Although I’ll primarily be reviewing singles, there are some albums that are too influential or strong to not cover. In this segment, I will be spotlighting those standout albums and giving my thoughts on each and every track
After being acquired by Bighit Entertainment, Gfriend have embarked on a new album series that can only be classified by the symbol 回. I have no clue as to what it means but boy has it resulted in some great music. I missed the ball on February’s ”Labyrinth” mini but I thought it was one of the months stronger projects, although the records latter half did feel much more plodding than I would have liked. And while I will forever be thankful to that album for giving me the phenomenal Labyrinth, “回: Song of the Sirens” not only blows that album out of the water, but its sheer presence has pretty much single handedly saved my 2020.
1. Apple (Review)
2. Eye of the Storm
One of the rare songs that actually lives upto its rather ambitious title, the propulsive Eye Of the Storm feels like you’ve been thrown into the middle of swirling typhoon. Not only does the track refuse to let up throughout its near 4 minute runtime, but it’s easily one of the strongest songs the group has ever recorded. The combination of soaring electric guitar, pounding double time percussion and swirling strings come together to create pure musical greatness. It makes perfect use of dynamics by having its more restrained opening verse give way to one of the most grandiose and anthemic hooks the girls have given us yet. It feels destined to soundtrack any number of great sci-fi anime and is the kind of musical bombast that feels tailor made to my tastes. This is the Gfriend I missed and their return is very much welcome. A true successor to Labyrinth.
3. Room of Mirrors
Based purely off the 20 second teaser in the highlight medley, I was ready to call Room of Mirrors my favourite B-side off the project. And while the full track isn’t as great as I had initially perceived it to be, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve fallen head over heels for it. Room of Mirrors is dramatic with a capital D. While it might not be as relentless as some of the albums other standouts, Mirrors manages to easily be one of the albums most classic moments. The melody here is very strong and the inventive production with splashes of horns and especially that post-chorus electric guitar solo are both just exhilarating in the best way possible. Of all the tracks it feels like it could have easily been a single were it released in the early 2010’s. I only wish we got to hear that soaring guitar a few more times.
4. Tarot Cards
Out of all the songs on this album, Tarot Cards feels like the one that would be the most likely candidate to soundtrack an anime. Like seriously, it sounds like a track ripped right out from any great mid-2000’s / early 2010’s Shonen. For someone who basically grew up with this kind of music, it’s like pure catnip to my ears. The harmony rich opening few seconds feel wonderfully nostalgic and actually remind me quite abit of the (great) Pokemon Diamond and Peal soundtrack. This intro moves perfectly into Tarot Cards glorious chorus, which soars with the kind of anthemic and melodic heft that we’ve rarely seen this year. It all comes together to create another showstopping b-side from the girls
5. Crème Brûlée
Ok I’m going to get one thing out of the way first.
I don’t like this genre. I don’t like it all.
This kind of laid back, trap/xylophone infused “bop” has become very popular over the past few years but I’ve really failed to understand why. There’s been a lot of love for Crème Brûlée and some have even advocated for it to be the title track. And while I can understand that it is a pretty decent b-side, in no way do I think a song like this should be given title track status. It’s just too basic, too bland to really have an impact like the best singles do. But while I say this, I actually like Crème Brûlée much more than I initially thought I would. The production is nice and crisp and the girls sound great, imbuing the song with bucketloads of personality. But for me, it’s just one of those tracks that fails to fit in within the context of the album. While the rest of the album has a much more classic pop sheen, this song sticks out like a sore thumb, as is a rather jarring transition from sweeping Tarot Cards and even more from the classic rock balladry of the following track, Stairs in the North.
6. Stairs in the North
When it comes to ballads, they really need to make me feel something. In my mind they need to hit those melodic highs to make them feel vital. Because of this, I end up brushing off multiple idol group ballads without much thought. But sometimes, a song comes around that manages to really connect with me. Last year it was Golden Childs immersive Go Together and this year I think it might just be Stairs in the North. Rather the follow the standard string and piano led template, Stairs in the North goes full on stadium ready rock ballad. It’s one of my favourite styles and the girls sell it with ease. They are one of my favourite vocal groups and the soaring hook wouldn’t work nearly as well without them. The refrain is genuinely one of the most emotive we’ve heard all year and boy does Yuju knock it out of the park. It just hits all the right spots and is another incredible piece of music by producer FRANTS. With this song he’s easily become one of my favourite producers of the year so far. That glorious guitar solo is just the icing on top.
Best Album Tracks
- Eye of the Storm
- Room of Mirrors
- Tarot Cards
- Stairs in the North
Final Thoughts: Gfriend have released what is easily my favourite mini album of the year so far. It’s their most heavily j-pop/j-rock inspired project yet and is the first mini album in a while that I think perfectly capitalises on their skills. Other than my personal qualms with Crème Brûlée, the album is a no filler all killer affair, with some of the best b-sides of the year. If I had my way, the track list would only consist of 5 songs including Apple but I’m definitely not complaining with what we got here. It’s been a while since i’ve been so infatuated with an album and that’s why i’m so happy that the girls have finally delivered something that feels so essential. Stairs in the North is probably my favourite ballad of the year and songs like Eye of the Storm and Tarot Cards are easily some of the years most exhilarating tracks. After some rather questionable and underwhelming decisions from Big Hit this year, “回: Song of the Sirens” is proof that they can still deliver the goods.
Album Rating: A