We're doing things differently for this review, however, as I've employed the help of a very, very close writer/blogger friend of mine, who many of you probably know, if not from my long-winded Twitter conversations with her and McRoth, from from her work over at Seoulbeats, and her own blog. I've known Ree long enough to discover that we're practically twins in terms of a lot of things, our taste in music included. That and Ree is an amazing writer, hilarious, and she's also younger than me, which I for one can't believe most of the time because she writes so well.
We'll be doing a lot of talking for the rest of the post, so I won't stall anymore. Knock yourselves out!
Nikki: When I first heard the chanting at the beginning I giggled at the English.
Ree: ...It's in English?
Nikki: LOL yeah. something about "heartless motherless shoot anonymousklsafjsh", I think.
Ree: For me the problem with this song is that it tries to be an epic and rising-gods song, but in the end it just comes off as overbearing and tacky. I mean it's K-POP! Who's going to listen to this on the radio? Can you just imagine poor civilians going on with their lives then this ominous chanting comes out of nowhere?
Nikki: I'd start freaking out. Their vocals are so stiff. I mean I get that it's supposed to be edgy and whatever, but they sound bored. And again, we don't even know if they can even actually sing it.
Ree: The song also sounds rather outdated for today's K-pop. I thought SM were over SMP, but apparently not. I could give this to DBSK back in 2004 and no one would blink an eye.
Nikki:Was it you who was telling me that it sounds like Tri-Angle with modern production?
Ree: I've said a derivative of that?
Nikki: I was honestly kind of waiting for BoA to pop out of nowhere.
Ree: Hahaha XD
Nikki: But then, I don't know if it's just me but DBSK did it with much more conviction and emotion.
Ree: Personally though, I hated Tri-angle.
Nikki: I was neutral. It's okay, but they've done far better.
Ree: The only "SMP" track I sort of like is Don't Don, and that's because they toned down the 'epic' a bit.
Nikki: Oooh Don't Don. I liked that too. It's as if MAMA's some sort of satire of the two. Whenever I listen to it, the chanting and a lot of the other elements like the growling are more funny than they are "epic".
Ree: I think the MV sort of adds to how hysterical the whole thing is. I mean, Kai's facepaint. Boy, I won't lie, you're so hot, you get my blood running. But seriously???
Nikki: I was genuinely shocked when I saw that part. And the legend with the "tree of life" and the planets aligning (?) was borderline ridiculous
Ree: It reminded me of the opening for Avatar. The only good thing to come out of the MV is the elemental!EXO inspired fanfictions that I expect to come out.
Nikki: I know! Avatar or Kung Fu Panda.
“What Is Love”
Ree: Anyway, I think we've torn into MAMA enough. What do you think of What Is Love? Yoo Young Jin ft. EXO-K
Nikki: It was the first "prologue" single, and honestly, I thought I was listening to a Yoo Young Jin demo. This was the first full EXO track SME put out, and people equate it more to Yoo Young Jin than EXO themselves. Which is stupid.
Ree: I think I may have been more impressed if YYJ's RnB compositions didn't all sound exactly the same. I feel like I've heard this song at least a million times before.
Nikki: He just changed a few synths and notes here and there and BAM, you have What Is Love. Even with the vocals -- the technique, the modulation, everything. They don't sound like the teenagers they're supposed to be, honestly.
Ree: Actually, you make a really good point. This is what I wrote when I heard the song for the first time
But What Is Love could be sang by any other SM power-vocal group, SM The Ballad, KRY, SHINee, DBSK, and I wouldn’t even blink an eye — but that’s that’s pretty much the deal with most of YYJ’s RnB creations. In fact, I think the latter four bands would do a better job of making it their own. Which although expected since they’re more experienced, is also not wanted because this is meant to be EXO’s song. … Everything about this song is so obviously from YYJ’s womb, there’s nothing about it that makes it special to EXO.Nikki: Which I half-expected from SM, honestly, but the other half of me was hoping that since EXO are SM's shiny new boy band, they'd put in a bit more effort and originality. Honestly, I'm more concerned with their vocals than I am with the song.
Ree: How so?
Nikki: Because I don't think it's humanly possible for someone to sound exactly like someone else, down to modulation and enunciation. I close my eyes when I listen to this song and all I hear is Yoo Young Jin.
Ree: So you don't think it's really their vocals?
Nikki: I have absolutely no idea. Which again frustrates me because add this to the fact that SM is making them lip-synch everything, and it makes me extremely suspicious that they're hiding something.
Ree: Oooh, maybe it's all a conspiracy?
Nikki: That was what I was thinking! I mean, EXO debuted. People thought they were fit to debut. It's so easy to give them six, working, microphones and shove them on stage. And yet they didn't do it.
Ree: To be fair, SNSD and Super Junior, neither of them sang their first stage live, and DBSK only did half of their debut live.
Ree: And SHINee has been lip synching for this promo cycle too. The almighty SHINee!
Nikki: But I was saying the other day that EXO have so much to prove with their debut. SM made it seem like they're THE big thing this year. But we haven't really seen what that actually is, and they've already made their debut.
Ree: Understandable, but at the same time, SM has always been one of those companies that hype me up and then let me down. So I wouldn't be surprised if this is just another booboo on their part. I mean, do you remember all their troll teasers? Like the amazing teasers for Run Devil Run and Mr. Simple, compared to the full song?
Nikki: Mr. Simple LOL
Ree: DO YOU NOT REMEMBER HOW SEXY THIS WAS?
Nikki: I DO! And then we got Mr Simple and it was indescribably... sad.
Ree: Exactly! So basically, I wouldn't be surprised if this is just another case of hype and little delivery. Except on a grander scale.
Nikki: Which is standard SM.
Nikki: Anyway. History?
Ree: Okay. I love it. The production for it is so top-notch, and it actually reminds me of SHINee back in their Juliette days
Nikki: Surprisingly, I do too. It's my second favorite on the album on personal preference, but actually my favorite if we were talking strictly music.
Ree: Everything about this song is just so clean and tight. It's put together so well, like every little detail is perfected.
Nikki: I love how the melody is smooth, despite the very rough instruments running around all over the place. And it has bite. Much, much more than MAMA. At this stage, I think EXO needs a song that will carry them, like what History did, and not a song they have to carry, like MAMA.
Ree: I agree completely. I think what I also love about it, is that it has kick. It's very modern, and also very rhythmic, but it doesn't try too hard. Not to mention everything about it is catchy, but not redundant. Old school SHINee fit for 2012!
Nikki: It has the potential to be effortless if they continue performing it in the future, which I hope they do.
Ree: So we agree History is a job well done?
Ree: I actually think History would make a great debut had EXO not been so hyped.
Nikki: Yeah. It sounds very confident. The performance is another thing, but as far as the song itself goes, it's confident without being arrogant.
Ree: Now, how about Angel? Personally, it's my favourite off the album
Nikki: It's my personal favorite too. But I hear too much SHINee in it, honestly. With the "hey hey"s in the background, and some of the vocals sounding like Onew. Apart from that, the bridge is gorgeous, and the chorus literally soars. I was listening to it all afternoon.
Ree: That's what I wrote about it too, back when I only heard the two second snippet, it made my heart soar. It's very uplifting and epic, but in the way that it's very unassuming and soft. As for the SHINee comparison, I will have to disagree there. I think that's up to discretion, but I think this sounds very distinct to them. SHINee's ballads tend to be more... colourful, because of their voices.
Nikki: Hmmm. That's true too. And I do agree that it's unassuming. I like that it's sure of itself, even if it reminds me of something else. And of course, you can never go wrong with a gorgeous melody.
Ree: Of course, and the boys deliver really well too. So they can sound great recorded without YYJ backing them, at least.
Nikki: Yeah. I'd pay to see this live.
with Key (SHINee)
with Key (SHINee)
Ree: I'm guessing Two Moons is your least favourite song. If only because there's no actual singing?
Nikki: Yes. I can't wrap my head around it, mainly because of that. All I hear is "two moooooons two moooooons"
Ree: Well, it has attitude, I'll give it that. And lots of spunk, and I'm actually digging how grungy it is. But what sets it back for me is mainly that I feel like it has pretty much no direction.
Nikki: It goes nowhere, I agree, but now that I think about it, the hook was pretty effective. Annoying, but effective.
Ree: The hook is all that I can remember. I think the whole messy aspect is part of the 'grunge' think they were going for, though. But as a whole, I'm not digging the track.
Nikki: Yes but messy can have direction. Kind of.
Ree: I guess either way I'm not feeling this song.
Nikki: Me neither.
Ree: SM doesn't have a track record of great rappers either. Maybe someone fantastic as a rapper could have brought this to another level, but as it is it doesn't stand out. It's pretty much the album's designated filler. It's like it exists to compensate for the rapper's lack of lines in every other track.
Nikki: Which is a pretty okay idea, it's just that they didn't execute it properly.
Ree: I gets pretty good near the end though, at around 2:02
Nikki: When Key shows up?
Ree: Honestly, all of SM's male rappers sound the same to me. But sure, when Key shows up. After the beat kind of drops?
Nikki: HAHAH. At least I think that's Key. Yeah. When the English comes in.
Ree: Speaking of English, what happened to "roll like a buffalo"? I heard it in the teaser but it's not on this track. I'm not pleased. The slightest.
Nikki: LOL. I didn't listen to the teasers.
Ree: ROLL LIKE A BUFFALO. You can hear it clearly.
Nikki: The comments section is all over it LOL.
Ree: Actually, I feel like Two Moons was made exclusively for the teasers, and then SM just decided to extend it at the last minute.
Nikki: It's a pretty short song compared to the others...or not. But in any case, it's the shortest song on the EP
Ree: Speaking of which, why the heck is this an EP? They released like 50 teasers, and only 6 songs come out of it?!?
Nikki: Maybe they ran out of money. Used it all on the teasers. Yeah but the rap on the teaser isn't in the final song at all. Oh, Key's part is there. But the one before it isn't.
Ree: ROLL LIKE A BUFFALO ;_;
Nikki: Why would anyone want to roll like a buffalo? Do buffalos even roll in the first place?
Nikki: Oh. Okay.
Ree: It's struggling. Maybe it's symbolism, rolling like a buffalo is symbolic for the struggle met by EXO when splitting those moons to make that tree of life or whatever they said in that MAMA MV prologue.
Nikki: It's an ugly metaphor though. I'd take Dante over this any day. OMG. Ree. That's hilarious. Maybe the buffalos split the moons.
Ree: :O MAYBE THEY'RE ALL BUFFALOS POSING AS HUMANS?
Ree: WHICH IS WHY THEY CAN'T SING LIVE!
Nikki: THAT'S THE CONSPIRACY!
Ree: It makes so much sense. That's why YYJ is whoring himself out on What Is Love -- to hide their distinct buffalo wails.
Nikki: Maybe their mothers were killed so to take revenge they became humans and MAMA is their revenge. O.O
Ree: THAT EXPLAINS THE ENGRIS -- BUFFALOS CAN'T SPEAK ENGLISH
Nikki: ...they speak Korean?
Ree: They were trainees at SM for how many years? They probably picked a fair bit up.
Nikki: Yeah and they didn't write their lyrics so it's just like everyone trying to sing in Japanese.
Ree: SM Entertainment: Slave mongers and buffalo herders. Exactamundo. Such is the power of the Hallyu wave, its even gone interspecies.
Nikki: And to buffalos of all animals.
Ree: Well, we've cracked the SM conspiracy. You know, maybe they're robotic buffalos? Which is why they're so efficient and robotic with their performances.
Nikki: Maybe they're not lip-synching.
Ree: And hence the song Machine
Nikki: Machine went through me at first, but it's growing on me.
Ree: Agreed. I don't think the melody is strong or distinct enough to stand out on first listen. It's one of those songs you actually have to "listen" to. Not one of those songs that catch your attention.
Nikki: Exactly! The production is actually pretty strong, and the verses are tight.
Ree: The production on Machine is amazing through, it's so nicely packaged and tight. Yes! And I really like the pre-chorus too, there's a lot of strength and conviction in it. I think the hook isn't distinct enough to carry it though. Nor is the melody really catchy enough.
Nikki: It's sing-able though, which I like too.
Ree: It's a good song, but it's the kind that you have to listen for to like.
Nikki: It ends up pretty good though.
Ree: Also, I like the rap portion. It's gritty, but so is the song, so I think it blends in well.
Nikki: Hmm yeah. And I like the middle 8 that comes after it too.
Ree: It's a strong song, in how it sounds. Like History it's confident but not overbearing, ala MAMA.
Nikki: It's definitely in the top half of the album.
Ree: I agree, I'd place it as my third favourite.
Nikki: As a whole, I'm pretty neutral towards MAMA.
Ree: Same here. It's not a bad song exactly, but it isn't really good either.
Nikki: I really like half of the album, but the other half brings my interest down.
Ree: On top of that it's only an EP, so half is only three songs, which isn't that much.
Nikki: Yeah, but seeing how this EP is, I prefer this over a full-length. If they were to stretch this to 10/11 tracks the other 5 would be fillers. And we already have several of them on this.
Ree: I feel like starting with MAMA was a bad choice, because I have trouble listening to it all the way through.
Nikki: Definitely. I wouldn't listen to this album from start to finish again, unless I had to.
Ree: Like for a review. It depends though, I mean really, only one of the songs is a "filler". Well two, if you count Machine which is a good filler. MAMA and What Is Love, I think, were intended to be the 'better' songs on the album but they kind of fell through.
Nikki: MAMA was definitely pushed as a good song. But alas.
Ree: I think the EP as a whole was really underwhelming. First of all, because of all the teasers I've been exposed to, just having 6 songs makes it feel like an incomplete work. Second of all, the title track is probably the second worst on the album. And only three songs actually catchy me attention, and the other three, whist not 'bad', are pretty forgettable. The production is fantastic, but the EP still feels very incomplete and it doesn't really deliver to this whole image we're meant to have of EXO.
Nikki: Agreed. Of course they're a new act so you don't expect them to show a comprehensive report of their sound, but I don't feel like they're making an effort to go towards that. Them, or SM, whoever.
Ree: True, I don't expect perfection, honestly I don't. And for a standard rookie this EP is pretty decent. But the fact is SM didn't push them as 'standard rookies', they pushed them as these apocalyptical demi-god beings.
Nikki: Yeah. Like DBSK. They were pushed as strong vocalists, and their first release did a pretty decent job of showing that, albeit a bit boring around the edges. You had a capella tracks, ballads, the works. And now EXO are supposed to be the complete package, but the album doesn't feel like it.
Ree: Exactly, they just aren't living up to what they're meant to be. Also, it doesn't exactly feel like an official "debut" either-- that 'wow' factor that BAP had going, isn't happening with EXO. And it all comes down to poor marketing really. I mean, it definitely worked to some extent, looking at their already big fanbase. But from a musical perspective, EXO is losing out.
Nikki: It's because they dragged the teasers on for way too long. Sure it built a fan base, but it also raised expectations by a lot more than usual. And SM is already known for not living up to hype.
Ree: Hype hype hype, that's all it comes down to. Anyway, it wasn't a bad EP
Nikki: Everything else aside, it wasn't.
Ree: And the production was amazing, but that's standard SM by now. Also, apparently I'm a minority in this, but I don't think it's as cohesive as I'd liked it to be. MAMA and What Is Love kind of throw things off.
Nikki: It's not cohesive. But come to think about it, when have SM albums ever been cohesive?
Ree: ummm, Lucifer wasn't bad? Sorry Sorry was a great album, though not exactly cohesive.
Nikki: Yes but that's two out of 935835748967489. DBSK's Korean stuff are definitely not cohesive at all.
Ree: True, true. And even then, they weren't cohesive, but it was forgivable because the tracks were great.
Nikki: I'm kind of hoping "it can only get better" applies to EXO.
Ree: Honestly though, they're debuting as "perfection", with this strange apocalyptical sound defining them, how are they going to grow?
Nikki: Yeah. That's true. Although if this is perfection I'm afraid to know what imperfection is.
Ree: I think imperfection is kind of endearing in a way. I prefer my perfection subtle, like Replay
Nikki: I LOVE Replay!
Ree: And even then, SHINee's image was as these bumbly teenagers who had a crush on a pretty noona. There was definitely room to grow with that image.
Nikki: And yes. They pulled it off, that's what matters to a new group, honestly. That you pull off whatever it is you're supposed to be.
Ree: Even f(x) pulled that off, as the quirky little dance group
Nikki: Lachata was decent!
Ree: Too bad it was a downhill slope from there :x But hopefully you're right, EXO can only get better.
Nikki: They should. Fingers crossed.
Our favorite: Angel
Song(s) we'd listen to again: History and Machine
Our least favorite: Two Moons with Key (SHINee)
The final verdict: 3.5/5