Wednesday, June 27, 2012

[album review] the koxx - bon voyage

The Koxx - Bon Voyage
released: June 26, 2012

1. 사랑춤
2. Take Me Far From Home
3. 소음 속에 사라진
4. Truth or Dare


It took five full listens for me to realize exactly what was bothering me so much about this EP. It wasn't because it was bad (it's not). It wasn't because of the wrong English (should be used to that by now). It was because I realized that The Koxx has grown. The band that I always thought would make danceable, electronic garage rock party tunes that were never too serious has matured and released an EP that seemed to say "we're done fooling around now, this is for real". You pay more attention to it and it's almost scary, as if the band has been planning this all along.

there are sunny days ahead, don't worry about it  - 사랑춤 (love dance)

The Koxx has been enjoying immense popularity for a band that's only been around for two years. They've developed a huge following in the Korean indie scene in no time, with extremely dedicated fans. Their popularity abroad has been incredible too, with many k-pop fans becoming interested in their music. So as someone who has listened to them since their first EP Enter and was used to their head-bopping, guitar-heavy electronic rock songs with sometimes questionable English lyrics, this release came as a surprise. There was a sense of calm to it; the title track sounded nothing like their previous hits Trouble Maker and 12:00. The whole album, with the exception of the last track Truth or Dare, was actually really... quiet. It was nice to listen to, but it was not something I was expecting from them. So I was sort of disappointed after the initial listen. I decided that Truth or Dare was my favourite track, because it was the only track that showed the side of The Koxx that I've been looking for...

Many people agreed with me as well. People over at Naver Music and on DC indie gallery seemed to be disappointed with the album. Certain after seeing other people's reactions, I was going to write a negative review of the album, although there was still something there that irked me.

And then here's what happened. I wasn't too confident in my opinion on this album. So I listened to it again. And again. And after the fourth listen, I decided that I needed to revisit their previous albums, to find out exactly what was bothering me so much. It was only after I listened to their whole discography, watched all their music videos in order, that I realized that this album wasn't bad or "unlike" The Koxx I was used to... They've just matured. I was witnessing The Koxx grow into a greater band. 

It all makes sense when you go back to the very, very beginning. The Koxx's first album, Enter was almost too bold in its execution, with songs that sounded unpolished and sort of experimental. It was still a good release though, because the album was still hip in a rough, untouched way, and the sound was something that we haven't heard much in the Korean music scene. Then came Access OK. It was a fantastic album; it cemented their image and made clear what kind of sound the band was pursuing at the time. It was filled with fun songs with crazy guitar riffs that got me me on my feet.

But now that's done and done. And The Koxx's new ep, Bon Voyage, is a great way to say goodbye to the old, childish Koxx and say hello to the new, much more mature Koxx. In their previous albums, it was definitely Sooryun's guitar that shined and carried the songs. Sooryun is a phenomenal guitarist. The guitars in Access OK were so incredibly complex (and loud), at times it seemed even disharmonious with the rest of the instruments. I didn't realize that until I went back to Access OK after listening to Bon Voyage. I even found it difficult to listen to some songs on Access OK because the guitar was so overbearing. In Bon Voyage though, the band is more in tune with each other. Sooryun still plays a huge role, there's still the catchy guitar riffs, but here he's toned it down when necessary, as can be heard in 사랑춤. Even in the more upbeat song, Truth or Dare, it's not too in-your-face. And especially in the song that Sooryun wrote, 소음 속에 사라진, it's only prominent when it needs be, and the result is a full, pleasant electro rock sound that really shows the band's maturity. The second track, Take Me Far From Home has impressive beats and takes great advantage of the percussions (you go Saron, you go!). Different from their previous albums, which sounded like something I'd play during a party, this album is more of an album I'd play in the car after the party, driving home.

Their sound in general is more developed in this EP. And a lot of it is thanks to the vocal Hyunsong's improvement. He sounds a lot better on this album, somehow. He sounds absolutely fantastic in 사랑춤 and 소음 속에 사라진. He still retains his energy in songs like Truth or Dare as well. He still has that twisted annunciation thing going on, but it isn't as annoying as it was in Access OK. ("열둥시강됭명응 문을 당능당" never forget.)

Another thing that really shows improvement is the lyrics. There's definitely more Korean on this album. Something that really turned me off from The Koxx sometimes was their English lyrics. Too often there were grammar mistakes, and compared to the impressive Korean lyrics of songs like 술래잡기, Fire Fox, and 얼음땡, the English lyrics seemed too superficial, just there to sound 'cool'. When's the last time they a full song in Korean?! 소음 속에 사라진 is sung entirely in Korean and its lyrics are beautiful. It's quickly becoming my favourite. (Not just because I have a Sooryun bias and Sooryun wrote the song) Even more, their English has really improved. There are still the occasional mistakes but not as frequent as in Access OK.

Now, with Bon Voyage, it almost feels like the band is telling a story of sorts with their whole discography. I've been trying to express that in this overly long post, but it might not make any sense with my incoherent writing. If you watch their music videos though, it might make more sense. Let's take a look at three main singles (excluding Oriental Girl, as it was the 2nd single of their 1st album after the first single) from them and look at their overarching themes. Trouble Maker from Enter show the band getting ready and heading out to a gig / a night of drinking. It boldly shouts "we are the trouble makers". Then, 12:00 from Access OK shows them at the pinnacle of the night (which I assume is midnight, from the song title), enjoying themselves at a bar, picking up girls - "the door closes at 12:00". Then there's 사랑춤 from Bon Voyage which depicts the band returning home from a crazy night, ending with the band catching a breath beside a river (Han River, I think)... "there are sunny days ahead, don't worry about it". 

Bon Voyage is a significant turning point for The Koxx. I almost feel as if I shouldn't take it as a standalone album; it's a conclusion to its predecessors, and the introduction to the music that is to come. If Enter was the band's loud entrance to the party, Access OK was their way of enjoying the party and having some fun. And now the party's over, and the band is saying Bon Voyage as they take on a new "journey". We don't know what that "journey" will be; it might be another party, somewhere else, not too different from the one we were just at. Or it might be a whole different thing. Nobody knows yet. We will though, with the next release from The Koxx. We will know then what kind of journey it will be from there.

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