Ahead of October’s expected onslaught of returning Kpop girl groups, Brown Eyed Girls (and KARA) jumped ahead of the pack with their own comeback. BEG have always adopted a much more mature image and sound than their counterparts and Sixth Sense typifies this approach; gritty, hard-hitting urban beats instead of cheesy Eurobeat-inspired dance-pop - I swear Hot Shot and the title track are two of the…well, hottest things you’ll hear from Kpop this year.

The album’s not perfect - there’s a definite sag in quality in the middle of the album with La Bohème and 불편한 진실 lacking creative spark in both the songwriting and the actual performance. Lovemotion's catchy hooks does help momentum to pick up though, and Vendetta nicely rounds things off.

Overall solid album. Now, it’s time to sit tight and wait to see what T-ara, Wonder Girls, SNSD and IU bring to the table in reply. October’s gonna be good!

In my never-ending quest to root out the good stuff going on in the leaden world of Kpop, I came across a few compilations put out by the Korean-indie act promoting music website Mint Paper. Initially drawn in by the inclusion of my current favourite band 10cm’s song 오늘밤은 어둠이 무서워요 on Vol.3 - Life, I’ve come to discover a bunch of artists…any of which could possibly end up as my next favourite band(s).

There’s a decent mix of genres and styles, acoustic pop and bossa nova being those most favoured. Of the acts featured on Vol.2, I’d already heard of No Reply and their collaboration with vocalist Taru on 조금씩, 천천히, 너에게 doesn’t disappoint. Same goes for the ever-cheery Neo Shibuya-esque Peppertones and the mellow Tearliner, but what really caught my attention was Windy City’s ska-esque collab with Whale (from W & Whale). Very nicely done.

Vol.3 is just as good, if not better. Apart from the aforementioned 10cm, contributions from Naru, Serengeti and Han Jee Jeong do their best to charm your pants off, though my favourite might just be Earip’s 우리집 싱어 - it’s just so cute! 

Good news is that Vol.4 is on its way, and three digital singles have already been released before it arrives - 10cm’s 안아줘요, EZ Hyoung’s 솔직히 말해도 될까 en Oh Ji Eun + Lee Sang Soon (of Roller Coaster)’s 또 왜 그래. Hopefully, this fresh set of indie sounds will live up to expectations.

10cm - 오늘밤은 어둠이 무서워요
Peppertones - ABC (with Arina of Mocca)
No Reply - 조금씩, 천천히, 너에게 (with 타루)

Cumbersome name to have, isn’t it? There’s nothing straightforward about the indie pair’s musical direction either, completely ignoring the bubblegum pop music their Korean counterparts churn out on a daily basis. Instead, Goonam + Yeo draw from a more diverse pool of influences, ranging from trip-hop to psychedelic-rock to Indian sounds; opera-like vocals against a backdrop of chugging guitars and electronic beats. If this all sounds like a recipe for disaster, rest assured - the duo do indeed manage to mash it together marvelously, creating a record that is both strangely intoxicating and incredibly charming.

I have no idea why, but I’ve developed a rather unhealthy obsession with all things SNSD over the past 2-3 weeks. I daresay I like them even more than KARA now (shock! horror!). 

This fixation has in turn, led to me dipping my toes back into Kpop after something like a decade of disinterest. The last time I was still buying Korean records, Shinhwa, S.E.S. and H.O.T. were all the rage…yeah, that tells you how out of sync I am!

Language barrier asides, I’ve never found Korean music to be particularly innovative or inventive. There are some things they do very well though; dance-pop, rhythm ‘n’ blues, soul - 9 times out of 10, the Korean acts beat out the Japanese ones with their slick moves and powerhouse vocals.

As you would imagine, just listening to the same dozen boy bands and girl groups is boring. The explorer in me kicked in and I’ve been trying to dig deeper into the Korean indie and rock scene, rooting out more understated and lesser-known acts.

It’s been a mixed bag so far, most stuff I’ve been trying out straying way too far to the saccharine side for my liking. There have been a couple of exceptions - I’ve already mentioned 10cm here before, and there’s pop-rock group Dear Cloud, electropop outfit SiwaRainbow and the wonderfully-named indie rockers Goonamguayeoridingstella. 

I think I’ll make teaching myself Korean over the next few years as a goal. Master the East Asian languages!

A friend and I were having dinner with some Japanese record label types sometime last week and they were interested in knowing our opinion about the possibility of their acts expanding into specific Asian markets. CD sales have been sliding down the slippery slope over the past couple of years in the domestic market, so the obvious answer would be to look overseas. Simple, right?

Well it seems easy enough if we go by the amount of success the Kpop acts are having outside their own country - Girls’ Generation, TVXQ, Big Bang & KARA are all big in Japan and other regions; Malaysia, Singapore and so on. Japanese acts on the other hand…apart from some of the Johnny’s acts, have pretty limited appeal outside their own country.

Asked for my opinion, I pointedly criticized the Japanese approach of sitting and waiting for people to come and approach them (can we get so-and-so to come here?) versus the aggressive Korean marketing machine that pushes their artists front and center. Good stuff ain’t gonna fall in your lap just like that y’know.

And yeah, the Japanese guys know: 日本はKPOPに負けているな。 We had a lengthy discussion about Asian attitudes towards legally obtaining music, how ridiculous it costs for overseas fans to get hold of Japanese releases, how the iTunes stores is pointless here and so on. It seems they have a lot to learn about marketing to Malaysian consumers, and I honestly don’t see a day where Jpop will truimph over Kpop.