1. Track List (43)
Who Is The Next Big Girl Group Internationally: ‘[X X] – EP’ Has Me Thinkin’ LOONA
I can always count on the genre of K Pop to provide for me the greatest variety of music per album – you folks at home should really give South Korean music a chance. Play just about any album of hundreds out there, and you will find at least one song that speaks to you, even if you don’t speak the language. This is exactly what happened when I came across LOONA and their album X X – EP, all because I heard one single called “Where You at” which absolutely blew my mind – leading me to this exceptional girl group. Big announcement y’all – Western girl groups absolutely suck right now. K Pop is where it has been at for years – as they push the envelope by including a whole host of genres in their catalogue, mixing several genres in one song often, and always delivering very impressive vocal harmonies on top of that. What do we got in America or the UK? Fifth Harmony and Little Mix, respectfully? Is Fifth Harmony even together anymore? On hiatus right? Well, should they come back as Forth Harmony sans Camila Cabello, I am skeptical that their rather one-tracked R&B Pop could move me as much as LOONA’s diverse styles – not all 100 percent perfect mind you, but all noble efforts in an industry that has dozens of such girl groups also pumping out good music. I don’t see that type of industry competition happening in the West anytime soon – yet I’m happy just to redirect my attentions to Korean Pop if it is going to continue to sound this amazing – filling the void that has persisted since the absence of real nineties R&B girl groups such as TLC, En Vogue, Changing Faces, and SWV. These groups had a special romantic quality that a group like LOONA has clearly studied, if you peruse the sounds of their other albums, yet on X X – EP there is a bit less throwback instrumentation and a bit more modernity, such as Trap and Future Bass sounds. Whatever style they tackle though, I have been delighted by them even more than my usual go-to groups TWICE and AOA.
Well Crafted Future Bass, New Jack Swing And Electro Pop Sounds Dominate On This Charming EP
On “X X” the metallic synth chords strike and pulse in a great set up for a brief Electro Funk arrangement, the type of vibe that puts a smile on my face because it is so busy yet the great notes are shaped in a way that you can feel them individually coursing through your body. I am an absolute sucker for these bouncy swingy buzzing beats – and if I could switch up one aspect just a tad, I would let it breathe just a tiny bit more rather than have the sounds exploding quite so frenetically – yet this is Future Bass at work, and should totally peak the disciples of that ADHD style. This is but an appetizer anyways, as the song is 48 seconds long – but my attention is definitely peaked. Familiar finger snaps and an ascension toward some hyperactive Future Bass notes lay down the ground work for track two “Butterfly”, which, if I am to be my typical overcritical self, I must admit a few tweaks are in order before we can discuss the doper aspects of the track. Certain lines could use some tightening up; “you just fly like a butterfly / taking me far away, wings wings / just like this fly like a butterfly / sounds of winds blowing around my ears wing wing wing.” Here, the pronunciation is I feel unintentionally funny, where the girls lilt up on the ‘wing’ parts in the same manner that silly folks on the dance floor say ‘wooh ooo’ to a disco song. But besides that caveat, this track frickin’ bumps, and I’m not even the biggest fan of Future Bass, yet when done in a manner where the core rhythm is not too chopped and screwed, I can move to it. On “Butterfly” in particular, I love the crack of the downbeat, and the bubbliness of the bass line as it follows a New Jack Swing note pattern that, as is clear from the dope choreography in the video, really can animate some dancing. Of equal interest are the lyrics which have a great descriptive feel; “it starts with a small flap / now, inside my heart, a hurricane.” The physics of cause and effect are analogous with the increasing thrill of love inside the human body. I just don’t hear anything close to this exhilaration happening in today’s American Girl Pop – even listening to Ariana Grande’s new album “thank you, next” – where track after track of urban posturing and beats with no melody persist – all fine styles in small doses, but a drag when overdone on what is supposed to be a ‘Pop’ album. Wouldn’t we all rather dance than to just bounce like a bunch of intoxicated IG models. Thankfully groups like LOONA are hitting us with those dance routines and sounds that showcase girls being girls and not trending faux trap queens.
Some Lessons In Rhythm
“Satellite” bumps with faint chords that are vaguely similar to Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo” on the hook, as the ladies sing harmoniously (and translated here); “I’m hovering still I’m your planet / until the time I reach towards you / come closer / slow down the gravity / so that even fate can’t stop us.” Has anyone out there noticed that K Pop songs’ lyrical content often anthropomorphizes the inanimate. My theory is that culturally, it is still not all that cool to write explicit lyrics into South Korean music – the type that would get too steamy or physical. I swear though, if it wasn’t for the translation, the way that these singers vocalize, moan and breathe, you would think they were talking about getting down on every song, but nope – metaphors are what’s in vogue, and we’re not talking phallic or vulvic metaphors, but analogies foe the heart or soul. I for one am totally for this innocence though – it is what we all came up on as middle schoolers and high schoolers anyways – that sweet butterfly in the stomach feeling. I like “Curiosity” more than “Satellite” as it takes many more melodic risks, approaching the Electro Po theatrics often accompanying songs by funky hitmaker Janelle Monae. Just listen to the falling discordance of the laser zapping harmonies and chords and you will understand the level of jazzy exploration at hand – sounds that don’t really fly in today’s American Pop. Of additional interest is the synergy of a New Jack Swing beat with Trap. Really not sure if I’m in love with “Colors”, because the beat, while intriguing, presents itself as more of a subtle march than a fully realized House beat – truly teasing me by taking the beefiness of the rhythm out for no reason in several places, and just when I’m thinking ‘oh, finally it is going to climax into a dance section’, somebody in the studio went and switched the beat up to a EDM Trap clap where the downbeat is halved – completely killing the desire to dance. And don’t get it twisted – this is clearly supposed to be a dance song, but unfortunately, the competing elements over burden the track. Had to ‘next’ this one.
Is It Cheating If You Are In Love With A Whole Band?
Picking which singer I like most is a lesson in futility, but if I could pick one song to rule them all, it would be the one that turned me on to LOONA in the first place – the excellent ethereal Synth Pop of last track “Where You at”, which touches my heart with each distinct measure. This is not a dance song, but a head nodder, a shoulder swayer, and in my case if I’m not paying attention to my public surroundings – an ugly face maker. My love for this song begins somewhere with the very first damn keynote – as it sets this haunting and charming melody on its course, joined by these 11 members trading off vocal moments until I am plunged into this warm blanket of bold sounds that are recorded at the perfect decibel level to maintain the moody vibe. The beat booms and claps in a golden age Hip Hop way, yet the song remains breezy and even contemplative, as the girls repeat this bittersweet line at the close of each measure, allowing it to fade away with diminishing volume. Always, the notes buzz with intensity, while the harmonies launch and stretch for each emotional note, before falling back to Earth softly like a bird circling downward. I am reminded of the same woozy Electro Pop that The Weeknd is known for, and this just happens to be the friendlier, girl version, as the singers here remember how good it felt to be with their various missing paramours, melancholically asking “everyday made me laugh / I remember your warmth / oh where you at / oh where you at?” I adore the femininity expressed here, and have basically fallen in love with all 11 members through this one beautiful song. Don’t tell them though, as that could get messy.
LOOΠΔ Raises The Bar For What Beauty K Pop Can Achieve In [X X] - EP
Guys, I’ve been curating music as a living for the better part of three years now & writing about it for the last 14 months, toiling away for hours at a time to give my perspective on music both modern & vintage in an effort to understand what it is that makes the world’s most beloved music tick. Naturally, I have my own preconceived notions about what constitutes ‘good’ music these days & I try my best to be as objective as possible when analyzing albums I think are hot garbage that others might love unconditionally, but I’ve gotta tell you, I haven’t heard anything as refreshingly pleasant as K Pop breakout LOOΠΔ’s most recent album X X – EP in a really, REALLY long time – Over the last year or so, the music industry at large has moved forward with an inspiring sense of artistic growth, whether it be the utterly fantastic Self-Titled record of R&B powerhouse Ella Mai, the surprisingly intriguing work of Lennon Stella or the brilliant retro-revival tunes coming out of the new Country music scene from acts like Margo Price, but time & time again these genuinely-skillful artists are pushed back from the mainstage to make room for another round of generic albums from the world’s favourite celebrity personalities, as trendiness seems to have more to do with the success of popular music than true compositional skill. Thankfully, one genre virtually everyone can agree produces nothing but hits is the wonderful world of K Pop, going from niche subculture only a short 5 years ago with a very predictable sound to the hottest commodity in the industry back in 2017, refining itself so much in the years since that the majority of its releases throughout 2018 accounted for some of the best musicianship the industry has seen since the late-nineties; LOOΠΔ is no exception to this melodic progress, representing the pinnacle of Korean Girl Idol groups thus far with a production that’s jam-packed with absolutely breathtaking Alternative R&B jams with a sleek EDM sheen, breaking free of the kitschy genre gimmicks of K Pop’s past with a stellar sound all their own that pushes the genre forward – Sure, bands like NCT U, BTS & GOT7 all made some major strides last year, but with X X – EP, LOOΠΔ take things to a whole other level that helps cement the reality that K Pop artists can exist within other genres without having to specifically adhere to traditional K Pop conventions in their songwriting, making for a more homogenous listening experience for everyone involved.
Love, Sex & Video Game Vibez
Barely even giving you a moment to adjust yourself, the very first track of X X – EP aptly named “X X” thrusts you right into the beautiful electronic world you’ll be inhabiting for the duration of the album, serving as an introductory number that sets the mood for the coming adventure whilst simultaneously existing as a solid groove all its own – You see, when constructing a well-produced album meant to display the songwriting prowess of a given musical group, an increasing number of modern acts have started turning their albums into conceptual pieces, often starting them off with a quick intro track that sums up the track-list with a quirky radio-dial effect or some sort of ethereal groove that lasts for no longer than 30 seconds or so, but LOOΠΔ manage to stretch this staple into a much longer jam 1 minute & 49 seconds in length, allowing the listener to really sink into the beat & feed off the radiant electronic warmth which makes up the basis of the album. You get this dainty yet incredibly-soulful chord progression born entirely of the early-nineties Electronica scene, borrowing tonal-shift elements of Lounge House music whilst adopting the wavy tonal-shifts of the more Funk-based Groove House demographic, forming this soothing backdrop of melodic elegance that’s both sultry & refined; This is then accompanied periodically by some chopped vocal samples with a decidedly R&B feel to them, evoking the sort of charming sensual melodies Aaliyah or Janet Jackson would’ve created in their prime, coming together with the underlying electronic elements to create a seriously captivating tune that sells you on the record before you even get a chance to listen to the remaining tracks – In all honesty, it sounds as if it was ripped straight from the soundtracks of an artsy Japanese racing game like Wipeout or Gran Turismo, seemingly exuding an air of ‘cool’ from its structure that screams high-fashion graphic-design snobbery in the best of ways, which is probably why I enjoy it so much, but I think I’m even more impressed by how effortlessly this short tone-piece assures listeners that they’ve made the correct purchase, letting them know the rest of their stay here on this album will feature even more exciting dreamscapes of laidback nineties grooviness under the lens of modern production techniques; If that doesn’t immediately get your engines rarin’, nothing will.
Making The Plate Look Appetizing
My capital criticism of the Electronic music industry in the last five or so years has undoubtedly been the presence of Future Bass music, a scourge of epic proportions that squandered melodic creativity & grew too popular to control, destroying the very point of Dance music by removing the beat – y’know, what you’re supposed to dance to? – & turning down the intensity to unbearable lows. Though there’ve been a handful of underground mixes that’ve appropriately wielded the style & maybe one or two mainstream hits that properly utilized the underwhelming sounds of this genre, it has been almost entirely detrimental to the progress of Electronic music, quickly fading from popularity a little under two years from its inception, making it even shorter a fad than Dubstep ways in the years prior – Well, I’ve just been served a big fat slice of humble pie, ‘cause LOOΠΔ again prove their creative genius by weaving Future Bass ideologies into a compelling Alternative R&B number called “Butterfly,” taking the bubbly reverse-pops of the genre’s snare-hits, the dorky low-end sizzle of its Casiotone synth basses & the brittle resonance of its soaring string-synths to make a mesmerizingly grandiose backdrop upon which the girls sing ever-so-coyly, injecting the breathiness of modern Tumblr-chic Synth Pop & its liberating narrative charms into the mix with delicate vocal melodies you can’t help but adore whether it’s your sort of aesthetic or not; Furthermore, the lyrics of said narrative break from K Pop norms by being a lot more poetic & interpretive than usual, promoting a storyline in which the listener is encouraged to literally spread their wings & fly, giving in to the voice of possibility as they learn to appreciate themselves & break free of the societal bonds that hold them – women, specifically – down, which is then supported further by an accompanying music video that continues to stray from the ‘desirable’ path of K Pop productions by featuring women of all races & creeds – including those of colour & some in hijab – expressing their emotions on-screen in interesting ways, either through dance, fear, crying or solidarity with their fellow-women, all things you almost never find in K Pop videos of the past. I’m not going to attempt to break down the intricacies of gentrification that’ve led to K Pop’s success & even existence as a genre, seeing as it’s been an especially-damaging entity to the African American culture at times, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important this exact moment is in LOOΠΔ’s career as they’ve positioned themselves with a single song to break through many of the barriers the genre has set up for itself, simultaneously paving the way for the next wave of K Pop Girl Idols likely coming next year to be even more open-minded & progressive in the way they tackle social issues through music, thus deepening the bond between international peoples & aiding Korean women in ways they’ve never been allowed to promote before through K Pop.
Do What You Want, But Just Keep It Funky!
Looking back, I know a lot of my gushing for LOOΠΔ’s X X – EP might seem a little disjointed at times, so let me just try to sum up why I think it’s such a special album worthy of being put on a loop in the background as you enjoy a nice lazy day at home feelin’ good about yourself – The whole K Pop machine has grown immensely in recent years, with each consecutive release pushing the genre-fusion envelope more & more, but as good as the scene’s heavy-hitters may be at dropping elements of R&B, Rock, Electronica & even Latin aesthetics into their tracks, it ends up being nothing more than that; A collection of songs that carry elements of a genre without having any sort of identity of their own. Where LOOΠΔ really grab my attention is in their ability to not just imitate your favourite genres but improve upon them with subtle changes here & there that also fit thematically with the overarching atmosphere of the album itself – To elaborate, songs like the intoxicating “Satellite” sound exactly like a feisty slow jam from the days of TLC, “Curiosity” slows things down with a more late-noughties Selena Gomez sort of femininity & “Colors” pumps the soulfulness up to Kehlani levels of hype reminiscent of Dance Pop jams from only a year ago, yet all three tracks are more than mirror images of their influences because they’ve each been tweaked to appear much more upbeat & flirty than their reference materials, sharing a singular electronic identity that’s equal parts Hip Hop instrumentalism & Wavy Synth Pop, thereby changing the overall aesthetic to one that feels fresh & exciting in comparison to the aging genres they all borrowed from; In a sense, they looked at what all of these genres were missing in their current iterations & applied a thick layer to each of the only appropriate solution: Danceability – Suddenly, the subgenres we’d grown tired of in the last few years all have a new set of legs to run on, with the upbeat rhythms, bright soundscapes & endearingly hopeful narratives of LOOΠΔ’s X X - EP being the jump-start the industry at large needed to start driving in the right direction. Now, I don’t expect LOOΠΔ to become an overnight success capable of toppling Justin Bieber & Demi Lovato from their place atop the mainstream pedestal, but if enough of us just vote with our wallets & support stellar creative ventures such as this, we might be able to save the music industry from total annihilation yet!
3. Official (24)
4. Audio (39)
5. Live (16)
6. Featuring Remixes (22)
7. Albums (16)