Jul 16, 2014

F(x) Further Solidifies Their Musical Identity With "Red Light"

I became a big fan of SM's experimental, quirky hipster group f(x) last year with Rum Pum Pum Pum and Pink Tape. It was purely by chance I listened to the album because while the title track was good, it wasn't so good I would have immediately wanted to get the entire album. However, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made, as the album now is one of my favorite albums not only in K-pop, but among other music genres too. I didn't really expect SM to give them another full album only one year later, but I'm happy they are investing in the group and giving them more material. Additionally, it meant more potential hits from the group which I was all for.

In my music video review for "Red Light" I talked more about the lyrics of the song and how it reflected the video's plot, but there's a lot more to the track in need of discussion. I think we can all agree that the song is, well how do you say it, unexpected. I have heard the demo it is based on and one thing that's missing there that's been put into the final outcome is the chorus. When I first heard the song I was digging it in the beginning, it had cool, party vibe to it and  all was fine until the chorus dropped. Now that I have heard the song a couple of times and I'm fairly used to it, it's alright but when I first heard it it really threw me off. It's not the first time SM has mashed different songs into one, with both good (SHINee's "Sherlock") and underwhelming (SNSD's "I Got A Boy") results, and I think "Red Light" falls somewhere in between. I really dislike how disconnected it sounds, but there are some really nice parts in it too, like the verses and bridges. It could have been a great club banger but instead it sounds somewhat unpleasant, especially the transitions. Still, it has grown on me a lot the past week but from an objective point of view it's still a disjointed track and that sucks because everything else about this concept is spot on. Following song is really something else. Already at the intro your eyebrows are raised or you're looking around searching for a nearby animal. I have a dog myself, so I almost thought he was the one barking before I realized it was part of the song. There are so many interesting points to this song I don't even know where to begin. Firstly, the instrumental is not something you would normally hear and I can't help but wonder what kind of instruments were used to create that peculiar sound. The lyrics are also different, but great, as they describe a heartbreak being healed by pouring cold milk on the burning, aching heart. It's a solution I wouldn't have come up with, but I like that they're thinking more out of the box. Still, my main fascination with the song is how discretely sexual it sounds. It might just be me, but for some reason the music and melody as well as the repetition of "My Milk" just comes across just so. Anyhow, it's a great, softer follow-up to "Red Light" which really was a lot harder and edgier.

Up next is "Butterfly", and it's one of my favorites of the album. Parts of the song sound very familiar, like something labelmates SNSD would sing, but the chorus is what really makes the song it's own. I love the whimsical, dreamy approach and listening to it feels just like flying like a butterfly, like the lyrics imply too. Don't you just love it when the sound of a song perfectly matches the meaning of it? My only complaint would have to be that it's way too short, because such a good song would deserve at least half a minute more. "Rainbow", the next track, follows the trend of sounding like othe groups because Amber's rapping (?) in the intro sounds very YG-like. Is this not actually a 2ne1 song? Did SM steal this from YG? To be honest, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this song. It's just so confusing, and I don't know whether I like it or not. I think if they got rid of the YG sound and just allowed the better parts of the song to take more place I would like it more but as it is now I'm not a huge fan. Different can be said for "All Night", because it is just fantastic. This smooth, relaxed disco inspired jam will get stuck on your mind instantly. It's very retro indeed, clearly borrowing sounds from past times in music history, but the result couldn't have been better. All the girls sound great, the melody is infectious and the music seems taken straight from any similar sounding 80's track. However though, my favorite part of the entire song is when Krystal sings "But the don't really feel you". I don't know what exactly, but there's just something about her delivery that just make me wanna repeat the part over and over again. Also, Luna's high notes at the end are pretty spectacular too.

There's a lot more funk and energy in next song Vacance, as it relies heavily on guitars to create the song's identity. The word "Vacance" itself is French for "vacancy", which is not too surprising, and the song is about going on vacation so everything makes sense. It's very summery and the lyrics even more so, as it describes the free, happy spirit of going away without any plans and living each day as it comes. There are some nice quirks to the song like Amber's "Hey Buddy", and those type of random lines are really what f(x) sound is all about to me. It's a bit whimsy and loony, but it's unique and separates them from other groups. Following tracks "Spit It Out" and "Boom Bang Boom" are songs that just seem to blend together for me. Both feature some type of electronic music breakdown and awkward rapping, and I am not a big fan of either. Not to say there's only bad things about them, but none are really my type of music. I think "Spit It Out" would make a great live performance though with an awesome dance routine, but as a audio experience only it falls a bit short. "Boom Bang Boom" is the better out of them though, as it has more of a melody and features more singing on the members' part. There are some strange transitions here as well, but there are also some nice parts, like the powerful repetition of the song's title. I also love the ending with Krystal saying "I love this song", which is another example of these kind of lines thrown into f(x)' songs. While I could do without those two songs, I could not so without "Dracula". I just love how completely shamelessly devoted the song is to its concept. Like the title, it features everything a horror-inspired song would sound like. There are screams of terror, spooky ghost sounds and even an organ playing whilst Luna and Krystal take their turns at the creepy pre-chorus. Everything about this track is so well done, and the production value seems really high too. The chorus is really simple but the "Dracula-la-la-la" part is amazing and I went around singing it all day after I first heard it. Personally, this is hands down the best song on the album, and one of the better songs f(x) has ever done too. While it might be a bit too extreme for other groups too try because it's so dedicated to the vampire theme, it fits this group's image just perfect.

While "Pink Tape" had "Goodbye Summer", this album has its own summer anthem in "Summer Lover". Unlike the former, which had a theme of regret and felt utterly bittersweet whilst still really beautiful, "Summer Lover" is rather upbeat and a lot happier as well. As the title of the lyrics imply, it tells a story of enjoying all what summer brings with your crush, and I can totally imagine it in my head when I listen to it. The instrumental has all the required sounds and effects to create that perfect summery sound, and while it's not the most memorable song there is, it has it's charm. "Red Light" comes to an end with "Paper Heart", and it's really the kind of closure an album like this needs to have. The lyrics are raw and honest, and reflect telling your loved one you have a heart as fragile as paper, so they have to be careful so that they won't hurt you. For a final track, I don't think they could have chosen a better song than this one. It's got a lovely instrumental to convey the feeling of the song, and is lot more pop-rock than their signature electronic sound. However, it still manages to fit the general sound of the album, and it shows just how many different genres f(x) can pull off yet at the same time maintain their own colors.

Truth be told, I thought I was going to be really disappointed with this album because my expectations after last year's album were too damn high, but I actually really liked this one too. Nothing will ever be able to surpass "Pink Tape", but "Red Light" is pretty darn good as well. I have heard many worse albums released so far this year, and I have found many new songs on this album that will go straight to my playlist. I really believe that f(x) has with this album, found their own sound and now know for certain what kind of music they want to release.  It's truly fascinating how they have such a distinct signature, yet are able to try various sounds and styles and still remain true to their identity. This album is cohesive and all the songs seem to flow together naturally, but at the same time they all sound so different from one another. Even the songs I personally don't find too appealing still feels necessary and totally in line with the music f(x) should be doing right now. I really, really hope SM can give these ladies their first solo concert, because let's face it, they now have plenty of song longing to be performed live.

Highlights: Milk, Butterfly, All Night, Dracula, Paper Heart
Least Favorite: Spit It Out, Boom Bang Boom
Total Score: 4,2/5

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