I've been pretty neutral towards both groups' previous material as a whole, but there have been moments of glory from both groups in the past - HuH and Shady Girl in particular. But I guess because of those two amazing singles, I still keep my eye on both of them. This time around, I'm not entirely let-down, which is a good thing, but I'm also not entirely amazed and blown away.
4Minute - "Volume Up"
The Lead Single: At first glance, Volume Up is okay at best. It's a lot better than what we got from 4Minute last year, that's for sure, but at the rate they were going, anything would be better. I've been listening to it throughout the week, and honestly, it grew on me. It's still not stunning or anything, but it gets more and more interesting as the days pass. It's not deep like Big Bang's Blue, but you do have to look at how the elements come together, and really make an effort -- Volume Up won't sweep your feet away on it's own. The production is very strong, and the vocal treatment sounds very natural, but still clean -- you hear some lisps here and there, but it makes the song sound as if the girls were singing right beside you. Of course, the downfall of this kind of treatment is that the bad singers, the leader in particular, sound more vulnerable, and because of this I'm sort of worried for their live performances. Not just with the leader, but with the fact that Hyuna not only sings, but sings first. We'll see. The melody itself is pretty, and even if I find the saxophone loop at the beginning and at certain parts quite cheap-sounding, I like how it's actually a vital part of the song and not some random loop they threw in just because -- Jiyoon and Gayoon's high notes mirror the notes of the sax loop. As a whole, Volume Up is a logical step for 4Minute, it's not something out of character for them, and because of that they're quite comfortable with it, enough to give the song punch where it's needed. It works, and that's what matters.
The Music Video: The video made me like Volume Up a lot more, actually. Everyone looks really good, but in the tasteful way, with their outfits and the sets they chose. The magnae looks gorgeous, and it’s one of those rare times that I actually notice looks. The cinematography is gorgeous as well, and it gives the video character. It isn't easy to make a video with character that still looks flashy and tasteful.
The Rest of the EP: The rest of Volume Up is also okay at best, but it takes time and a lot of effort to get to that best. I heard it for the first time a few days ago when I was burned out from writing all day, and it went right through me. When I listened to it again a few days later, it got better. The production is very solid and consistent throughout, the songs themselves aren’t really bad, the material is cohesive, and the execution is fine, but there’s something missing, and that’s my main problem with the EP. It has punch around the edges, but it lacks a wow factor. There are no stunning, show-stopping melodies, and nothing that really blows you off your seat. It’s just okay.
The Notable Tracks: Femme Fatale, and the melodic parts of Dream RacerThe Final Score: 3.5/5
SISTAR - "Alone"
The Lead Single: When news of SISTAR's supposed "new sound" broke, I was really skeptical, and the teasers were of no help, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear Alone this morning, because it really is a different style from their previous singles. I wouldn't say it's a new sound, which is actually a good thing because I'm glad they've managed to keep the SISTAR sound despite shifting styles. Which means that it's the girls themselves who've made their sound, and not the producers behind them. Though I'm really impressed, it's more of a personal preference that I really don't like the SISTAR sound in the first place, because to me it lacks finesse. But "Alone" is one of the better sell-able songs out at the moment, which is always a good thing. I do like how they're shifting towards more real-sounding instruments and singable melodies. I like the piano and drum lines because for once, they don't just sound real, they feel real. Alone (the song) sounds bare if you compare it to in-your-face synth-fests, but I like that about it -- it's a song that's really centered around the melody and how people can sing it, the key words being people, and sing.
The Music Video: Alone is the exact opposite of Volume Up -- it's very sharp, with solid colors, black and white dresses, pumps, red lipstick, and clean cinematography -- but honestly, after seeing both videos I prefer Volume Up, because it's the more creative one of the two. I mean I like the sharpness of Alone, and they were most probably going for classy with it, but again, my problem with SISTAR since day one is that whatever grace they have looks cheap and contrived. They chose the right elements in the cinematography and styling, but they didn't deliver it well. There's a fine line between tasteful and cheap.
The Rest of the EP: I personally enjoyed listening to the rest of Alone more than I did Volume Up. Or rather, I wasn't bored to death listening to Alone. The rest of the album doesn't echo this "new style" they're going for with the lead single, and actually the uptempos sound very generic Brave Brothers, but at least the album is cohesive in the sense that it's still SISTAR. I really like Come Closer, even if it's short, because that melody is gorgeous, and it acts like a bridge from their previous material towards Alone, it sounds like their old material, but it's already on the same wavelength as Alone. No Mercy is okay, it's very SISTAR with the synths, melody and vocal treatment, and it's not boring, but it's also just okay. I'm a bit disturbed by the the title Lead Me, but the song itself is gorgeous. It reminds me a lot of Rania’s “Goodbye”, but with smoother, gentler vocals. I adore the harmonies and vocal treatment, and of course Hyorin’s vocals give the song much-needed attitude. Gorgeous melody, gorgeous vocals, and attitude to boot? I’m convinced.
The Notable Tracks: Lead Me, I Choose To Love YouThe Final Score: 3.5/5
Yes, it’s a tie! Honestly, I didn’t expect it either, but everything considered, 4Minute and SISTAR both have their own merits and faults that differ from each other, and equal each other out. On a personal level though, I prefer Volume Up as a single, but Alone as an EP.