If you had told me in September after Dalmatian's debut, that I would be raving about the mini-album they released six months later, I probably would have laughed in your face. Yet here I am, about to tell you just how much I enjoyed listening to the first EP put out by a group named after the dogs that got famous from a Disney film. .... I can't really believe it, but clearly the creative minds behind the name of this group were not involved in the music. And for that, we can all be extremely grateful.
Even though I make jest of their name and concept, I like the fact that Dalmatian as a group really owns their identity. They went all out with the dog gang sign and the woofs with their debut track, "Round 1" with no shame whatsoever. They also have this weird hip-hop copy-cat swag that always looks so awkward to me, yet they seem completely at ease with it on stage. They're a pleasure to watch on stage, really - dynamic and engaging, such that you have as much fun watching them perform as they seem to have performing.
Anyway, with the establishment of their "doggy dogg" persona over with, and with a full album, the group really gets down to the business of showing us what they can do. And man, I was blown away. With three (!) rappers and three vocalists, they face the difficult task of combining their individual styles in a cohesive way, and THEN making that gel with a mainstream k-pop audience. Yet they succeed amazingly at finding a good common ground. A commenter compared one of the tracks to Big Bang's sound, and I have to agree - both groups straddle the pop/R&B/hip-hop spectrum very comfortably, though these days BB's sound is much more electronic.
Dalmatian take a fun, playful approach to their lead single, "The Man Opposed" and skillfully weave in rapping with the vocals while maintaining the confession-style vibe of the song. I like that it's not overly simple or cute because it's a love song by a boyband - it's got a decent amount of complexity, but is still catchy and appealing. Plus the video (linked above) is pretty funny as well. They cross-promote that with the obligatory autotune single, "Lover Cop", which I'm not particularly a fan of, but Jisu sounds great on it.
After the lead singles, they get into my favorite track of the album, "Lost In Love". They abandoned the playfulness to take on a more serious topic of getting back the girl they lost, and what comes out of that is a great pop song - no frills, nothing particularly innovative, just great rapping, great vocals, all tied together with a good instrumental and a much-appreciated reduction of vocal processing. It's the kind of song that used to be very common in k-pop, but has been abandoned for more processed, gimmicky stuff. Jisu's falsetto in the chorus just manages to not be annoying, which is a feat. It helps that he's harmonizing with Daniel and Yeongwoon, who have lower registers, but still, that could have gone really wrong. He's got great voice control for a rookie. I wish they had taken a chance and promoted this as their lead single - I think it would have been well-received.
On "Really Really", the rappers take center stage with a sweet mid-tempo R&B/hip-hop track which any young rapper in the US right now would snatch up in a heartbeat. It's catchy, with good verses from the rappers and an instrumental that really could make any rapper sound good. Not to discredit the rappers though - Dari, Inati and Day Day know what their doing, and deliver appealing verses that I can see myself singing along to in the near future. The featured singers, Jisu and Sohyun, complete the package nicely. This song could easily be put together with all those rap-sung collabos that were all over the place in the early 2000s. They're less common nowadays, but it's always a pleasure to find a good one like this one.
The vocalists get their turn next with the R&B track, "Real Eyes" which is really, really nice. It actually reminds me of a OneWay track with its classic soul/R&B vibe, and that is a good thing - we need more variety in k-pop! The three vocalists each get their chance to shine, and then come together with some lovely harmonies (Yeongwoon sounds particularly good here). Again, it's not reaching new frontiers in music, but it is a great interpretation of an already established musical style.
Finally, there's "Home Run" which reminds me a lot of "Round 1" (the bonus track) - the playfulness is back, with some autotune, and a chill beat which doesn't particularly capture my ear. The singing is really the only think that keeps me going with this one, particularly Daniel - his voice is one of those that you just have to pay attention to, because it's got a lot of depth to it. I could do without the song, to be honest, but I do like the little 80's ballad-esque intro at the beginning - I was expecting a completely different song to follow when I heard that, lol. I'd love to hear them do a ballad in the future, though - I could see it working out really well, even with rapping.
I've been listening to this album all week, and it just doesn't get old. I know I've gone on and on about originality and doing something new, but to be honest, I really appreciate songs and albums that aren't particularly innovative, but are just executed really really well. And this album has most definitely been carefully put together and executed perfectly. Most importantly, however, it stays true to the character that Dalmatian have established for themselves as a group. Being able to capture the identity of a group musically can give a song and an album a sense of individuality that you can't get from a new sound, out-there instrumental or new-fangled special effect. And it's that individuality that, in my opinion, helps groups stay on in a music industry where boybands are a dime-a-dozen. I predict (and hope for) a long successful career for these guys if they keep up the quality of work in this album. In sum, I'm a fan. But you won't catch me dead singing any "bow wow wows" or wearing spots. There's only so much I will do in the name of fandom, and that is a line that I shall not cross.
Bonus clip: Dalmatian performing their remix of Tamia's "Officially Missing You" on M! Rookies - this was the performance that really made me take them seriously as a group. No gimmicks, no concepts - just music.