Nov 5, 2015
f(x) Saves K-pop Once Again With Brilliant Fourth Album "4 Walls"
It's been decided. The ladies of f(x) are the actual queens of K-pop. With every single comeback they confirm that they're my ultimate female bias group, and they also confirm that they're one of the best groups out there in terms of putting out quality music. I guess you could say it all began with their 2013 album "Pink Tape", a game-changing album for them which to this day also remains my favorite, because it made people realize that f(x) might be onto something out of the ordinary. The year after they dropped "Red Light", which also was incredible and now they've come back with "4 Walls". There's nothing more to say but that f(x) has completed their holy trinity of albums.
The album opens up with title track "4 Walls", which shares the same name as the album itself. The song is composed by LDN Noise, who also had a part in some of the other songs on the album, and you might recognize that name from another SM act's recent comeback song. Yes that's right, SHINee's "View" was also a product of LDN Noise. It's fair to say that without knowing this fact you still might have guessed it, because the songs are very similar. They would both fall under the category of Deep House, as they've been described, and are both songs that aren't typically brought to the mainstream surface by K-pop idols. I personally loved "View" so it's obvious I would like this song too, but I actually might like it better than its male counterpart.
The similarities are uncanny, yes, but there are differences as well. "4 Walls" is ultimately a lot more relaxed and chill, as the tempo is a bit slower and the soft and airy vocals during the chorus add another level of mystery and whimsicality to it. Although both songs have longer instrumental parts I have to say I like "4 Walls" backing track a whole lot more, and the chorus of the song is way better than "View", whose chorus was my least favorite part of the song. However comparisons aside, this song is a really, really great track and it does make sense for f(x) to release it too. They've been doing experimental electronic pop music for a while now and something like this did feel like it's been right around the corner for them to try out, and they pull it off flawlessly.
The following song is called "Glitter", and I was a bit confused when I first heard it. There just seems to be a whole lot of things going on in it, so it was hard to place and understand initially. It's quite a low-key song with a softer, calmer sound, but at the same time the background music is very ecstatic.
Someone pointed out to me that the verses sound like the opening theme for "Rugrats" which is completely true, and the entire song kind of has that same vibe. The downside to that is that it at parts sounds a bit juvenile and childish, which feels out of place with the sound for the rest of the album. I do think the chorus is alright and I like it when the guitars kicks in, but apart from that it doesn't do that much for me. I guess that's what you get with f(x) and their experimental and unique sound, it can either be a hit or a miss. "Glitter" falls somewhere in between the two, but I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's a bad song. It's just not one of their best.
In some ways it reminds me of "Step" from "Pink Tape", but this one definitely has more energy and is I think easier to just dance to. I literally can't wait for it to be performed live, because it will without hesitation get the crowd jumping up and down. I don't know what else to say but that "Déjà Vu" is an amazing song, and although this EDM genre might be somewhat new to them they feel so at home with this kind of sound. This group just has a way of applying their special signature sound to all songs they get, and I truly appreciate that about them.
Up next is "X", which is one of the album's most sensual sounding songs. It features a heavily distorted bass that pulsates throughout the entire song and keeps it afloat, as well as saxophones that give it a little something extra. The layering of instruments and beats is very well done in the song, and for being a such a laid-back track it's quite musically complex. The chorus in particular is what makes "X" memorable, as it has a captivating chorus and main hook in "Chemical X". The use of going from sultry, dark vocals to airy falsetto lines is one of the points of the song that truly draws you in, and the outcome is very sensual and mature. Personally "X" is not entirely my taste of music but I can't deny that the song is a great tune.
"Rude Love" on the other hand is exactly my taste, and it is by far the best song on the album in my opinion. Here, again, we have LDN Noise being part of the composing team, and it appears every song he touches does turn into gold. "Rude Love" is also a dance track by all means, but it rings reminiscent of 90's club music instead of a modern-day EDM sound.
The synths, the growing beat and the powerful keyboard as well as the wonderful vocals all come together to create this masterpiece, and apart from having an amazing instrumental it also has a fantastic melody and chord progression. The verses are dynamic and growing with intensity and the chorus is like heaven.
The longer instrumental part near the end also feels very typically 90's and I'm so happy they didn't resort to adding vocal lines in there just because of the standard musical formula but let the music play instead. This does mean that the song is a bit on the longer side, but I honestly wish it could've gone on even longer.
I get seriously reminded of f(x)'s earlier material with "Diamond", as it's more of a down-played EDM track with a instrumental drop for a chorus with layers of vocals added as the song progresses. We saw songs with this kind of structure in "Red Light" as well, but I can't help but to feel like "Diamond" does sound a bit more mature and clean in it's musicality. It's not clattered with noise or beats, but has a very clear direction and built.
I like both the verses and the chorus, but the bridge that builds up to chorus is what gets me. I love how it suddenly becomes quiet with a very minimal backing track and makes room for the vocals to add intensity, and both Luna and Krystal sound beautiful here. "Diamond" has definitely been a grower for me personally, as I felt kind of meh about it at first but later came to really like it. However that seems to be the case with these type of songs, as both "Boom Bang Boom" and "Spit It Out" off of "Red Light" didn't impress me at first but now I love both of them as well as this one.
One of the most interesting songs on "4 Walls" is "Traveler" featuring Zico, which by the way is a combination I never would have guessed would even be a thing. There's also this weird contrast between the two acts as Zico's featured rapping is more on the aggressive side, but the ladies of f(x) sound very calm and soothing.
Additionally it all comes together with this odd backing track, which is built mainly on this really strange beat as well as other added percussion samples. It sounds odd, because it is fairly out of the ordinary, but it works. The song is, despite Zico's feature, a very chill track with light vocals and a melody and chorus that pulls you in completely. I personally am a bit on the fence about this song, because it's just so strange yet still really great. I love the vocals and the flow of the song, but I wished it was a bit more dynamic at parts. However it does fit the sound of the album and it's appreciated that they toned it down a bit in between all these fast, upbeat tracks.
There are many things that sit right with "Papi", from the spelling out "B.O.S.S, C.E.O" to the hook: "Papi let's go! Cause I kind of like it", and I love that they've brought back the kind of sing-talking in the chorus. Especially Krystal's and Victoria's voices shine in it, as they lean more on the nasally which gives it a bratty, playful vibe that for me is as f(x) as it can get. Even Amber's rapping is on point, and that's usually a hit or miss for me. It's such a shame the song is only three minutes long, because it's so fun and energetic and easily one the highlights on this album.
"Cash Me Out" is the second final track on "4 Walls", and from what I've read it has some history behind it. Originally this song was meant to be on their 2013 album "Pink Tape", but failed to make the final cut. You might not think it that obvious, but you can atually tell straight away that this song is from said era, which I think only proves how far f(x) have come in the musical development department.
However for that reason it does sound a bit out of place with the rest of the songs, unfortunately. Looking at it from a musical standpoint alone without considering the other nine tracks on the album is on the other hand much more of a happy story. "Cash Me Out" is a pretty great upbeat pop track with a EDM-inspired chorus and drop, and all the members deliver vocally as well, with Amber's rap break being a pleasant surprise. However I can't help but to think that it after all still would have been better on "Pink Tape"
The very last song on "4 walls" is "When I'm Alone", which has more of contemporary electropop sound. Apparently this song was written by Carly Rae Jepsen for her second album "Emotion", but was scraped from the final version and later bought by SM for f(x) to use. The backing track is, I think, really beautiful, and that for several reasons. The sound is both powerful and held back, if you understand where I'm getting at. It has that suppressed intensity that leaves the listener intrigued and expectant, but it never quite reaches that breaking point but instead keeps you on your toes the entire time.
What also makes "When I'm Alone" so great is together with the light, delicate and soaring vocal performances the instrumental creates a very special, almost ethereal atmosphere. Since f(x) really doesn't do your typical grand scale dramatic ballads, which I'm do grateful in ways unexplainable, songs like these are your next best thing. The feeling is the same, but the music is different. "When I'm Alone" is a great song for this album to go out on, and a great pop song in general too.
It's a shame "4 Walls" only has 10 songs, but it does leave hope that maybe there's a repackaged version planned for them this comeback. Either way I'm grateful for the 10 songs that are, because they're just fantastic. This group seems to be going only from greatness to more greatness, since this is the third album in a row they've released that has been of this high quality. All of them have sounded vastly different, but still similar, which I think is impressive.
Highlights: "4 Walls", "Déjà Vu", "Rude Love", "Papi"
Least Favorite: "Glitter"
Total Score: 4,65/5