[MINI-ALBUM] 4minute – Volume Up

While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of.

 It should come as no great surprise when I admit I’m not a real lover of girls groups; with the exception of 2NE1 I find the cutesy, sugar-flower looks and sound of many groups entirely painful.  But I’ve always found 4minute to have a bit of an edge and it’s because of this I approached their new release with mild excitement.

4minute 'VOLUME UP'

We all know I hate intro tracks so skipping over Get on the Floor the first song on this little mini is title track Volume Up. Coming off the back of previous releases I My Me Mine and Mirror Mirror, Volume Up sounds classy as hell. With the delightfully smooth saxophone combined with HyunA’s fierce rap and the delicious wails from fellow members, Volume Up certainly has impact. Not to mention the video is still jam-packed with 4minute’s trademark sex appeal.

Love or hate HyunA—and I know she has a lot of haters—people can’t deny her sexiness, especially in this video with hoards of backup dancers grinding into her. Against an expensive set and fabulous outfits the girls all look fierce and erotic causing even the straightest of females to go woah mama. While I don’t understand the ‘vampire’ image I’ve heard the MV described as containing, it certainly is dark, edgy and mildly gothic with a hint of sophistication which is reflected in the music itself. While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of. The emotion, power and overall feel of Volume Up certainly reflects this but the girls disappointingly fall back into their party ways in the latter half of the album.

Following on from Volume Up is I’m Ok which continues this newfound mature vibe. In spite of the mellow appearance, I’m Ok is chock-full of powerful, raw emotions, making it one of the best tracks on the mini-album and possibly one of their greatest songs to date. Say My Name falls back into 4minute’s familiar party girl rhythm and is certainly high in the energy and fun departments. While not as memorable as Volume Up and I’m Ok thanks to the comparatively hollow emotion, it’s a solid enough track and progresses the album nicely.

Femme Fatale is once again a high-powered dance tune but is a little light on the badass-ery the title suggests. Dream Racer is relative funky and it’s no surprise the girls’ elected to perform this alongside Volume Up during their comeback stage. Still, I personally would have preferred to see I’m Ok up against the title track as I feel the two complement each other nicely; however Dream Racer is a safe choice due to the familiarity it no doubt possesses for 4minute fans.

Finally this leaves Black Cat, which is by no means the weakest track on the album. With its jazz feel spoiled by auto-tuning the vocals, the originality of the track is weakened but still contains enough difference in sound to make it stand out amongst the other songs on offer.

4minute’s new mini-album is a fun, energetic floor-filler underpinned with mature emotions. The girls’ have well and truly maintained their sexy sound and image and managed to grow a little in the process. Although the subtle power of title track Volume Up is not carried solidly across the whole mini-album, overall it is fun enough to listen to. That said, it’s probably better enjoyed on the dance floor of a party than through the speakers of one’s stereo.

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[MINI-ALBUM] EXO – MAMA

EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent.

It’s been a long time coming—five months, to be exact. With twenty-three teasers, two prologue singles, a special showcase, modelling videos and over one hundred days of hype, EXO are finally here with debut mini-album MAMA. I’ve already speculated how SM Entertainment may have hammered us with too many teasers but have my predictions turned out accurate? In a word: yes. I’ve never been more underwhelmed.

EXO-K 'MAMA' EXO-M 'MAMA'

The frustrating thing about MAMA is the debut track itself is quite brilliant but I can’t appreciate it to the full extent due to the noticeable lack of excitement I felt when hearing it for the first time. With all of EXO’s talents put on show through a mini-concert and abundance of teasers there was no element of surprise when MAMA hit online media sites. Instead of flailing with utter anticipation I welcomed the long-awaited single with a flat sigh and an oh it’s finally here.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 01

Aside from SM Entertainment’s terrible decisions in regards to EXO’s pre-debut activities, they have surprisingly achieved what they set out to do: create a new sound set to light the world on fire. What places MAMA aside from the plethora of groups making their debut early this year—B.A.P, NU’EST and BTOB, for example—is the lack of ‘hook’ lyrics or melody in order to draw in an audience. Instead of the catchy choruses we witnessed in the aforementioned debut groups’ lyrics, EXO present us with an edgy, fierce, almost pseudo-rock single topped off with a cherry in the form of a screamed rap bridge. This is all made all the more impressive and powerful by the ominous English cult-inspired chanting at the beginning and end of the track. When I first heard the song during EXO’s pre-debut showcase hosted by Super Junior’s Lee-everywhere-Teuk, I originally thought these lines to be in Latin. I wish I continued to think this.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 02 EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 03

As if to spit on the prowess of the song, SM has coupled MAMA with a typically low-budget MV that is practically identical to what we already saw in prologue single History. The set is unsurprisingly inside the company’s trademark box, alternating between a sleek temple-esque dance room and a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland. The other features of the video include largely unrelated, random clips, many of which were released in part as teasers, making the MV pretty disappointing due to the lack of new (or original) footage. The most painful part of the whole experience, however, was the tacky narration at the beginning outlining the supposed mythology related to the fabled EXO Planet. I have no idea why SM decided to write the ‘legend’ of EXO and I honestly don’t really care. As if anyone is going to believe that shit anyway? It’s agonisingly lame and adds almost two minutes to the MV. No, just, no.

In any case, EXO-M and EXO-K have presented entirely identical music videos (obviously) so there’s no reason to waste any more of your time by watching both. Pick a side—M or K, whichever takes your fancy—and just roll with that. Personally, I selected EXO-M. Why? They’re so nice to look at. And there’s no Kai [1].

The rest of the debut mini-album seems shorter than it actually is due to the inclusion of prologue singles What Is Love and History. I have no idea why SM decided to include these tracks when it seems, judging by the song excerpts featured in the many teasers, EXO have plenty of tracks at their disposal. Listing What Is Love and History alongside the new releases made EXO’s debut mini-album all the more underwhelming due to the lack of new material with which they provided us. Even MAMA was shown to the public through their showcase leaving only three new tracks on offer. I expected to be disappointed and even with the utter joy that was MAMA, EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent. Because there was so much hype I felt obligated to listen to the album due to the time and interest invested in pre-debut activities. But I can’t say I’m excited about it.

The sound displayed on the mini-album is by no means cohesive; with a range of R&B ballads, hip-hop and electronica EXO have all bases covered but at the expensive of defining who they actually are. Just what exactly are you trying to be, EXO? In general, EXO present a very different vibe to recently debuted groups which will no doubt pique the interest of those who managed to bury themselves under a rock during the onslaught of teasers. MAMA, History and Machine are perhaps the most similar tracks, displaying subdued backing music and an emphasis on vocals. Machine is the weakest of these songs and it’s no wonder it remained hidden while the former received early attention.

Hip-hop track 双月之夜/개의 달이 뜨는 밤 [Two Moons] featuring label mate Key from SHINee adds yet another facet to EXO’s diverse genre catalogue. The song is literally painful to listen to and sitting through both Korean and Chinese renditions made me groan. With no climax or dynamic soundtrack Two Moons bounces along like a souped-up car down a suburban street. I immensely dislike this song to the point I would have to say I prefer ballad What Is Love. If you’re an avid reader of this blog then you’ll understand how high a criticism this is. But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on What Is Love as, admittedly, I also prefer it to 你的世界/너의 세상으로 [Angel], which is just plain boring. It has a great harmony and the vocals are pretty—blah, blah—but the fact remains it’s still weak. Truth be told, Two Moons, Angel and Machine are all soft in comparison to the previously released tracks on the album. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment: not only did SM spoil would be EXO fans with too many teasers they also shot their payload on the prologue singles leaving nothing but a sad and shrivelled final product to be unveiled to the public.

EXO are by no means a bad idol group. They are fresh, new and different but the lack of excitement fuelled by anticipation for their debut hurt my overall impression of them—I’m simply not as interested as I could be as I’ve already seen all EXO have to offer. MAMA, the mini-album, is a lopsided product featuring three very good tracks and three comparatively poor ones. Basically, if you enjoyed the tracks released before the mini-album dropped on April 9—MAMA included, as it was released on the 8th—you can save your time and money because it really doesn’t get any better.  Even so, my love and respect for title song MAMA has me very much looking forward to seeing EXO-M perform live next month when they support Super Junior in the Australian leg of their Super Show 4 World Tour.

Now that’s something to get excited for.


[1] You can read all about my love [read: hate] for Kai here

[SINGLE] LEDAPPLE – Time Is Up/Sadness

I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride.

Despite having been around for two years now, I only came across LEDapple when they released new single Time Is Up at the beginning of 2012. Although I have nothing to compare with, I’m told changes to the band’s line up has brought about shifts in their sound. But I don’t care what LEDapple were like before—I like them now just fine.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up'LEDapple 'Sadness'

The New Year saw LEDapple return with new vocalist Hanbyul and the staggered release of singles Time Is Up and Sadness in January and March respectively. I usually don’t review two releases in the same post but given both singles contain just one track I thought I’d make the exception. Well, there are also intros and instrumentals included but who cares about those?

Korean ‘rock’ bands don’t have a wonderful reputation in my eyes thanks to the comparatively flavourless FT Island and CNBLUE but LEDapple turned out to be refreshingly poppy. The edgy rap verses combined with a delightfully catchy chorus of Time Is Up has created a wonderful end product that will, as Kpop should, get stuck in your head. The MV is watchable but very, well, boxy and features some awkward choreographed moves for the two vocalists, Hanbyul and Kyumin. The members also randomly sprout mechanical appendages without any discernible reason.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up' Screencap 01

LEDapple are noticeably different from both FT Island and CNBLUE in that they don’t sound like The Beatles and this is no doubt due to the inclusion of rap against a modern pop backdrop. Maybe I have a latent love of rap to which I am yet to admit that has caused the incredible soft spot I have for this track but either way LEDapple has given me a new, more optimistic outlook on Korean soft rock bands. Newcomer Hanbyul’s voice suits their apparent new sound and fans should welcome him with open arms.  While I’m not really sure how one goes from studying dentistry to becoming a lead vocalist in a Korean rock band but I’m quite glad Hanbyul made the conversion. As he was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride. I mean, how can you resist that cute accent?

The more recent release of Sadness shows yet another side of the new LEDapple by presenting a mellower yet still catchy pop-rock track. Although mostly devoid of all that rap I appreciated so much in Time Is Up the small inclusion at the end was just enough to add that flavour missing from other soft rock bands on the market. The main downside of this release is how stunningly boring the MV is; I know you’re a band and you like playing instruments but do you really just have to stand around and play them? LEDapple almost managed a dance in Time Is Up and that small factor does contribute to that MV standing miles apart from those of the same genre. Longer clips of the drama episodes interspersed throughout the instrument-playing would have made Sadness slightly more interesting. But only slightly. And I just can’t with that matching hair dye; I couldn’t with B.A.P and I certainly can’t with LEDapple.

While I’m more than happy with the 2012 singles LEDapple has granted us but I have to say I’m a little curious about their previous releases. It would certainly give me a more informed opinion of the band’s overall talents and sound but where’s the fun in that? I’m more than content to appreciate LEDapple as they are now. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, that is.