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[Review] 10cm "2.0"

November 9, 2012 @ 8:58 am
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Getting smacked with a ban can be a scary thing for an indie artist. While big names and idols can profit from the free press a ban affords them, lesser-known names and independent groups can flounder without a PR department behind them to flood media outlets with press releases about how they've been slighted by the MOGEF- the things that pique people's interests in banned songs in the first place. For these small fish in a big pond, censoring a single and/or music video that they likely funded themselves can be tough to bounce back from, especially as it cuts a large part of their potential audience from hearing and purchasing their music.

10cm's 2011 digital single, the Jason Mraz-y "Americano", was banned over a lyric about drinking coffee with one pretty girl and later kissing a different girl, which the MOGEF claimed was hazardous to young people because it allegedly promotes unhealthy relationships. Lucky for 10cm, MOGEF takes a while to get around to banning things- the ban was put in place over a year after the song's release. The song was already very popular- the group had even appeared in a coffee CF alongside Ha Ji Won, singing a version of the song with the company's brand name. Seeing a "little guy" like 10cm getting picked on by "the man" created a dynamic underdog narrative that propelled the band into even greater success with their first full album, '1.0', released on October 2, 2011. With the "Americano" debacle quickly fading in the minds of listeners, will 10cm's star fade as well? Or does their music have enough merit and commercial appeal to stay in this game for the long haul?

10cm released their second full-length album, '2.0', on October 10, which is clearly meant to pick up where '1.0' left off. Where '1.0' features the image of an invisible man undressing on the cover, 2.0 features a close-up of a woman's shoulder and her bra strap falling down her arm. The cover of 1.0 features the tagline, "TAKE OFF ALL YOUR COVERS AND BE NAKED WITH SOUND", while '2.0''s tagline reads "TAKE OFF ALL YOUR COVER AND BE NAKED WITH SOUND".

The album certainly starts on an intimate note, with "You and Me", featuring nothing but arpeggiated guitar chords and Kwon Jung Yeol's voice. You can hear every breath he takes as he talks about a relationship gone cold over a cup of coffee. The next song, "I'm Fine, Thank You, and You?", fast-forwards a few years to a couple who were in love back in the day, but haven't seen each other in years. This song is the first real departure from '1.0' as it brings in much deeper instrumentals than we saw from any of the songs in the first album and a choir of layered vocals. The outro of the song, with the "doo doo doo doo doooooooooo" effect, sounds very Christmasy to me.

The Bee Gees-esque "Tonight" has received attention for its self-imposed 19+ age restriction, apparently due to the f-bomb in the second verse. The narrator of the song feels like he's the only guy who's not getting laid on a particular night and complains that not one girl will get with him. Disco is an entirely new genre for 10cm, and they pull it off surprisingly well. Probably to capitalize on the buzz that would arise around a self-banned song, the band included a "clean version" of "Tonight" on the album, which leaves out the offending word.

"Now. Stop. Here." is another departure for the band with its sweeping, rock sound a la U2 or Coldplay. Even the lyrics seem more westernized than we're used to hearing- Korean lyrics often point to specific events, ideas, and stories (which we see throughout the rest of '2.0'), whereas English pop music is often more vague and unspecific in its lyrical content. "Now. Stop. Here." gives the impression of saying goodbye to nightmarish memories and a person who is somehow involved with them, but we're not given strong specifics.

Indie, coffeehouse music will only get you so far as an artist- after a while, you run out of ways to keep people interested in simple guitar-and-vocals arrangements. 10cm's distinctive vocals and lilting rhythms keep things sounding like 10cm, but the richer arrangements and layered vocals, as well as a few tries at new genres, give you the idea that they've matured as a group. Sure, we're not seeing "Americano" levels of success, but expecting that would be like expecting Psy to recreate "Gangnam Style" with his next release- lightning doesn't usually strike twice, and that's okay. 2.0's been charting high since its release, so people are at least curious about what they're up to now- whether their audience will take to the changes is something that only time will tell.

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