In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past week, you should know that EXO is back!
With a massive 800,000+ in pre-orders, their fourth full album ‘The War‘ was released last week. The album contains a total of nine tracks including the title track ‘Ko Ko Bop‘. The album quite rightly dominated the charts in many countries around the world in the hours and days after its release.
With this album EXO continues to push and morph their style both musically and aesthetically. Whilst listening to the album, it soon becomes clear that the changes in EXO’s visuals aren’t the only thing new. Instead of a complete overhaul of their tried and tested sound, the group’s new direction seems like a natural artistic progression while still succeeding in keeping things fresh for their fans.
Track 1- The Eve
The opening track of ‘The War‘, ‘The Eve‘ showcases the groups delivery which owes much to the production styles that overtook the mainstream music scene last year. The clever use of vocal chops and future bass establishes a new sound that we haven’t seen on previous EXO albums. It has strong R&B overtones adding layers as it progresses ensuring that the song has a smooth execution. From the muffled drum kit to the soprano sax all the elements combine to provide EXO with a sound platform from which to launch the sultry vocals.
‘The Eve‘ is a great song and a fit introduction to the evolution of EXO.
Track 2 – ‘Ko Ko Bop’
Let me start by saying I LOVE this track.
‘The War’s‘ title track ‘Ko Ko Bop‘ is a tropical house, reggae influenced pop song which was produced by Australian producer Styalz Fuego.
Whilst I love this track, it does suffer a little from an almost confused fusion of styles and production. There’s the obvious reggae influence, but then there are the hip-hop elements that create a somewhat harsher, jarring edge to the track combined with the tropical house feel and the solid pop base. Being so strongly influenced by the reggae style this song is quite-laid back in its approach and flow. This allows members Suho and Chen to embellish the song in an unhurried manner while Sehun and Chanyeol provide the contrast with their aggressive rapping.
Track 3 – ‘What U do?’
K-pop loves the 90s right now and let’s face it, who doesn’t?
‘What U do?‘ is a great EDM track which showcases nearly every member of EXO. The pureness of Baekhyun’s voice, the smoothness of Chen, and the deep resonance of Kai’s voice are all on show in perfect unison. Having said that, this song is a club banger through and through. The production on this track is slick but loose, which allows for the vocals to soar.
Track 4 – ‘Forever’
I don’t know if EXO have just incorporated a lot of 90s and 00s music into their playlists, but those styles have definitely flavoured this album and this track. ‘Forever’ takes the edginess of ‘Monster’ to a whole new level. There are unexpected chord changes and dark punching raps. Their voices are the stars of this track with the repetitive synth track only adding to highlight their vocal strength. The result is a clean but stark track that is both pleasing and disturbing in the image it presents.
Track 5 – Diamond
It’s clear from the outset that ‘Diamond‘ is the experimental track on the album. It starts out a little strangely with a definite and resounding crash, which felt more like an ending than a beginning. Defining a genre for this track it’s difficult, nonetheless, the track manages to mesh an EDM feel with a middle eastern influence and a dash of hip-hop for good measure. They all clash and crash together to give the track a fresh and vibrant feel.
Track 6 – ‘Touch It’
‘Touch It‘ is easily my favourite track on the album.
The blend of funk and new jack swing is perfection. ‘Touch It‘ is a downright groovy track. The simplicity and cleanness of this track is where it shines. The track moves along at a fairly even pace with the help of the strong bass line and percussion elements. The backing vocals and ad-libs are a definite highlight of this track. There’s almost a Bruno Mars feeling to this track.
Track 7 – Chill
If a song starts with a retro 8-bit sample you would be expecting great things right? ‘Chill‘ for me is the weakest of the tracks on the album (although weak is a harsh term), but it could just be that this track is trying too hard to be too many things.
The track jumps through so many styles and genres, going from glitch, contemporary pop production to a bass -driven hip-hop switch up near the end. It’s a little too hectic, and seems to be a bit of an experimental song. The difference in styles of each of the members is very evident in this track and that is the part that works for me.
Track 8 – Walk on Memories
Every good K-pop album needs slow tempo songs, and ‘The War‘ is no exception. ‘Walk on Memories‘ is a well-crafted smooth R&B track that utilises the members’ vocals beautifully and harkens back to the soulful ballads of EXO’s past releases. The chorus is a stunning example of how beautifully EXO is able to harmonise.
The track has an introspective vibe running through it, and possesses a sweet and mellow sadness whilst being a bit of a sleeper track.
This is the track that reminds us that the individual members of EXO are wonderfully emotional and soulful singers and that they haven’t lost their edge or passion despite being a part of the giant K-pop machine that is SM Entertainment.
Track 9 – Going Crazy
‘Going Crazy‘ is the perfect closing song to ‘The War‘ experience. The song just gets it right and it puts EXO fairly and squarely back in their lane (in a good way). The production is perfectly in balance with all the other elements of the song, which is the problem that some of the other tracks have. The instrumental on this track is beyond stunning.
EXO delivers on the hype and anticipation that greeted the announcement of their comeback with ‘The War‘. They have given EXO-L’s a powerful and complete experience in remaining true to their solid back catalogue sound while still pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new sounds and rhythms to ensure that the final product is slick and unique.
What are your thoughts on ‘The War‘? Do you love the whole album or are there tracks that are still growing on you? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Written and edited by Narelle
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