Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Sechskies – Be Well

That feeling when every boyband member is older than you but looks ten years younger than you :(


Joshua Minsoo Kim: “First-generation” K-pop is, for the most part, pretty bad. But that’s not a bad thing! It was the nation’s first big attempt at making Westward-looking but distinct(ly Korean) pop music after the end of their military dictatorship. Even at its worst, you can still see how the foundations for K-pop today were laid back then. As one would expect, 90s K-pop had a whole lot of straightforward ballads, producers with little idea of what they were doing, and ambitious but bizarre genre mash-ups that mostly just amounted to amusing curios. SechsKies were never an exception but they also weren’t completely irredeemable. Incredibly, YG (who was in Seo Taiji & Boys) signed the group last year and had them rerecord more than a dozen of their old tracks. In the process, one of the biggest questions I had had about K-pop was answered: what would 90s K-pop sound like if it was made today? In a sense, a bit of the sweetness rooted in the music’s naivety and humility was missing (sort of like Daniel Johnston after his cassette releases). But a large amount of it was left intact, and it’s completely because of the old-school Korean vocalizing–the bro-ish chanting, the unfashionable rapping, and especially the vocal melodies themselves. Which finally brings us to SechsKies’ actual new tracks. To nobody’s surprise, they sound more or less agreeable in every aspect. I could easily see “Be Well” as a Big Bang or Winner B-side but that’s ultimately what makes me sad. It’s a completely fine K-pop ballad but it’s also a wholly contemporary one.

Nortey Dowuona: The drums on this are actually pretty good. Unlike the other k-pop songs I’ve heard, this seems to just be a competent re-imagining of indie pop through a South Korean lens. The drums are soft and gentle, the guitar drizzles all over the smooth, gooey bass line, and the piano keys are the slight dusting of icing sugar on top. Not great, but really dang good.

Micha Cavaseno: The first opening piano chords had me mutter “oh no” at how bad this ballad was going to start off, but as soon as I heard that elevator music drumkit words were not enough to express my dismay. This MOR attempt at a forlorn ballad of good intentions is about as significant as sending a ‘Get Well’ card with the letters eroded by rain. At least the vocals are ok, but someone should’ve warned these poor fools that they were going to be out here sounding like Neil Diamond, and not in the good way.

Alex Clifton: “Be Well” sounds like a 90s boy-band ballad in the best way. I don’t often go in for ballads (in K-pop or otherwise) but something about this track keeps me hooked. A few years ago, I might’ve called this generic, but honestly the production makes this stand out from the rest of the radio–it’s not electronic, there’s no dubstep drop, and it’s refreshingly devoid of pitch-shifted vocals. Instead, I feel like I’m back in 1999: there’s a piano! Smooth, emotive vocals! An unnecessarily but still emotionally effective key change towards the end! This is enchantingly vintage and (thankfully) played straight. While it’s definitely not the best song I’ve heard all year, it hits all the buttons I need.

Alfred Soto: Measured harmonies aside, as wet as rain.

Thomas Inskeep: This is some straight up sub-Savage Garden AC-before-the-format-got-“hot” hot garbage, no matter what tongue it’s sung in. Even Backstreet Boys wouldn’t have touched this.

Austin Brown: Ok, this grew on me. It’s milquetoast, not that that’s inherently a problem, but I didn’t realize how smartly they express normalcy (normativity, really) or how well the bass and acoustic guitar interlocked until after a good few listens. Some more examples: that organ in the chorus, the actually affecting violin weaving through the instrumental latticework, even the key change near the end (and I HATE key changes as a shorthand for transcendence). It still sounds to these ears kinda like a cheesy graduation anthem. But it’s one recorded by pros, and with plenty of gloriously glossy sentimentality to boot, so I’m more than on board.

Lilly Gray: Even the most broken-hearted part of me wants to boo these men offstage when the rain starts coming down in full. Everyone has those internal sad movie montages of their ex, or stood listlessly in the cereal aisle POV-camming a truly indulgent reminiscence of The Last Time They Were Happy, but good lord. I have exactly 0 patience for this, and the wheedly violins springing in and out of the melancholy swell like overbearing waiters at an Italian restaurant are the tipping point for me. It gets some points because it feels wrong to kick a concept while it is down, and possibly weeping, in an abandoned mansion. 

Edward Okulicz: I can’t hate this because it sounds like a dubious mid-last-decade Eurovision style ballad, probably sent by Austria, then translated into Korean. However, I also can’t love this because it sounds like that.

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