy Head' recording technique for this album in order to create an intimate atmosphere between himself and listeners, similar to that of a live house full of audience members.
Although a consistently popular artist, I've always yearned to see what was underneath the surface with JJ. As talented a singer-songwriter he may be, writing good ballads does not a standout point make. I've always found that his music although nice lacked flavour and uniqueness, something that truly stood out to me as JJ's inner voice.
However it he is able to push through and deliver on this album, not only will it be his best one yet; it will also be a turning point in his career, and growth in character for the boyish singer.
Taken from: http://asianpopweekly.weebly.com/news-nuggets/jj-lin-releases-experimental-new-album-from-me-to-myself-on-25th-december
01. 塗鴉世界 / Graffiti
02. 一直微笑 / I won't count my tears / 林依晨愛情話題電影[234說愛你]片尾曲
03. 怎麼還不愛(雀躍狂愛版) Duet with余楓 / Why not love / 三立偶像劇[料理高校生] 片尾曲
04. 說愛 / so what
05. Whole Lot of Yellow
06. 不忘 / Never forget / 三立偶像劇[料理高校生]插曲
07. I Fell in Love feat. Robin Lundback
08. 某某 / MOMO / MOMO熊主題曲
09. 想念是最長的線 / Miss U
10. Set Me on Fire
11. 怎麼還不愛(曖昧節奏版) Duet with余楓/ Why not love
*Track listings + translation from Yesasia
Album Review (short)
When Sony announced the official debut of Rosie Yang as the best newcomer of the year, they really weren’t kidding. Tall, slim and beautiful, it’s kind of unfair that the 21 year old also has the voice of an angel. The daughter of singerYe Ying, Rosie had no prior vocal training until her vocal prowess was unearthed and she decided to follow her passion for singing, bringing her back to Taiwan from the States. Her debut album “Unbroken” is based around her love for music, introducing her unique voice to listeners and telling her story of passion and persistence.
Each of the songs is carefully crafted and executed to perfection with not a beat out of place, mostly drawing from western-style EDM and pop genres. Rosie’s lyrics were another high point for me. Most were translated from English into Chinese and while taking on the lyrical quality of Chinese poetry, they also borrowed heavily from the Western use of metaphors and imagery, making for a simple yet sleek combination. The thing about this album which quickly became a standout point for me was how it was basically an unadulterated taste of Western music that had been injected into the industry with little more than a some good translation work and a couple of Taiwanese composers (eg. Eve Ai) thrown into the mix. I mean, there are many who have attempted to create an obvious fusion of East-West music, but such a one-way transaction has never been tried before. Although most shy away from this challenge due to fear of public backlash, it is in fact a good experiment to show how the general standard of Taiwanese pop matches up in comparison to western-style music that is in direct competition with the Taiwanese market. Thus, Rosie’s album’s value lies not only in its meaningful words and her stories, but goes deeper to shine a light on the flaws of the industry, especially its quality control, and focus on artistic aspects rather than technical aspects of the music. I won’t go too much into it, but if you look at the album as an entire package, I guarantee you’ll be able to tell the difference.
And there’s just something special about Rosie’s voice that keeps you coming back for more. Clear, light and sweet at some points yet strong and warm at others, it is a musical reflection of her gentle personality, belying a tough interior. Sweet yet uncloying, I could listen to it for hours on end and not tire. Listen to “Set me on fire” to hear her clear and smooth vocals, “Whole lot of yellow” for her awesome vocal range and “怎麼還不愛Why not love” for her versatile vocal range. Even collaborating with the likes of Voice of China contestant Yu Feng and member of Swedish boyband JTR Robin Lundback on her album, their starpower is no match for her delectable and versatile vocals.
All in all, a gem of an album I’d absolutely recommend to any listener. Rosie’s put her heart and soul into telling her story with her brand of gentle, spunky and optimistic music and as long as you’re willing to listen, I’m positive you’ll be rewarded with a unique listening experience you won’t easily forget.
Recommended songs: Set me on fire, Whole lot of yellow, 怎麼還不愛Why not love，塗鴉世界Crayon world，不忘 Never forget, 一直微笑Unbroken
1. 單飛 Going solo
2. How Can I Tell You
3. 分分鐘需要你 Need you every second and minute
4. 外面 Outside
5. 船碇 Boat Anchor
6. 愛人呢 Where is my lover
7. Wish You Were Here
8. 沒有以後 There is no next time
9. Last Smile
10. Letter Read
11. Always In Love feat. 阿拉鳥(徐佳瑩Lala Hsu、季欣霈Apay)
12. Bird n' Tree
On the 25th of December, Amber Kuo released an album which she describes as very reflective of her personality. The unassuming indie darling and talented actress will also be releasing a mini movie that comes with the 12-track album.
The mini movie will star herself and actor Zhang Xiao Shun, an artsy piece that details an amnesiac's relationship with an admirer. Hence the title, 'Begin Again'!
After Jacky Cheung's, Kuo is the second Chinese artist to have their album mastered at the famous Abbey Road studios in London.
The album itself was recorded under the watchful eye of Geoff Pesche, who had previously worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Blur and Lily Allen, with Kuo herself being the producer in charge of the entire album.
The album consists of 12 tracks, 4 original songs and 8 cover songs, one of which is a duet between herself, Lala Hsu and Apay.
Her first single, "Bird n Tree" is a light and thoughtful piece that is simple, yet allows Kuo's voice to shine.
其實你已經知道Dawen’s latest album “Happy or Not” would be cliché if it was by anyone other than himself. One of the happiest artists I’ve ever seen, Dawen brings a unique sunny enthusiasm to his music that is easily lapped up by listeners-myself included. However this time around his album has a catch to it, featuring songs that are either ‘happy’ or ‘not’. In other words, while still pushing out the happy numbers that we know and love, many of the other songs encompass a complex mix of emotions that fall under the ‘not’ category. Not being happy doesn’t mean you’re sad, and Dawen makes the distinction here with a selection of songs that are melancholy, reflective, disgruntled and optimistic amongst other emotions. Usually artists choose either a genre-based concept or idea-based concept for their album, but I found it impressive that Dawen managed to do both, by also featuring an adventurous combination of Ukelele music and classical music with a little R n B/hip-hop thrown in for good measure. While his first album was all about showing his personable side, “Happy or not快樂不快樂”, Dawen’s second release takes us deeper and shows that beneath his happy exterior lies a spirit that is unafraid to experiment, to be different, to share what he’s passionate about. And if that’s not something you’d want to listen to, I don’t know what is.
I've struggled for a long time in writing this review, so much so that I almost gave up. Reviews of Tanya's music have always been the hardest for me to write; I have always felt that there is so much depth, both in terms of mechanics and emotions to every piece of work that I still struggle to do it justice in just one body of words. But with the release of her "Aphasia" experimental album, I struggled even more. I listened over and over and over and over until I couldn't take it anymore, and tried this routine several times over, letting myself fall into the music and trying to absorb it as much as I could. But still nothing. Until I realised that for the most part, my struggle with trying to review this album lay in the fact that it was an experimental album by nature, and that I therefore was unable to categorise it, unlike many other albums I had reviewed in the past. So naturally, this thought led me to the conclusion that Tanya's album's meaning lay in the lack of need to categorise it in terms of genre or any specific musical theory terms. But now even more than ever, I was at loss about what to write. However, I chose to push on, persevering as I strongly believed (and still do) that Tanya's album, like a textbook would teach me something of value. And the further I delved in this direction, the more the pieces of the puzzle started to come together.
With a mix of experimental tools such as sampled beats and ephemeral vocal backing a as the foundation of her album's musical theme, Tanya has with this new album changed the rules of the game completely, operating on a higher playing field than I could easily put words to. So I just decided to go into this album review as is, or as a saying in Chinese goes, "凭感觉”which means go with your gut. And what my gut is telling me is that I feel something from this album; emotions which are dark, introverted yet familiar. I do not feel an overwhelming passion for this album's theme, but that I believe is part of the beauty of it. "Aphasia" is a term referring to people who have no voice; what Tanya wished to convey through this album was a reflection of the modern day urban citizen, walking through streets filled with people, yet losing a sense of interaction which makes us human. Each song in the album is like a part of us as silent beings, bringing to light the complex and subtle mix of emotions that we like to bunch together and refer to as normality. If you're like me, I'm sure you feel it too. A large dose of 'I don't give a damn', a thimbleful of anxiety for the future, and always, that yearning for love amongst more than a handful of dysfunctional relationships.
Yen-J’s fifth album “Thanksgiving” is exactly what its been packaged to be. Although reminiscent of his past albums, there’s something different about this one. Wrapped in a simple package designed with a bottle of water on the front and first aid symbols, band aids and the like adorning it, this album is everything its cut up to be (pun intended)-a first aid kit for emotional boo-boos. Returning from a two year long hiatus, Yen-J is back and ready to share what he’s learned in the past two years both emotionally and artistically with listeners everywhere.
And impressively, I have to say the concept has certainly reached me loud and clear. Before I had even watched a couple of his interviews to understand fully the concept of this album, I had already understood it only after a couple of listens. The first time I listened to it, from the moment it started till the moment the tenth track finished, I didn’t do anything except listen. For those of you who know me, I’m a workaholic who is usually thinking about multiple things at once and trying to handle them all at the same time. My album review time consists of my drives from point A to B and usually while I’m multitasking on other things. But not this time. For some reason, the moment his music began playing, it was like every single muscle in my body had released all their tension, and I let out an audible sigh of relief. After the first listen, I have to say that Yen-J fulfilled exactly what he said he was going to do, to provide his refreshing yet comforting sound that would nourish listener’s ears and minds; much like the cleansing power of water and the healing capabilities of band aids. At the same time, the album is much like his diary, charting down some of the emotional highs and lows of his two-year soul search. As an avid Yen-J fan, this album has led me to deduce with 90% certainty that he has broken up with yet another girlfriend, and has led me to extrapolate with 100% delusional conviction that I now have a chance with the creative wunderkind. (YES!)
But let’s compose ourselves for a moment and get back to the music. In describing the album I’d have to say that its sound is same and at the same time, somehow different. All Yen-J’s signature elements are in the mix, including his crowd-pleasing ballads such as “一直給Thanksgiving” , “垃圾桶Rubbish Bin” , “You are my everything你是我的全部” and “過往The past”, his Jazz influence coming into play with “沒有不可能的事Nothing is impossible” and also a bit of his penchant for hip hop and Chinese traditional sounds thrown into the mix with “輕輕Lightly”. Yen-J has always been a creative individual who has dealt with much of his music in a truly organic way which I really appreciate. From the melody to the lyrics to the arrangement, nothing sounds like its been forced out of an industrialised pump or edited to within an inch of its life.
Not much has been let out yet, but this marks Sodagreen's long-awaited 'Winter' album to complete their 'four-seasons' album set. They've already released their crisp first single, 'Everyone', a luxurious orchestral-based track written in English, with the music video shot in Berlin.
In 2008 Leehom released his album <Heartbeat心跳> and labelled it an album that he dedicated especially to the guitar. Since then I've been wondering when he would dedicate an album to the piano, and he finally has. Although it's not a widely marketed point of this album, it's clear that in Leehom's long-awaited 2015 album <Your love你的愛>, Leehom's supporting instrument of choice was most definitely his beloved piano.
Mainly classified by Leehom as an EDM-based album, the musical maestro has seamlessly blended this lesser-known genre in with elements of Chinese mainstream pop to create a completely different listening experience for all listeners. I believe that Leehom's signature sound is not overly apparent to fans given the long time he's spent in the industry. But it is nevertheless always present in his music. And this signature sound of his always aims for the same thing-the element of surprise.
From <The dragon's descendant> to <The 18 Martial artist> and now to <Your Love>, Leehom has been unafraid-now more so than ever before in experimenting with new sounds that will make people sit up and notice. His <Your love你的爱> album being pretty much a one-man show where he composed almost all the songs alone and wrote all the lyrics seems to have been a little too much for Leehom himself to handle, but he pulls it off well on the whole.