Music Review: EXO "XOXO"

I have written about EXO quite a few times at this point. There's the post I did on their Debut Showcase, and also on their Debut Album. So while I know that EXO can be a sensitive subject to write about, I wanted to review their comeback as well. It's been a while since they released anything new, in fact it's been about a year since MAMA. I've ranted before about how I wished they would have completed some teaser songs and made a Single or Mini album in-between (but I think SM probably wanted to build hype for the return). Sure, making things for two groups is difficult, it's just that I wish they would have as much music out as the other groups that debuted when they did. Mainly because I'm a big fan of theirs - hence the many reviews - and really wanted completed teaser songs. But on the other hand they were honing their skills and making the return as great as they possible could. I want to say that from the start so I didn't need to mention it later, and I can focus on the here and now. They're back, that's all that matters!

EXO's First Full Length Album "XOXO", released June 3rd 2013! 

Since I wrote about the group before I'll keep the introductions short. THere are two sides to EXO, in case you didn't know. EXO-K is the Korean speaking part, and EXO-M is the Mandarin speaking half. Just like their logo has six side, each half has six members. If you count both versions of Wolf on this album, there are twelve songs, which is pretty cool! (Their debut album had six songs.) EXO-M members: Lu Han, Tao, Chen, Lay, Xiu Min, and Kris. EXO-K members: Kai, Se hun, D.O, Baek Hyun, Su Ho, and Chanyeol. Even though they release they same songs and Music Videos, each group adds their own unique flair to it. They debuted with SM Entertainment Spring of 2012, releasing several teasers before their Music Videos and album. At MAMA 2012 they won the award for Best New Asian Artist, and they already have a huge and dedicated fanbase, even though they haven't been around that long. Needless to say, there's something special and intriguing about this group.

I have to say that I like the cover art, etc. for this album better than their last. I love the concept and play on words for the title, the XOXO theme was really clever! Also, these are probably the best looking school type photos out there. I really wish mine looked more like this, and not so awkward. It's still laid back like their previous album photos, but they don't seem as stiff this time around (In that review I mainly pinned that on the director of the shoot, rather than the group. They looked great in the ad campaigns that they did, yet the poster looked awkward.) Most of all, their fans seem to love the stickers, photobook, and album art. That's the most important thing. Their new album does not feature all of the songs from their original Teasers. It does, however, feature new songs that we didn't see coming. I am a bit disappointed not to have all the teaser songs after a full year. Yet if I look on the bright side of this, I can say that this means they are planning to keep them around for a while. They want to slowly release the teaser songs and make them the best that they can. (I would love to hear El Dorado right now, but I'll have to wait.) Maybe it will be better than ever if they take their time, who knows? Let's hope that they won't take another year for their next album though, that would not be fun. Once again, at least it's a full album and there are songs that I've never heard before, mixed in with a few original teaser songs. So let's stop wishing for things that aren't here yet, and move on to the music!

- Wolf (늑대와 미녀/狼 美女)

First, let me say that the opening clip is very similar, if not the same, as the one used by other groups. I really just need to get that out of the way. I wish they would have used a different sounding clip, but I suppose there aren't many to choose from so I can understand the choice. (It just makes it confusing when I have music on shuffle.) I love the traditional opening music for the song mixed in with the growls, that's what made the wolf theme their own. In the Music Video they did some awesome things with the silhouettes and the dance, along with their usual flashy visual effects. Their different styles and voices are cut together making the song sound a bit like a mashup. They did a great job making each part sound distinct, while allowing the song to flow without sounding too choppy. I especially love the bridge of this song, with the simple piano progression in the background layered with the rest of the instruments. I also really love the dubstep part near the end and how all the previous lines skip and overlap. The song sounds so different and the video is just as unique. I don't have a favorite version when it comes to this song, both EXO-K and EXO-M did an equally fantastic job in my opinion.

- Baby, Don't Cry (인어의 눈물/人 的眼)

This is probably my favorite track from this album. When I heard this song for the teaser they released, I was instantly in love with the song. (Can I just say that the way they left the sound of the clothing snapping during the dance is my favorite part about the teasers?) I replayed it so many times, so to have the full version makes me really happy! Have you ever heard a song that just makes your entire body want to move? It's an uncontrollable desire to dance because instead of simply hearing the song you feel it. That's what this song makes me feel. It's almost ironic that this song makes me feel like crying whenever I listen to it, in fact I usually listen to it when I'm about to cry. Some people say that this song is based off of the original Little Mermaid story, and I have to agree! (Not the happy Disney one, but the sea foam one.) The lyrics are so honest and beautiful that they touch and break my heart at the same time. One of my favorite lines from the song is, "When you smile, sun shines, the brilliance cannot be expressed with the boundaries of language." (Admit it, if someone said that to you, you would probably explode with happiness.) If you understand the lyrics and are musically emotional like I am you probably burst into tears the same way that I did when I heard the full version. The vocals in this song are astounding and are what really make it what it is. The Rap during the bridge that's done in that deep, hushed voice sounds so great next to the higher range of the other members. Their singing is especially sweet and emotional in this song, which is why it is one of my all time favorites.
As far as K vs M I have to give my honest opinion. Although I love the sound of Mandarin in this song and how poetic it sounds, I am partial to the Korean Version. This is probably because of the original teaser that I have this preference. It may have gone either way if M did that teaser, but I do really like both versions.

- Black Pearl 

This song has a theme of pure desparation. As a sailor that's searching for the "Black Pearl", the most precious kind out there, goes against storms, tides, and danger to find it/them. While the previous song has a slower and simpler piano based background, this is a synth type song that reminds me a bit of Techno or House music. There are different electronic styles used, so it's hard to really nail it down, especially when part are mixed with a more pop sound. (Does that make sense or am I just rambling at this point?) The song sounds muffled in the beginning and you hear steady electronic strings come in as is get clearer. It sounds very adventurous in a way and the music simulates the waves crashing against the boat. The harmonies in this song are great and EXO sounds so great when they sing in sync. It sounds very different from the other songs, and is another one off the album that really stands out.
Between K and M, I like the Mandarin version more. The language suits the music more in my opinion because it's a little sharper sounding than Korean. Especially during the part when the voices skip with the music. Also, I especially like the vocals of EXO-M in this song.

- Don't Go (나비소녀/蝴蝶少女)

My favorite part of this song has to be the background vocals. They did such a great job with supporting whoever was doing a solo at the moment and making the song sound overall more etherial. Another part that sounds that way is after the chorus when they sing the , 'Wooo hooo hooo" part. It's one of my favorite vocal aspects from the track. Why does it need to sound etherial? The song, as far as I can tell, is about falling in love with an Angel or Angelic like being. After the man falls in love he doesn't want the Angel to go, or that he can at least come along if they have to leave. The love and fascination is so strong that all fear is forgotten and caution is tossed out the window. The music has a nice balance of Pop, Rock, and Acoustic elements that's just strong enough without overwhelming the singing. (Certain parts remind me a little of Cho Yong Pil's music for some reason, so I wouldn't be surprised if the composer is a fan of his.) The more I listen to this song to more intriguing I find it. There are so many little elements in this song that you don't notice the first few times, and it becomes more complex every time you hear it. This is the type of music I love. It has enough mystery to keep me engaged, but I can also just sit back and enjoy it if I choose to.
I do like the K version of this song a little bit more. I like the way Korean sounds with the music better, but not by much.

- Let Out the Beast

The album goes back the the opening theme in a way with this song. You already heard the song Wolf, and at this point it's almost like a transformation song. The lyrics really make this a "bragging song". You know, the type of song that talks about how great, amazing, and famous the singers are. I'm not trying to say it's a bad thing necessarily, because a lot of the artists who do songs like this can back it up. In a way you get to see things from their side of the stage with an edgy, electronic sound. You get a peak into their world, from the fear to the excitement. It may be a song about their abilities, but I think it can also bring the fans closer to the group as well.
For this song I have to say that I prefer the EXO-M version to the EXO-K one. For faster songs I tend to prefer the more cut and quick sounding language. (As you may have noticed)

- 3.6.5

A guitar starts off this song and builds the pace as the other instruments slowly join in (including a Cow Bell)! So many elements join in for the first minute until it starts to have a Brit. Pop influenced sound. There is such a bright, summery feel for this song which is different from the previous, edgier tracks on the album. I'm not a One Direction Fan or anything, but I still really love this. It's so energetic and makes you want to jump around and enjoy life! The lyrics and vocals are simpler, while the music really takes the foreground (to me at least). It's easy to sing along to and the harmonies are really spot on.
When it comes to which version I prefer, I think I do like the EXO-K version a little bit more.

- Heart Attack

This song has much more of a manufactured sound than the others. The music is mainly synthesized and they used effects on the vocals. This gave it a more futuristic sound that's machine enhanced. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this is a bad thing! There's something eerie about it that adds to the fantasy element of the song. It's a bit like a modern fairy tale amongst the classics. Even though they added effects to the voices their ability does shine through. It's more of an artistic use instead of a crutch. I especially love the deeper vocals near the close of the song; even though it's only a few lines it really elevated the song for me. The music itself sounds very smooth even though it's electronic and has such an individualistic sound that it's difficult to describe. Let's just say I'm really impressed and can't get enough of this song and leave it at that.
Honestly, I like both versions equally! I cannot pick one over the other but they both sound amazing.

- Peter Pan (피터팬/彼得潘)

It's time to fly off to Neverland! There is something truly magical about this song that makes me feel like I'm being whisked away. First, I want to talk about the lyrics. They are so adorable and I think of them as a story of childhood love. For example, one of the lines is basically, "[I was] the mischievous rascal that bothered you a lot". They think that the girl is prettier than both Wendy and Cinderella, and how much he misses her. It's like going through a storybook of memories that they had together, and about the hope and faith that he has that they will meet again. There's a playfulness to the music that matches the lyrics perfectly because it has a sense of childhood innocence, and also a twinge of pain that they are in the past. It's such an expressive song and it's easy to get sucked in. At the bridge they have a rap breakdown, which we didn't get to hear in the past couple songs. It flows well with the rest of the verses, and is overlaid with powerful singing halfway through. The higher range used in this song is perfect for a childlike song like this. Not to mention that I love hearing how much their can push their abilities.
Between Korean and Mandarin, I like EXO-K's version slightly more. For some reason it captured my attention a bit more.

- Baby (第一步)

Throughout this song you hear traditional oriental instruments sprinkled here and there. It wasn't overdone, but it still added an interesting twist to the music. This is like an R&B inspired ballad, with really sincere vocals. Something about it is so calming that it makes me feel relaxed. The lyrics are romantic and are about loving solely one person. Several times they say, "I only see you", and are devoted to loving her. (I guess a cheesy way to put it would be that the lyrics are "Swoon-worthy".) Although it's not as well known as their other songs I think that it's on an equal level. T harmonizing he is really well done, the music has a distinct sound, and the vocals are soothing. You can tell how much effort was put into this song each time you listen to it.
Once again I can't pick a favorite version because I like them both equally! It's difficult to choose when both halves are so talented.

- My Lady

I fell in love with this song when I heard the Teaser a over year ago. (Not to mention how sick that dance is!) This song is smooth with a Jazzy rhythm that just won't quit. Believe it or not, this is a song about being in the Friend-Zone. All the man wants is for the woman he loves to see him as a man and not just a friend. They don't want her to be their friend, but their Lady. The contrast of high and low ranges gives everyone a chance to show off, while still blending into one another. Along with the fast and slow pacing throughout the song it switched things up while still staying in the same genre. The opening of this song is my favorite part of the song by far! The music starts of by being very sparse and focusing on the singer, then the snaps come in which give it a very classic vibe. As it moves forward there's a more modern take with the different instruments and fast paced Rap sequences. Also, I really love the "Chocolate" line in the first version and the way it's pronounced. It suits the overall mood of the song draws me in. The track is a wonderful blend of the old and new and is exactly the type of music I love. I'm still deciding if I like Baby Don't Cry or My Lady better, but it's quite the tough choice.
As far as the choice between EXO-K and EXO-M's versions go this was pretty easy for me. I am partial to the Korean take on the song. I like the flow better and the overall sound of the voices together with the music.

That's it for this album! It's pretty long so it took me forever to write this review. The Fairytale and Mythos theme for this album was brilliant and really executed well. Disney isn't the only interpretation of these stories that you should love. I've always enjoyed reading books by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen so I'm very partial to the use of the Classics. Listening to this album is really like taking a journey through childhood memories that you relive as an adult. You'll shoot to the second star to the right, and can listen to this album until morning! (At least I did!) Anyways, I recommend listening to this album at least once and giving it a try! You can purchase both takes on this album by EXO on iTunes for around $25! It seems like a lot, but it is 24 songs after all! (You could always pick out a couple of your favorites as well.) You can also buy the physical variety on Kpop Plus, Yes Asia, or your personal favorite K-Pop store for around $30-$35! Or simply pick one album from your personal bias for half that price. Either way, there are plenty of options when it comes to purchasing something from EXO!
Thank you so much for reading this review and I hope you enjoy this album as much as I did! Please let me know your thoughts on this album in the comments. Which versions do you prefer? Which songs are your favorite? Do you like this album more than Mama? It's great to discuss these things and find out what other people think, so don't be afraid to say it!

See you next time you jump down the Rabbit hole,

(PS: I feel so bad about my absence lately, and how late this post is. I've been plagued with Writer's Block, heavy work hours, crazy stress, and being sick these past couple weeks! I wish I would have published more things for my readers to enjoy... Hopefully I can go back to my regular schedule, and thank you for your patience!)