Notes: I wasn't going to review this album, because I was really late in getting around to listen to it, but it's honestly too great to ignore. It's musically the strongest release f(x) has ever put out and it's the best album SM has released so far this year.
The RumPumPumPum MV was meh. With only a few cool shots and little to separate it from the thick of kpop EDM, RumPumx3 was hanging on the coat-tails of Electric Shock's success. It should NOT have been the track to win the MV, the album has so many better choices that it's really quite tragic... Can I get a re-do, please?
Top Track: Toy
Final Score: 9/10
Scoring Notes: technically speaking the average of the 2 scores is 8.75, but I gave them a bonus .25 for the fact that this is an incredible album period, but for f(x) it's entirely unheard of and should be duly rewarded. Not to mention, it is a tremendous step in the right direction for both f(x) & for SM as a whole.
RumPumPumPum is a decent song, it really is, but in the face of all the other songs on the album, it's an incredibly weak title track. Certainly it has a unique sound and it's very well spatialized, but it feels strikingly similar to past f(x) releases, had they been executed with half the care this was. The production values in this are far higher than most of f(x)'s past promotional tracks. Their voices are utilized in ways that actually work for their voices, not pushed or pinched into what SM wants. Rather, what the girls have to offer is taken and manipulated from there. It's catchy and fun, and really a good song for them to promote with, my only really issue with it is that most of the rest of the album is better.
I give it an 8/10: Fabulous!
Shadow is that artsy track for the teaser and it's lovely. Like RumPumx3 it has obviously high production values, the girls voices are used rather than force-molded, and it has a unique sound. It's not my favorite, personally the style is just not one I like, but it moves very well, the melody evolves, the light harmonies are all beautifully additive, the warm under-fill is supportive and interesting. All in all a well done track.
Pretty Girl is fantastically aggressive, and it still makes good use of the girls' voices, which are on the light and airy side of things. The harmonic support for the chorus gives a good feel of strength and the historically wonderful anthem-pulse of 'boom-boom-clap' is thrown in very well, to push the rebel / celebration idea.
Kick is another aggressive song. It fits their traditional style a bit more than the rest of the tracks, merging aspects of their recent synth-heavy EDM with LaChaTa's strong rhythms and vocal push, the instrumental sections get a bit repetitive, but not quite enough to be actively irritating and the pre-chorus sections are just beautiful. Very well produced and spatialized.
Signal has a unique sound in a fun retro throw. Again, well produced and beautifully spatialized. The harmonies are smoothe and lovely, the melody floats. Melodically it doesn't do too much for me, but it's well balanced,and the members switch in and out with graceful jumps and the chorus . . . gorgeous.
Step brims with tension, right from the beginning it puts a listener on edge. It has a unique, artsy flavor and mixes the light and smoothe melodic vocals with rhythmic sound effects and the solid feel of Amber's raps well. The harmonic evolution through the verses is fantastic. Lyrically it's not the most interesting, but it's very fun. The bridge is breathy and breath-taking in all the right ways, and the transition back is beautifully done.
Goodbye Summer was not what I expected at all (not least of all because I didn't notice there was a male guest featured before I hit play. . .). It's a more than solid song: harmonically & rhythmically strong; melodically, it moves pretty well, and the call-response is very nice. The bridge is great, showing off obvious vocal talent.
Airplane washes over the listener with a beautiful wash of building tension and beautiful melody. It's absolutely gorgeous in how it moves. The light and airy pre-chorus vamps into the EDM drop well. I personally an not a fan of the first half of the chorus, but I can see how it really does work, and it blends into the the second half very well. The synth pattern in the chorus is very familiar, like achingly familiar. I can't remember what it from, but I've definitely heard that pattern before, which is another reason I'm not simply melting over this song. It's so well done that were it not for my gnawing 'where have I heard this?' feeling, I'd be a puddle of goo. I think it's from an IAMMEDIC song... maybe Perfect? or maybe One? NOPE, WAIT IVE GOT IT!! It's Spectrum. It's the chorus from Spectrum, which makes sense, since SM bought the licensing from Zedd last summer and can't be bothered to write new music when they could recycle.
Toy really should have been the title track. Structurally, it seems all over the place, at least at first glance, but each section is logically strung together, the first verse push a certain sort of tension and the chorus pushes an entirely separate sort, both are then brought together for the second verse a light melodic rap which is just spectacular, and the chorus comes back to push the high melody feel, broken elegantly into my Amber and an EDM break that utilized synth strings to build an edgy, orchestral sophistication of the candy-pop melody the synths take in the next verse, which has bounced back to a rhythmic focus to finish out just how it started. It's a gorgeously cyclical journey of musical progression. And as for an MV . . . oh it could have been beautiful, halfway between Electric Shock and (SNSD's) Gee with a throw to (2NE1's) I Don't Care . . . there could have been rag-doll choreography and over-done make-up and masks and mannequins and magical reversals and time-freezes and maybe even a murder (or at least curses and evil magical trickery bits)!! Oh, it really could have been incredible.
No More is another retro throw, this one even further back. Melodically it's absolutely lovely; and harmonically, it's even better. It's arranged to let their voices set neatly in the middle of the mix, which is tricky with voices like theirs. The song doesn't really go anywhere, the bridge is more like a landing on a staircase or a random streetcorner mid-journey than anything else, and it circles back around without any decisive evolution, but it's really lovely to listen to. The melodic change at the end almost alludes to a destination, but it doesn't settle enough to make it a solid idea.
Still, great track, fantastically fun to listen to.
Snapshot is yet another unique track, lounge-y and still solidly a dance track with just a bit of jazz and blues. It has a fantastic attitude and great aggression. The chorus is the weakest link and it's still strong enough to get me grooving. Technically speaking, it's on the weaker side of things, especially on this album, but it's one that I just happen to really like.
Ending Page is a great power ballad sort of song. It has clear roots in the success of Beautiful Stranger, with a very similar melodic and rhythmic base, but the chorus lets the voices stretch and soar in a way that Beautiful Stranger can't touch. Harmonically, it's gorgeous, though it repeats through the song rather than develops. The acoustic touches are well done differentiating it further from Beautiful Stranger while linking it up with the rest of this album (namely Goodbye Summer). It's a great track to end with and it's a fabulous thematic finish to the album.
I give them an easy 9.5/10: BLISSFUL!
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