contributing writer drowningn00b reviews Brian Joo’s “Reborn Part. 1”
Since his last release, ‘Unveiled’, Brian Joo’s career has changed in many ways. He embarked on a US club tour (read more about it here), expanded his English language material with new duets and reworked hits, and starred in a leading role in the Korean production of ‘RENT’. With all this work between releases, the k-pop landscape has meanwhile been changing. Popular music styles have changed. Themes once in vogue are now passé, and overall music production is louder — much louder. For ‘ReBorn Part 1’, Joo has taken these cues, thrown them in with a roster of talented artists and created an enjoyable k-pop EP.
There are two standout tracks on this mini: “Can’t Stop” and “너 따윈 버리고[Let This Die]”. In the former, Brian teams up with singer Jay Park, with hip-hop sensation, Beenzino, rapping in the Korean version, and Dumbfoundead rapping in the English one. Brian and Jay hit it out of the park on this one, sounding great together on the shout-along hook and adding the necessary attitude for a party song with the banter in between verses. The beats rise and fall at the right moments (though an effect or two could’ve been removed throughout the song for a tighter, less cluttered, track). The English lyrics lack creativity, but that’s part of the territory when it comes to translating pop songs (Chocolat’s ever-present momma in their English version of “I Like It”, for example).
“Let This Die” feat. Tiger JK
“Can’t Stop” is fun, energetic, and re-establishes Brian Joo’s status as a dance-pop artist in the k-idol space. For his lead single, “Let This Die” is a bombastic, mid-tempo piano ballad with the R&B style common to Brian’s musical style. Joo’s experience on stage shows, with a level of control and talent that one could only glimpse at in his previous material. The production is dramatic, with a hard drum beat and a stuttering piano loop that intensifies the drama of the break up. Tiger JK’s contributing piece make this already-good track that much better. Tiger JK’s delivery accentuates the emotion in the song, and Flowsik from AZIATIX is right there on the English version. As busy as the track gets, and how clear Brian Joo comes through amid the noise, it’s sad to say that the rappers get drowned out near the end of their parts. The background vocals come in too early and are too loud, which is a bigger problem for Flowsik, whose volume is lower than Tiger JK’s. I would’ve liked a climax with more punch, but “Let This Die” is a solid track for a returning pop artist.
Both “Can’t Stop” and “Let This Die” share vocal and production layers that in someone else’s hands would have been a disaster. I’ve harped on the drowning of leading vocals by overzealous producers, but Joo’s production team makes that balance work on “Let This Die” and “Can’t Stop” (with exception mentioned above). This isn’t anything new, since ‘Unveiled’ did this before. The difference is Brian’s vocal delivery. In ReBorn’s two new tracks (or four, counting the translations), Mr. Joo reigns in his voice, opting for falsettos and a deeper register in the lead single and “Can’t Stop”, respectively. The effect is pure pop, with less emphasis on the vocals and more on the overall impact of the balance between the music and vocals. This absence is remedied later, but I would’ve liked to see more from the vocalist than the pop star.
For the good of these two tracks, the title of the record is misleading, considering what else is here. “Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong” was first released in 2010, “Domino (acoustic ver.)” came out a few months after the release of ‘Unveiled’, and the other three tracks are translations and an instrumental. For an EP titled ‘ReBorn’, there isn’t enough new material to judge the accuracy of the title. Sure, there are k-pop records with names that don’t pertain to anything within the tracks (i.e. MBLAQ’s ‘100% vers’), however, ‘ReBorn’ suggests a new direction, a re-introduction of the Brian Joo experience from his time away. Even since his time onstage for ‘RENT’, this record would have benefitted from a musical-influenced pop track, or a full-voiced ballad like “Domino” taken in a “new” direction.
Overall, ‘ReBorn’ needed more new material than its present packaging to fully realize the intention of its concept rather than feeling like a bloated single.
Brian Joo’s ‘ReBorn Part 1’ has gems in “Can’t Stop” and “Let This Die”. I would love to see Brian Joo and Jay Park perform their track on-stage. However, there should’ve been more to this mini than what was here. Two unique Korean tracks do not necessarily make for a well-rounded mini, let alone one that purports a new beginning. Let’s hope ‘ReBorn Part 2’ fulfills that promise. For now, I’m glad Brian Joo is back and taking chances with his approach to pop.
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