Feb 23, 2016

Winner's EXIT:E Is The Beginning Of Something Great

It seems that YG's current preferred method of promoting its artists are year-long projects with multiple comebacks, although with a connection between them. Big Bang was first to do so last year with their "MADE" series (M,A,D & E being the four single albums), and have yet to release the full album with all the songs hopefully as well as some new ones. YG's rookie monster group iKon also did the same thing last year, with first releasing one half their first album "Welcome Back" and later releasing the full thing whilst promoting different songs off of it continuously.

In 2016 it seems that Winner will be given the same treatment, as their first album release "EXIT:E" is supposedly part of a greater project called the "Exit Movement". With three MV's released as well as a pre-release single I feel like most of the album has been covered already, but I thought I would dig even a little deeper into the tracks on "EXIT:E".

The very first track on the album is "Baby Baby", which I like to think is my favorite out of the two main promotional singles this time around. At first listen I wasn't a huge fan of either of them, but the more I listened the more I fell in love with "Baby Baby" and "Sentimental". I suppose the main reason I was left a bit unsatisfied was because it sounded so unlike K-pop, and although this doesn't automatically make a song bad nor should I have expected Winner to suddenly switch to a more public-friendly K-pop sound, the result was still that I was taken aback by the tracks. "Baby Baby" is a really chill, relaxed song with a bluesy sound, and it isn't a genre that the group have done much in the past. However listening to it now it sounds like it's all they've ever been doing.

"Baby Baby" is in all seriousness a very sad song, and although the instrumental isn't necessarily the most sad sounding it does have a very emotional quality that definitely adds to the overall sound. It's basically about the deepest kind of loneliness, and not necessarily about missing a significant other as much as it is just about feeling completely abandoned and not wanting to feel that way. There's an empty hole that can't be filled, no matter how many girls they hook up with or how many drinks they pour down. I wonder how sad the members must've felt writing this (Taehyun especially, since he's the most credited composer), because the lyrics are genuinely heartbreaking.

The members' clear vocals and rap are well executed as well in the way that they add to the song's gloomy mood, and I love the harmonies both between the vocalists and between the rappers and the vocalists. The final chorus has to be my favorite part though, with an instrumental that after much growth finally explodes together with Seungyoon's powerful belting and Taehyun's pained vocals. Overall I find that the song is a definite grower as I like it with more and more with each listen, and with the super high production quality of the track it certainly isn't one to be skipped.

"Sentimental" is the second song on the album as well as being the second promotional single. The track shares many similarities with the previous one, as its instrumental features many of the same instruments and has a similar lightness to it. Neither of the songs are very heavy or powerful in the sense that there's lots of instrumental layers or loud sounds, but "Sentimental" is arguably more upbeat and quick compared to "Baby Baby". However it's still relatively chill and easy to listen and get into, probably even more so than the former.

Mino and Seunghoon recieve more spotlight here with their respective rap parts, but Seungyoon and Taehyun do most of the vocal work with Jinwoo having a few lines as well as a surprisingly pretty bridge at the end. All of them sound clear and strong here, and Seungyoon's adlibs at the end are always enjoyable. Lyrically the song also deals with the issue of loneliness, and it does seem like Taehyun was in a bit of a slump because he is once again the main composer, but this song is not as depressing as "Baby Baby". It's more about the frustration of missing someone and not quite knowing what to do with yourself as you feel restless and drained of energy. All you can do is sentimentally stare at the ceiling and think back to when you had that special someone by your side.

Finally on the album there's a Seungyoon composed song, and it comes in the form of "Immature". Although both him and Taehyun are skilled songwriters I've always liked Seungyoon's songs more, and I also like his style better because he's a rocker at heart just like me. I'm still angry that the wonderful "Smile Again" that he wrote was changed from a pop-rock track to an electronica one for the album, but this time the same mistake hasn't been done, thankfully. Since none of the previous songs make use of barely any electronica beats or samples a rock track like "Immature" fits in quite well. I must say though that it's not my favorite song of his nor is it my favorite on the album, but it's still a really fun track.

The lyrics of the song are hilarious in themselves, but also a bit sad if you think twice about them. The members make it clear with the lyrics that they're fine with being a bit immature even though they're practically adults, and although their ID cards say differently they still feel and occasionally act like they're still 12. This is definitely something I can relate to as I feel the same way now as I did when I was 15, which is now five years ago, and also the fact that growing up is scary and sometimes it's easier to resort back to that childlike immaturity. What the track certifies though with the lyrics is that none of the boys care what you think and if don't like them being their immature selves you can screw right off. This attitude translates directly in the song's rocky, upbeat instrumental and the members' cocky delivery, and that's what makes the track so fun. It's even more fun and energetic when performed, as proved by this amazing live performance below.

Up next is this album's solo track "I'm Young", and it is once again Taehyun who's both the singer and the composer. It's also this mini album's only real ballad, and in many ways it reminds me of Taehyun's solo "Confession" on their last album "2014 S/S", which probably isn't that odd since it's the same man behind both of the tracks. "I'm Young" is another sad song that's about a painful break-up and not being able to let go, and Taehyun himself even confessed that he wrote the song after going through a real break-up.

He delivers lyrically here as well and the song's instrumental is beautiful with the right balance between being dramatic and minimalistic. It's not too OST-like (meaning over-dramatic and generic) but it still possesses those valuable quality that a good ballad needs. Where Taehyun doesn't deliver though is with the vocals, and that's why I can't fully get into it. His voice is certainly one of a kind, and sometimes I like it depending on the song and context, but other times I don't. Here I think he sounds even more nasal and whiny than usual, and somehow manages to butcher his own song. Truly a disappointment on such a great ballad, in my opinion.

Finally we've arrived at the fifth and last track on "EXIT:E", which is the pre-released "Pricked". I loved this song almost immediately when I first heard it and it still remains my favorite out of all the tracks they've released so far this year. Taehyun gets to share the spotlight with Mino this time around, as the song is a duet between the two, but they complement each other in a way I would have a hard time seeing for example Mino and Seungyoon doing. Taehyun's light, nasal tone with Mino's dark, husky voice is a great combination, and they play off each other in an impressing way. Mino even sings in it, and he sounds fantastic.

The song itself starts out as mid-tempo guitar track where really only the guitar and their voices are heard, and I would've been fine with that all the way through but with the last chorus another gear is put in. The instrumental is complemented with more layers of guitar, drums and ad-libs, and it definitely lifts the song and gives it that final push. Being a song of, once again, broken love, this one is more hostile and bitter but definitely still very emotional and heartfelt. It's without a doubt a fantastic track, and a great way to end the album.

"EXIT:E" is, as we know it, meant to be the first of more upcoming mini albums (probably similar to Big Bang's "MADE" promoting method) and from what I've heard it's marvelous way to start the project. What I've noticed compared to their last album is a big maturity in the songwriting and also an improvement in production quality, which makes the entire album sound a bit more polished and refined.

"EXIT:E" is also beautifully cohesive as all the songs blend in perfectly with each other, both musically and lyrically. Sure, there are maybe a few too many songs about break-ups or loneliness and that Taehyun is behind almost all of them might seem a bit repetitive, but I definitely don't find the album monotone or one-dimensional. If anything it makes me look forward to their next one, and hopefully other members will shine the same way Taehyun's been doing here.

Highlights: "Baby Baby", "Pricked"
Least Favorite: "I'm Young"

Total Score: 4,15/5

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