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Monday, 2 June 2014

[Album Review] EXO-K - 'Overdose'



EXO is back with their 2nd mini-album, 'Overdose.' Having already released a handful of albums, EXO's new release is highly anticipated by anyone who bounced and danced around to "Wolf" and "Growl," or was swept away by "Miracles In December."  Since releasing their debut single 'Mama' in 2012, pretty much whatever they touch turns to gold, shooting to #1 on the charts and taking over the physical album sales. 'Overdose' was popular even before its official release as both the Chinese and Korean versions were leaked online and SM Entertainment revealed they were trying to find the perpetrators. This review concerns itself with the official Korean release.   


Track By Track Breakdown


1) OVERDOSE


Pretty solid EDM, which is mainly the reason why I listen to K-Pop in the first place. I can definitely detect some elements of dubstep and western pop music here. If DJ Snake & Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What" and Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" had a love child, this track would be it.  The message is summed up in a single lyric: "Love is a disease, an addiction, an overdose." An ace, danceable song, electronically reinforced and bombastic, the chorus is grand and dramatic. A club classic if I've ever heard one.

2) MOONLIGHT


In what would otherwise be a bog-standard ballad, there are a few elements that nearly redeem it. I like the subtle harmonic effects in the background, and I can almost hear a bell ringing. It really doesn't grab me, and repeated listens grate on me. Like the title suggests, the melody is lacking in weight, wispy and fleeting. I love the lyrics, and if the quality of the instrumentals matched the lyrics we'd have a winner: "I look at you, frozen like a picture" and "What's shining under the surface is not that person." Whatever uniqueness it could have had is lost in the bland music. 

3) THUNDER


A mid-tempo track with a choice beat. I particularly enjoy the samples of things that aren't quite music, but work well here, like the sound of breaking glass - resampling that backwards was also a nice touch. "Thunder" has evocative lyrics, like "distracted for a moment in the memories' light," and fit well with a song about finding your lost love. While this isn't the most amazing cut on the album, it is definitely more than serviceable, though the falsetto is grating at times.

4) RUN


The urgent, insistent bass line, the neo-tribal chanting, and the pure promise of excitement is packed into the first 16 seconds, and the rest of the track does not disappoint. "Run" is a good companion track to "Overdose." It has some of the same structure, but the melody is different. The bridge is full of silky vocals that serve the song well. It is sheer technical artistry how the music gradually drowns out the vocals at the end. If I made the decisions at SM Entertainment, I would have led with this track. If this doesn't get you to the dance floor, I don't know what will.

5) LOVE, LOVE, LOVE


A mixed bag, "Love, Love, Love" has conventions that I relish, and others that I loathe. There's a part in the chorus that simply mimics the children's rhyme "nanny nanny boo boo" which is hardly a pleasant thing to hear.  It's a mistake that I'd expect from a rookie group, but the boys of EXO-K are hardly rookies. There are again many effects that aren't strictly music that make up the song structure, and while some of the rap parts are capital, others are cringeworthy. The melody itself sounds like it was played forwards and then backwards again, which is an interesting effect. 


I think EXO has grown musically, and this mini-album works. It's always a terrifying thing when a band changes, and some changes are less welcome than others at times. For EXO, whose output has really not interested me in the past, this effort is a clear win. It's full of polished tracks, dance floor swagger, and vocals that range from buoyant in the chorus to staccato during the rap segments. It's all tied together in hook-laden jams that keep the music moving without letting you stop and think much, "Moonlight" and "Love, Love, Love" notwithstanding. If I had one complaint, it's the opposite of an overdose - it's too short.

'Overdose' feels very much like a summer release, something to crank up during a sunny day on a trip to the beach. Overall, I like 'Overdose' - it's a good deal more accessible to me than their previous offerings. I didn't care much for 'XOXO,' to be honest, and singles like "Wolf" and "Miracles in December" left me unimpressed. That isn't the case here.


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