Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mid-week Music: B2ST's "Fiction and Fact"


So I have been sitting on tenterhooks waiting for B2ST’s first full album, Fiction and Fact to come out. Mainly because I was super impressed with the last three mini-albums they released, and because they released two great teasers. I am trying and failing to contain my enthusiasm here, so let’s jump right into it!



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The album opens with the intro track, “The Fact”. I’ve always said that I think B2ST are suited best for R&B songs, and this is just another example of them proving me right. I like that they give us a good two minutes of intro instead of cutting it short like with “Lights Go On Again”. It follows in that track’s footsteps as well, using a mellow R&B track to introduce their urban pop single. They all sound amazing, which is something I can say about every song on this album. It’s a good way of showing us what’s to come in the album.

B2ST has been on this urban pop tip for their lead singles, starting out slow, going explosive in the chorus and generally being angsty and whatnot. It’s worked for them, and Shinsadong Tigers seems to be refining the sound every time he tries it. I’m slightly annoyed that it took three singles to get to this point, but I think they’ve finally achieved what they were aiming for pursuing this particular sound and style. “Fiction” is a considerable step forward in comparison to and Shock. First of all, and most noticeably, the chorus, instead of being hard and in your face, soars into the clouds on these long, high notes and gives a completely different feeling from them belting out “I can’t hold my breath, breath, breath,” which actually sounds loud and annoying in comparison. It gives the whole thing not only a mature, contemplative feel, but also a sense of refinement: they’ve realized that the chorus doesn’t have to be in your face to be good. Secondly, the piano line paired with the synth is gorgeous, and makes for a much more melodic song overall. It does get repetitive after a while but thankfully it’s interrupted by the middle eight. Speaking of, the middle eight is finally getting good. It actually builds to a climax, and for once I don’t feel like Junhyung is interrupting the singers - he sounds like he actually belongs there. This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album. I’m surprised to say this since usually k-pop lead singles sacrifice musical quality for mainstream appeal, but they came to a good compromise here.



"Back To You" sounds like a continuation of “Fiction” but it resembles their past lead singles a lot more with its punchy, angsty chorus. It’s not bad, but it’s more standard k-pop fare and is overshadowed by the previous track.

B2ST slows it down a bit for the mid-tempo, less electrified and comparably happier song “You”. Dongwoon singing the opening line “I”m gonna make you love me” puts a smile on my face that stays on for the entire track. The song actually reminds me a lot of Westlife, who are fond of those plunking piano chords. I like that it’s happy without being overly cute - it’s a more mature song than their previous ones in the same vein, and I appreciate that.

“Freeze” ups the tempo yet again, but we’re still on the happy train, with a Europop influenced dance track. It actually reminds me a lot of the Korean World Cup songs that came out last summer. Despite the Europop influence it actually sounds very American, though it’s much more complex than similar songs coming out of the US. Overall it’s a very fun listen.

As all k-pop idols use their sex appeal to push units, we are presented next with the obligatory sexy slow jam, “Virus”. Not the best song on the album, but it does its job and the boys sound good. Especially Dongwoon, who’s improved leaps and bounds since their debut. He’s getting spots in the chorus and middle eight and everything. His voice has a great quality, and he’s doing the most with it.

"불러보지만" is a more standard ballad, similar to “I’m Sorry” from their last album. I thought the pre-chorus was the chorus, and got bored, but was pleasantly surprised when the chorus actually hit. This is the kind of song that B2ST has mastered, so while nothing new, it's still a great performance. Here’s where I was particularly impressed by Yoseob. He’s been the vocal anchor of B2ST from the beginning, but on this track he shows how much he’s improved. His vocal control is so much better, such that he doesn’t just hit all the right notes, he holds them as well. He has the potential to be one of the best of the idol vocalists out there, and here he shows that that’s what he’s aiming for.

Finally we get to “비가 오는 날엔”, the teaser track released as a digital single a week before the album, and arguably the best song on the album. I don’t know who’s writing these R&B tracks for them, but whoever they are, they need to keep it up. It’s a melodic mid-tempo ballad which takes full advantage of the vocal talents of the group. I like that it doesn’t sound like any other k-pop ballad I’ve heard recently, which is no small feat considering k-pop’s tendency to plagiarize itself over and over again. It represents a new direction that B2ST could take in their music, becoming more of a vocal group than a dance group. All things considering, I think they picked just the right group of people to make that transition. I’d just give them a year between this album and their next release to work some more on vocals, and they’d be on their way to competing with their sunbaes. It’s nearly impossible for younger groups to compete with more seasoned groups, but if any boy band has the capability at this point in time to make it happen, it would be these guys.

Next we have the unplugged version of "Lightless", a track from the Lights Go On Again EP. This was one of my favorite tracks from that CD, but I hate to say that I’m not loving this version. I feel like they were trying too hard to make the vocal performances interesting, and added unnecessary flourishes everywhere. It’ll likely grow on me, but considering the fact that this album only has ten tracks on it, I think it could have been considerably better. Hyunseung sounds pretty awesome, though – he’s someone who isn’t noted all that much for his vocals, but he’s got great range and control, and really complements the other vocalists. He knows his own voice, and always gives 100% in his performances. Props.

Closing out the album is the orchestral version of “Fiction”. B2ST sure does love their orchestral versions. Stripped down instrumental-anchored versions of tracks can really expose the quality of the songwriting of a song, and here it’s no different. “Fiction” may not be the greatest pop song ever written, but it’s a damn good one, because it allows for you to take out the synths and pops and fill out the soundscape with a harp, violins and... I think, cellos and a clarinet (those more familiar with classical music, help me out here). These complement what’s already there in the structure and melody of the original, making the song sound wonderfully fairytale-like - which is, I’m sure, what they were going for - and a great closing track. I would have liked if they recorded new vocals to go with this version, but maybe we’ll get them if this is ever performed live (fingers crossed!).

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So, was this album the awesomeness I was expecting? Well, yes and no. Once again, the constraints of being in a demanding industry that isn’t very receptive of different musical styles means that B2ST can’t spread their wings as much as I’d like them to, and get stuck in recycled sounds. You really can’t blame Cube for sticking with what works instead of trying out new things, though – B2ST is enjoying their moment in the spotlight right now, and they have to milk it for all it’s worth before the next hot group comes and overshadows them. However, they delivered fantastic vocal performances, and gave me enough newness with “Fiction” and “비가 오는 날엔” that I was satisfied.

Before I listened to the album, I had a feeling that this would be B2ST’s peak – after this they couldn’t get any better. But now, I think they still have some awesomeness up their sleeves. If they would push boundaries more, and continue to develop vocally - currently, Dongwoon, Hyunseung and Yoseob are leaving the others in the dust - they could really blow it out of the water. They have the potential to be the next Big Bang, i.e. the group that sets the bar for quality of songwriting and the pushing of pop boundaries. I think that if they become more actively involved in their music and begin to create music more reflective of their personalities and personal musical styles, like they did on their My Story EP, this will happen.

But forget all that - B2ST has gone from your average mediocre k-pop group to a consistently great group in the span of two short years, and have zeroed in on a great blend of pop, electro and R&B which showcases their talents to the fullest. If nothing else, this album is a testament to their drive, talent and potential to make even better music. Fiction and Fact firmly establishes B2ST as a force to be reckoned with in the k-pop industry - and that's more than most groups can say for their first full albums.

2 comments:

  1. I was a wee bit disappointed by Beast's first full album, too. For awhile now I've thought of Beast as one of the most promising groups in K-pop, with each single getting progressively better. They didn't exactly slip up here, but save "Fiction", this album isn't really popping for me.

    And is it just me or does "You" sound weirdly like "Christmas Vacation"? Yeah, maybe it's just me...

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  2. @MrCKDexter LOL at that song. I get what you mean though. And though I think there are things that could have been better about the album, it's been on replay since it came out. I am in music love. At least until the next good album comes out, lol.

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