Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: August 2012

Neon Bunny’s Great New EP

UPDATE: Oops, looks like I was wrong; Neon Bunny is on iTunes. Or back on iTunes? I don’t know what happened, but I am pretty sure her music was not there for at least a couple of weeks.

ORIGINAL POST: Neon Bunny (aka Lim Yoo-jin, aka “one of my favorite groups these days”) has just come out with a fun, four-song EP called Happy Ending. If you are a fan of catchy electro-pop (like Phoenix or Royksopp), you really should be listening.

Just four songs long, the EP is all upbeat and dancy (unlike Seoulight, which, while excellent at its best, did drag at times). There are elements of Roller Coaster and that Korean tradition of mellow funk-pop in Happy Ending, as well as a bit of ’80s New Wave (particularly in “Plastic Heart”). But mostly it is just first-rate, adult pop.

“Soap Bubbles”:

“Plastic Heart”:

“Prince”:

“First Love”:

Sadly, Happy Ending does not seem to be available at iTunes or any other online sites. Nor is her last album Seoulight, even thought I bought my copy at iTunes a few months ago. Maybe the original online distributor was one of those jerks who were selling albums online without a proper license (there were a bunch who got shut down). Anyhow, for now you will have to make do with Youtube and other streaming sites.
(NOTE: As I said up top, both Neon Bunny albums are now on iTunes).

Oh, and I just found this cool subtitled version of Neon Bunny’s “Come a Little Closer” — great for practicing your Korean:


Neon Bunny – Come A Little Closer MV [English… por LoveKpopSubs

Five Songs I Totally Remember the First Time I Heard

For me, it usually takes a while for me to decide how I feel about a song, and most of the songs I love the most I did not like much when I first heard them. Maybe because instant enjoyment tends to equal entertainment, while art takes time to understand. Or maybe I’m just difficult. Who knows?

That said, there are a few songs that are amazing and that I totally remember the first time I ever heard — the first one being  “The Girl From Ipanema.” It was on a Frank Sinatra TV special, and even though I was too young to know much about Sinatra, I was totally mesmerized by his version of that song — especially the lilting, syncopated phrasing that was so uniquely Sinatra’s.

Because this is the 50-year anniversary of “The Girl from Ipanema,” I thought I would write a quick list of the other songs that I similarly remember.

  • Girl from Ipanema“, the Frank Sinatra version. How frickin’ amazing is it that we live in a world where I can track down video of a half-remembered TV special watched when I was a kid?
  • “Take a Walk on the Wide Side”. I was sitting on the backyard patio one summer, when I was around 16 or 17, listening to the radio, when this song came on. I immediately called in the radio station to tell them I thought the song was brilliant and that they had a sure-fire hit. The annoyed deejay told me the song was 15 years old and already a classic. Erp.
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – from Nirvana’s first Saturday Night Live appearance. I never listened to the band before that, but from the opening chords, I knew this was a band I wanted to hear more. They may have become a mainstream symbol of grunge and gotten overplayed, but that first listen for me was without marketing hype or anything like that. I just heard it and loved it.*
  • “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. Of course Leonard’s original is most important to me (I used to listen to the LC best-of collection in the art room in high school, together with the other art nerds). But Nina Simone’s jazz version is pretty awesome, too. As is Roberta Flack’s 10-minute magnum opus. Even Neil Diamond’s MOR version has its place. Here’s the Roberta Flack live version:
  • “Nae Maeume Judaneul Kkalgo” by Sanullim. (Aka, “Spread Silk on My Heart”). I’ve talked about the first time I heard that song before, over at the Korea Gig Guide. It was terribly late on a cold winter night in Hongdae, stumbling into a random bar with a couple of friends that turned out to specialize in classic rock, Korean and Western. And hearing that amazing opening bassline, thumping away, with a distorted lowfi guitar coming in on top. It’s the song that started my Korean classic rock fixation, and I still totally love it.

Oh, and here are a couple more versions of those songs. First, a great TV version of “The Girl From Ipanema” from the 1960s:

And Nina Simone singing “Suzanne” in Rome in 1969, in yet another totally different version:

* (Note: I don’t much like Nirvana anymore. But hearing that song for the first time was very memorable).

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
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(Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

More Pop Goes Korea Coming Soon?

I see by the time stamp on my last post that I am overdue for my annual Korea Pop Wars update. Or Pop Goes Korea update. Or something.

Anyhow, the good news is that, at long last, it is looking increasingly likely that Pop Goes Korea will be getting an e-book edition soon. Stone Bridge Press is even letting make a couple of small changes, to things that have long bothered me about the original book — not a full-fledged update or anything so grand, but small things that matter to me.

It’s been a fairly eventful year, since my last post here. K-pop has really started making a lot of noise in the West, in ways I never would have guessed a few years ago — there were even concerts in Barcelona, Paris, Germany, and South America in the past year. In addition, I helped start the Korean Indie website (before leaving it recently). And so far, 2012 is shaping up to be the most successful years commercially for Korean movies since 2006, and could conceivably become the best year ever.

As usual, if you want to read more about Korean pop culture, my writing, or other random subjects, it is best to check out my personal blog, as I don’t really update this site much anymore. 

Asking for Trouble: Cosmic Edition

Having just seen Prometheus, it’s become clear to me that a lot of people just have no sense at all when it comes to naming their starships. Isn’t naming a space ship “Prometheus” just asking for something bad to happen? Like saying “This ship is unsinkable.” With that in mind, here’s a list of names I would never use on a space ship:

  • Prometheus
  • Icarus (from Event Horizon)
  • Hubris
  • Oedipus
  • Nemesis
  • Eumenides (or Furies, Fates, etc.)
  • Ragnarok
  • Poetic Justice
  • Death Star (cool name, but way too much baggage)
  • Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong
  • Shyamalan
On the other hand, “Oh No, Oh No, We’re All Going to Die” would probably be fine.

The World Is Smaller Than You Can Imagine

Was it Douglas Adams who said “The universe isn’t smaller than you imagine; it’s smaller than you can imagine”? Here are my three biggest examples:

1) Sophomore year of university, first day of class, in a political science class waiting for the professor to arrive and begin the lecture. Bored, I turn to the guy beside me and start making small talk. “Where are you from?”, I ask creatively. Turns out he is from Canada. “Oh, me, too,” I respond. He asks where and I tell him near Toronto, from a small town he likely has not heard of. But he is apparently from a small town near Toronto, too, so we keep delving and asking questions. Turns out, not only is he from the same small town as me, his dad took out my appendix when I was 13.

2) Korea, late 1990s. I was in a smallish town, a couple of hours from Seoul, and bored. So I ask around and find a bar where westerners have been known to hang out. I go there and indeed some sort of party is going on, consisting of mostly English teachers. We begin chatting and the usual. While talking to this one red-headed woman who is around my age, I again ask “Where are you from?” She says “Canada.” I say “Me, too, but from a small town you’ve never heard of” and the dance begins again. Turns out, not only was she from the same town, she sat beside me in high school for a couple of years.

3) Italy, last week. I was at a conference (sponsored by the wonderful folks at the Legatum Institute). During dinner one night, I end up yakking with one of the lecturers. I knew that she went to the same university as I did, so I start asking about classes she took, professors, etc. We’re not getting much overlap, but something about her answers is scratching at my subconscious. I thought she was four years younger than me or so, but now I am not sure, so I ask when she graduates; she says just one year after I did. So I ask if she lived at 42nd street, in one of the row houses. She looks at me, confused. I asked if Mxxxx and Bxxxxx were her roommates then. She looks more confused. And then it all comes together.

Turns out, this is woman lived with some friends of mine and was there on one of the stranger, booze-fueled nights of my early 20s. We ended up on the roof of the oldest building on campus around 3am, just hanging out in the light rain and watching helicopters come and go from the roof of the nearby university hospital. It wasn’t a revolutionary evening, but it was quite nice and I repeatedly pillaged the scene in my early attempts at short story writing.

There have been plenty of other odd events over the years — bumping into old friends in European museums, meeting my university advisor at a party in Seoul 15 years after graduating. Sometimes I fear that online networking risks making those surprising bursts of coincidence obsolete, as we drag behind us all the random encounters from out lifetimes. Probably not, at least not entirely. But, nonetheless, that is one reason why I try to stay off Facebook and Google Plus and the rest. If, as Joni Mitchell tells us, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, sometimes you need to get rid of things (people, connections) to appreciate them again.

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