June 11, 2013

Review: EXO - XOXO (Kiss&Hug)

This fangirl has already ordered both versions of EXO's new (and first) full-length album, but I found the tracks online to listen ahead.  This a fair warning that I am no music critic.  I do have 7 years of piano, cello, percussion, and flute, and a few voice lessons, under my belt so I do know something about music, but I am certainly no expert.  :)

I have to say that I am absolutely pleased with the album!  After about a year and a half with not a single peep, this is a very satisfying reward.  Since I refused to listen to the leaked version, I do not know how much they polished up these tracks up from the original.  Also, I have no desire to sit through all of EXO's twelve billion pre-debut teasers to match them up.  From what I recall though, the teasers were pretty much mostly instrumentals with a few single lines thrown in here and there.

Regardless, I feel this was a fairly well-done.  The whole album does really give me a school vibe (good call for the school theme for the photo teasers).  I feel the album sounds a lot like something N*SYNC or The Backstreet Boys would have released with, of course, a few exceptions like "Black Pearl", "My Lady", and "Wolf."  Except with a bit more of an electronic influence, "Let Out the Beast" and "3. 6. 5." really sound like 90's Western pop.  hehe.  I really feel like a little kid again...

It became apparent almost immediately that SM is still carrying on with the whole subunit concepts.  With the exception of "Wolf", EXO-M sings in the Hug version and EXO-K sings in the Kiss version.  It makes perfect sense since that would be a lot to memorize.  Then, so what in the world has EXO been doing for the past 18 months that they couldn't spend memorizing 10 songs in 2 languages?

First Listen:
I listened through both versions and have to say that I am biased toward the Chinese version purely for three reasons:
  1. KRIS WU
  2. I love Chen's voice.  I guess it's that velvety voice...
  3. It's easier for me to pick out their voices.
Now I have absolutely nothing against K.  I really think Baekhyun is the second best singer in all of EXO, Suho is hot, and Chanyeol (who is definitely the best rapper in EXO) just makes me smile.  But EXO-M was what initially got me into EXO in the first place.  First come first...loved bias. ;)

"Let Out the Beast", "3. 6. 5" and "Don't Go" are my favorite songs on the album so far.  As I listen to this at 2 am, I find the English pretty grammatically correct (so far) and pronounced pretty well.  How is that only their title track has to pronounce the English so poorly?
However, as much as I love "3. 6. 5.", it does remind me way too much of One Direction.  Um, five attractive guys from a foreign country who can carry a tune who sing a peppy pop song that has a intro of guitar and a cowbell.    And of course the boybandy "whoah-oh-oh-oh-OH!")

Some how, "Black Pearl" ended up as my least favorite song but it's still something I wouldn't skip past if I had the album on shuffle.  But I don't have it on repeat like "3. 6. 5.", "Let Out the Beast", and "Don't Go".

Like I said, I'm not a music critic expert, so I have zero idea what the optimal arrangement or ratio of songs there should be in an album.  However, I think SM did a good job.  It doesn't all sound alike, but it's similar enough from track to track that you don't find yourself wondering if it's the same group.  They also avoid the pit Super Junior is slowly falling into - half the album sounding like it's a Super Junior KRY with guest appearances by various Super Junior members.

With that said, while "Black Pearl" and "Let Out the Beast" experiment with dub-step and club music, nothing on the album comes close to the weirdness "Wolf" tried.  "Wolf" seemed like a something like "IGAB" but without the various parts tying together at the end of the song.  Okay, so they blend two parts of the song together...but they don't make the pieces tie together like the various bits of "IGAB".  (Though it strangely works...at least for me!)  "Wolf" seems out of place a little...it's a lot darker than the rest of the album, at least tone wise.  "Black Pearl" manages to have some lighter moments in the song while "Let Out the Beast" lacks the totally "wild animal" feel "Wolf" had.  I actually feel "Let Out the Beast" has attitude, not a animalistic tone...makes me want to dance!

Overall, the album is very listenable.  I am happy the long wait has paid off!

Deep Listen:
When I first listened to the 6 (bazillion) versions of "Wolf" contained in the two additions, I didn't really notice any differences.  SM did a good job with adding enough harmony underneath that it's hard to tell that the voices changed.  However, the big difference is the big note that Chen hits at 2:41ish in the combined versions.  While both Chen and Baekhyun are excellent singers, they do have different voices.  Now I don't any technical terms for all this, but, in my sister's words, Chen's voice is better suited for belting and Baekhyun's voice is better suited for a solid note.  [Either that or that's how it ends up because of their training background.]

My love for Kris has deepened now that I realize the man can actually sing (not that I should be totally surprised since he did spend 4 years training...but come on, when the guy slow raps he ends up sounding like SISTAR's Bora)!!!!  He sings in both "3. 6. 5." and "Don't Go".  Tao also gets to sing in both songs and it's to nice to finally hear decent rappers who can actually carry a tune.  Seriously, a Henry, Kris, Amber, (and possibly Tiffany, Jessica, and Krystal) English subunit is just begging to happen!!!  Come on, SM!

I forgot to mention this earlier, but thank you SM for finally realizing who's better at what!  D.O. is a good singer, but the man is not consistant...  I barely watched any of EXO-K's live "MAMA" stages because of the way D.O. kept butchering that high note. *shudder*  The lower note suits him much better. :)

I believe "Baby", "Black Pearl", and "My Lady" are the only songs I can't listen on constant repeat.  "Baby" makes me think Justin Beiber is going to jump out any second every time I hear them repeat "baby..." and "My Lady" is just a tad too bluesy for me.  And it kind of sounds like they could have fished it out of the rejected tracks from "Sexy, Free, and Single".  Lastly, I think "Black Pearl" is a good song, but it is better suited for blasting at a club and not so much for casual listening.
"Baby, Don't Cry" is quickly climbing up the list of songs I really like on this album.  It sounds very eerie, but ends up sounding mournful after a few listens which I like.  A good mood setter, musically, for the end of the latest episode of "Game of Thrones"...and now I have the Korean version stuck on repeat.

My end rating:  5/5
Seriously, this is a good album and one of the few K-Pop albums I can play all the way through.

Hara's Review:

EXO has finally released both Korean and Chinese versions of their long awaited comeback album “XOXO (Kiss&Hug)”! Although fans all around the world had to keep calm for the release of the album even after the comeback music video release for “Wolf” (Korean title: 늑대와미녀), all I can say is that it was definitely worth the wait!

As most of you EXOtics know, SM has been teasing us with songs such as “My Lady”, “Baby, Don’t Cry”, “Black Pearl” and “Let Out The Beast” since EXO’s teaser debut days. Fans all over the world have desperately been waiting for the full versions of these lovely songs for more than a year, and I am gratefully pleased and thankful towards Lee Soo Man-sshi for deciding to put them on EXO’s comeback album! Other tracks on the list include “Wolf” (title track), “Don’t Go”, “3.6.5”, “Heart Attack”, “Peter Pan”, and “Baby”. Also, as an added bonus, there is an EXO-K and EXO-M version of “Wolf” where only the members of each sub-unit carry out the energetic track in Korean and Chinese, respectively.

I personally like both versions of the songs in the album, especially “Black Pearl”. When I first heard “Black Pearl” on EXO’s Teaser 8 featuring Sehun, I literally fell in love with it! Even though the teaser versions of “Baby, Don’t Cry” and “My Lady” had also been my favorites, I anticipated a full version of “Black Pearl” the most out of all three since it was merely an instrumental, in contrast to the other two. I have to say that I am incredibly impressed of the talented SM staff who are behind the song arrangement and lyrics of this beautiful track. Also, I want to applaud EXO’s brilliant vocalists – Chen, D.O., Baekhyun, and Luhan – for being able to wonderfully carry out the song. You guys did an awesome job; totally대박! Other songs on the album which I really loved are the full versions of “Baby, Don’t Cry” and “My Lady”, “Heart Attack”, and “3.6.5”. I have to admit, “3.6.5” really does sound like a song that One Direction would release if they were given the opportunity to promote in South Korea.  Nevertheless, it’s a great song and I’m glad EXO were able to pull off a bubbly, cheerful, and lively track such as this one!

I’m genuinely in love with the strong vocals and rap present in most of the songs; it truly shows how hard our boys worked on the album and how much they have improved this year! I’m particularly impressed with Tao’s rap skills, and I’m very glad that SM allowed him to showcase his hidden talent through this album. He definitely possesses great potential of becoming the third official rapper of EXO. Chanyeol’s rapping never fails to amaze me, and in this album he was better able to deeply express a flow of emotion through his pungent rap skills, particularly in “Baby, Don’t Cry”. The vocal team, as I mentioned before, is extremely impressive especially with Chen and his lovely falsetto, and D.O. with his smooth, sultry, voice. Baekhyun is also an amazing vocalist; his raspy voice is so sexy! Luhan, on the other hand, may not encompass an intense or strong voice like the other three but he definitely has a light and soft voice which he extracts, beautifully.

The English pronunciation and grammar is beyond accurate, and I say this because SM Entertainment is generally known in the K-Pop world for the use of random, inaccurate English in their lyrics (example: “careless, careless shoot anonymous, anonymous”). Some of you might be thinking: “What about ‘ulf’/‘oolf’? That is definitely not the correct way to pronounce ‘wolf’!” Actually, maybe in the English language it isn’t but it’s certainly accurate in Korean. As you can see, what EXO are saying, “울프” (romanization: ulpeu) means the word ‘wolf’ in Korean. Even though “늑대” (romanization: neukdae) is used in the Korean title track for “Wolf”, “늑대와미녀” (full translation: “Wolf and a Beauty”), instead of  ‘울프’, both words still mean the same thing just like ‘girl’ and ‘female’ do in the English Language.

Anyways, back to the review, I believe EXO’s comeback album, “XOXO (Kiss&Hug)” is a terrific album, especially because it has a wide genre of songs ranging from sweet ballads to intense dub-step, and not to mention the cool R&B songs such as “Heart Attack” and bubbly ones such as “3.6.5”.

Definitely 5 out of 5 for me!

What did you guys think of the album? Comment below and let us know!

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