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The reigning kings of K-pop are back with another full album (full albums followed by repackages are an EXO tradition). With an entire armada of genres at their disposal, EXO continue to surprise with new sounds and textures on this album, going all out in terms of diversity. However, the album has its downsides with a lucid lack of cohesiveness: a quality which makes it seem traditionally “messy” and all over the place. Lets explore what EXO had to offer with this review.
The title track of the album, marking EXO’s first comeback in about a year, is a nod to EXO’s doppelgänger concept creating an evil counterpart to EXO’s heroic selves, namely X-EXO. Lyrically, the track speaks of EXO’s opposing stance in their tête-à-tête with obsessive sasaeng fans. The message is further magnified by the usage of an ostinato (a part which repeats throughout a piece) voice sample, auto-tuned to finesse, with chantings of “I want you.”
As EXO begin to sing in their rapid-fire, fast-tempo rhythm especially adopted for this track, there’s a considerable amount of auto-tuning on their voices which makes them seem almost unearthly and untouchable – as if highlighting people should respect their personal space.
The track shifts to an almost sombre mood for the chorus – changing chords – while taking a smooth buttery approach, the melodic quality of which is totally shattered by the stripping of the instrumental which is brought to salvation by Chanyeol’s overbearing rap section, in a good way.
The track doesn’t lose direction at all as the R&B chords re-enter in the bridge, setting a lighter, airier mood. Chen does what he is good at: belting at the top of his voice and painting the already detailed canvas of a track with swishes of his own paintbrush of a voice. Baekhyun enters and adds further colour to the dark canvas, adding light to it in an act of chiaroscuro. The harmony in the last chorus is absolutely delicious, highlighting EXO’s vocal prowess to the fullest. A deserving title track.
This is a track I really enjoy the mood of. It starts with non-melodic samples and EXO’s voices are the only parts adding melodic colour to the track. The chorus I am slightly iffy on: the lyrical rhythms are improperly executed, leading to a dragging sound which could have been worked on better.
However, EXO’s voices maintain character throughout, laying melted gold over an iron base which is the instrumental. There are synth-horns in the chorus which give it a regal feel and fluttering synths in the pre-chorus which make it almost fly. There is a twang guitar as well which promotes a reggae feel. The track is a mish-mash of genres but still stands out as unique.
This track further promotes EXO’s doppelgänger concept using the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ idea, nestling in the same vein as the title track. The dark, sinister, foreboding synths followed by the agog vocals make it an ominous listen, especially during the climax in the chorus, with the loud chants creating an angry and heated mood. The chants of “warning” and “break out” get one in a bone-chilling mood even further. EXO show off their harmonic potential in the second verse and the last chorus, beautifying the track and making the mood oscillate around their vocals. A quality listen.
EXO re-invent ‘smooth and dreamy’ with this track. It talks of crossing the world of reality and into the land of dreams through dance, which is conveyed in the lyrics and the sound working harmoniously. The vibraphone, traditionally used in jazz, is a foundational layer to the track.
Floating falsettos in the chorus are in gorgeous coagulation with the sampled vocals that get you into a trance-like groove. The bridge continues the track’s tradition of ‘smooth and dreamy’ by introducing synth-strings.
The rap sections are softer and docile giving one a sense of security, almost like a soft conversation between Chanyeol and Sehun. Then a brilliant section makes its entrance, surprising the listener: the flute section cutting through the smoothness with its sharp, piercing timbre.
The track is almost perfect with seamless transitions and chords that render one speechless.
05. “Ya Ya Ya”
Probably my least favourite on the album, the track is relentlessly goofy and lacks other defining characteristics. The 90s influences help somewhat giving it a nostalgic feel; however, it still remains a tiring and cheesy listen. The rap section saves it from further downfall as it is a smooth precursor to the, again, rather cheesy last chorus.
The automated “you’re the one” voice sample is almost annoying and does not add anything remotely enjoyable to the song for me.
06. “Baby You Are”
One of the best tracks on the album, the track revels at what it tries to do – creating a soft, reassuring and heartfelt counterpart to the more aggressive tracks. It flawlessly balances the album’s mood with the acoustic guitars melting into the gorgeously weighty synths in the chorus. EXO’s vocals are smooth and nostalgic on the track, with the rap section introducing a rougher counterpart to the melodic vocals. The track has some great production with EXO’s vocals shining and doing justice to the instrumental.
07. “Non Stop”
K-Pop producer extraordinaires, Charli Taft, Daniel Obi Klein and Andreas Oberg, produce another catchy, earworm track. The funk influences are apparent with the rhythm guitars which make the track sound Western.
However, EXO’s vocals still keep it very much grounded to South Korea. The horns in the chorus are a celebratory addition, as if celebrating the “non stop” love EXO have to offer.
Nevertheless, the track can get repetitive really fast with the “A little bit of love, my love non stop” interspersed throughout the track. It still manages to be a good listen nonetheless.
08. “Day After Day”
This track is a really soft listen that reminds one of accidentally falling asleep on your laptop in a cozy café setting. I feel attracted to it because its sheer purity and EXO’s irresistible vocals make a glorious return on this track. It is a calming listen throughout and makes one feel at ease.
09. “Butterfly Effect”
The best track on the album for me and one of the best tracks in EXO’s entire discography in general, the track holds an immense amount of nostalgic and reassuring value. LDN Noise have graced us again with this heart-wrenching synth-pop gem. The chords are just indescribably beautiful and the vocoder-filtered “angel” voice samples in the rap section are beautifully implemented. The “angel” chant comes to the forefront in the outro with absolutely enchanting head voice notes by Baekhyun. This track never fails to bring a smile to my face.
EXO have never failed to deliver with their music, taking bold risks since the beginning of their careers. Luckily, it has mostly brought them good. I personally dub them as ‘an unrelenting force in K-Music with constant experimentation in Pop’. The album, although a great addition to their discography, fails to remain cohesive as I stated in the intro. However, its positives outweigh its negatives greatly, making EXO reign supreme – not only in terms of success – but also in terms of delivering good music.