Though the Korean music industry is one of the most fruitful, I’ve always found myself in constant search and admiration for albums that adhere strongly to a single genre or concept. Though K-pop is big on concept, very rarely does it manage to carry over from the teaser pictures or mv into the actual album. This segment is all about albums that have bypassed this hurdle and crafted some of the strongest and most consistent collection of genre specific tracks.
Genre: Tropical House / Reggae
Year of release: 2017
Album name: 1st Mini Album ‘Hola Hola’
If there is one big mistake I’ve made so far on this site, it’s my largely negative review of KARD’s latest single Red Moon. Though I still don’t think it’s that great of a track, it’s proved to have an unprecedented amount of staying power over the last couple of weeks. In retrospect, the song should have easily garnered a rating within the low 7’s. I guess I just wasn’t in the best of moods when that track came out to really give it a fair shake. And after the disastrous two shot of Bomb Bomb and Dumb Litty, I had forgotten what I really wanted from KARD.
But this sense of detatchment and alienation from the groups recent musical output has really shed light on their older material. And for a segment that discusses albums that conform strongly to a single genre, there’s no better place to start than KARD’s debut EP, ‘Hola Hola’. Although there are many genre specific k-pop albums much stronger than ‘Hola Hola’, this record is easily one of the strongest to tackle the Tropical House genre. For a genre this oversaturated, it’s a testament to the albums strength that almost every track still feels extremely fresh 3 years on from its release.
01. Oh NaNa
Though not their official debut, the perfectly streamlined Oh NaNa remains one of the strongest examples of pure Tropical house we’ve heard yet. They couldn’t have asked for a better introductory track, fusing a smooth melody with an addictive hook to create one of their most instant tracks. Released just before this particular trend completely took over the industry, Oh NaNa proved to have much better staying power than most of the tracks that came after it. It not only proved that co-ed groups could prosper within the industry, but also release great tracks like this.
02. Don’t Recall
Easily their best song yet, the dark atmospheric slow burn of Don’t Recall was a sharp turn from the more upbeat Oh NaNa. Though the subdued, almost uncertain nature of the verses offers instant intrigue, it’s the excellent hook that really steals the show. Though by this time, the Tropical House genre had really begun to take off, Don’t Recall‘s insanely addictive chirpy synth loop is one of the tracks strongest moments. This is especially evident during the tracks climax, which consists of some truely inspired vocal layering, and an instrumental that twists and turns to subvert the general conception of the where the track is going. It’s a song that rides heavily on ambience, and is a musical direction that would be wise to explore further.
By the time the third and final pre-release RUMOR came along, the Tropical house trend was in full swing. Though the group had found much success with a more pure distillation of this sound in their first two releases, it would have been a wise decision to switch it up. And that’s exactly what RUMOR did, infusing a potent reggae influence with one of the strongest hooks of their career. Though there were touches of reggae in the groups 2 earlier tracks, RUMOR was the song that embraced the genre with open arms. It took the dark ambience that Don’t Recall pulled off so well and laid it over an engaging (yet less memorable) melody. Honestly, this is the type of song that KARD pull off best, and it’s kind of sad that we just don’t get to here this kind of groovy jam from them on the regular.
04. Hola Hola (TITLE)
Their official debut, the fun summertime pop of Hola Hola was a strong, if slightly generic introduction to the K-pop world for KARD. After the groups three pre-releases twisted the Tropical House trend in interesting directions, the rather generic soundscape of Hola Hola initially comes off as rather inconsequential. But just like many great songs, the track has one of those instantly captivating melodies that is bound to stay lingering within ur consciousness long after you’ve finished listening to the track. It’s one of the best examples of an ‘earworm’, and another very strong distillation of pure tropical house into a great summer song. The only thing stopping it from being truly fantastic, is that grating post chorus trap breakdown, which completely takes me out of the vibe, if only for a few seconds.
05. I Can’t Stop
Probably the weakest track on the album, I Can’t Stop combines elements of tropical house, EDM and future bass into a track that works better as a sum of its parts than as a whole. It’s verses are strong, powering the track forward with intent and an engaging melody. The pre-chorus is even better, providing an electrifying (though rather typical) build towards the hook. And this is where we run into some problems. I really don’t vibe with the lurching nature of the hook. It embodies some of the worst and least engaging elements of modern day breaks, into a rather soulless and grating hook.
06. I Can’t Stop (special thanks to)
A strong closer to the album, I Can’t Stop (special thanks to) is the most fun track on the album. Bouncing along on an additive electro bounce, the track is one of the most inconsequential, yet enjoyable songs within the groups discography. The tracks second half, which injects some spoken word samples from the members feels effortlessly fun and down to earth. The layering of the vocals at the climax adds an unexpected amount of anthemic heft towards the track, and ends the album on an extremely buoyant and enjoyable note.
Final Thoughts: Though the number of complete standouts (9+ rated songs) within the albums ranks doesn’t compare to other albums of the same rating, The 1st Mini Album ‘Hola Hola’ really succeeds due to how well it takes a genre as oversaturated as Trop. House, to create a record that feels both cohesive and innovative. Rather than jump all over the place, it’s got a laser beam focus towards what it wants to be, and pulls it off excellently. And that’s what truly gets it over the line into the A band. It truly is a Tropical House classic.
Album Rating: A-