Saturday, October 20, 2012

[album review] Epik High - 99

Epik High | 99
October 19, 2012

1. UP (feat. Park Bom)
2. Don't Hate Me
3. 사랑한다면 해서 안될 말
4. 춥다 (feat. 이하이)
5. 아까워 (feat. 개코 of Dynamic Duo)
6. 비켜 (CD Only)
7. 악당
8. Ghost (CD Only)
9. Kill This Love
10. New Beautiful

note: This review will not cover the CD only tracks "비켜" and "Ghost" as I would never ever shell out $10+ for a physical copy of this album, no matter how much I like Epik High. I just don't have room for that on my shelf.

After the initial listen of Epik High's 99 I tweeted, half-jokingly, "I would rather listen to Block B's new album than Epik High's omg" and although Block B's latest album is nowhere close to being perfect or amazing (more on this in another post), I still stand by my statement. For real. Because this album made me want to hurl something against the wall.

When you've liked an artist for a while, it's really hard to accept the fact that their music is bound to change over time. Sometimes you may like their new sound, and sometimes it's just unbearable to accept the fact that your favourite band went from hypnotizing godly rock to making boring dupstep-fused dance music (Muse, I'm looking at you). It's something that's going to happen at one point or another during a musician's career, and something that you just have to deal with. And I know it sounds awfully elitist/snobby when you say "oh, they used to be way better than this. It's just not the same anymore", but I just. I just gotta.

"what happened" - me, after the initial listen of Epik High's latest  

Usually with follow-up albums I decide how much I like the album by looking at two general categories: 1) how does it fare compare to its predecessor(s)? and 2) how is the album by itself, out of the context of the discography? Usually most follow-up albums don't do too well in the first category (see: The Black Skirts, Broccoli You Too... the list is endless) but do quite well in the second category. It's impossible for albums to ever be free of their predecessors, but I always take their standalone quality into consideration, and most of the time, I end up really liking the follow-up albums too (again, The Black Skirts and Broccoli You Too being the biggest examples). But Epik High's new album 99... I just don't see myself ever liking it.

"no" - a friend of mine, on Epik High's new song "It's Cold (feat. Lee Hi)"

Here is how it all goes way downhill. First track. "UP". Featuring Park Bom. I used to really like Bom's voice at one point. But the more you listen to it, the more painful it becomes. She just sounds like she's trying to force her internal organs out of her throat most of the time. So when her strained voice enters the picture after Tablo's opening verse, I know that I'm not going to enjoy this. It reminds me a lot about "Fly", which is a good thing because "Fly" is an awesome song. But the lyrics just doesn't live up to it ("I'll never die. No pain, no gain. I hold back. No rain, no rainbow" really now), and oh lord, there's Bom again. Despite some parts of the song being quite catchy, like the chant "up, up, baby get up", overall the song is awfully forgettable, except for Bom's singing for not-so-good reasons.

Then it's "Don't Hate Me" and the real horror begins. Because Tablo just turned on his singing mode to the max. There's a list of rappers who should stay away from singing and Tablo is number one on that list. I don't see this going too well during the lives. And although the song is a decent pop song, there are some elements of the song that just don't work. Tukutz's odd sampling in the bridge, for example. Or the fact that most of the song consists of Tablo shouting out of this throat. Even more, the chorus and the overall theme of the song remind me of the tweeny "punk" rock I used to listen to in middle school, a la Sum 41 and Yellowcard. Not a pleasant association.

Let's not dwell on "사랑한다면 해선 안될 말" too long because it's just more high-pitched singing from Tablo. Also noted is the one-man dialogue of "Do you love me?" / "You are all just talk" / "What more do you want?", and so on. Not sure what to think of this. So let's just move on.

"춥다" has all the basic elements of being an enjoyable song: I love the lyrics, I love the cold, melancholy vibe, and the chorus has a very pretty melody. But Lee Hi is just a huge miss. She's clearly just there to promote SuPearls, YG's next girl group venture, which makes it even more tragic. This song was just not meant for her; I've seen some videos of Lee Hi singing and her voice is optimal at a range way lower than this, which makes me want to question Epik High's agreeing to feature her on the track. I also can't stop feeling that this song could have been so great if they featured someone else like Lucia (심규선) or Han Hee Jung or even Yoongjin from Casker. Especially Lucia, I want that so, so badly.

"아까워" is so far the only salvageable song on the album. Some simple but terrific beatboxing, and just some cool rap from Tablo and Mithra (who's been kind of really boring so far). And oh, Gaeko! Now he is a good example of a rapper who can sing. This song is quite fun, and the beats are really awesome, and I just can't get over Gaeko's vocal skills, after Tablo he sounds like gold to my ears. This song is the only song on the album that wasn't co-written by a composer outside of Epik High. Just straight up Tablo and Tukutz. That's probably saying a lot, since it's the best track on the album.

"악당" is decent, probably one of the better songs on the album. I like Mithra's rap, and the lyrics are fun. "Kill This Love" sounds a lot like some of the more electronic-heavy songs from [e], except it's not as effective as "Madonna" or "High Technology". The dubstep is not that bad, it's not too noticeable and I think they incorporated it really well into the song. Half way into the song it gets quite messy though. "New Beautiful" is similar to "Kill This Love", more on the electronic side, but not amazing. Again, turning into a mess during the bridge, it's not really suited to be the last song on the album because the song doesn't go anywhere.

Honestly, I wish I could've enjoyed this album because it's Epik High, and they are the first Korean group that I really got into. Their Remapping The Human Soul album was my go-to album, it was constantly on rotation. Things started going downhill after Map The Soul, and I thought they've hit rock bottom when they released that snail album (I don't even know what it's called, goddamn it), but I feel like this is the ultimate low. Some good lyrics here and there, some decent flow here and there, and one good featuring choice (Gaeko) but overall, it's just a mess.

The main flaw of the album isn't the fact that Tablo's singing too much. It's that the album has no clear direction. Epik High has always been really good with that; their previous albums always had clear direction and overarching flow of themes and sounds. I'm not saying that having different colours in an album is bad; some bands pull off variety extremely well, when they have songs that sound completely different from each other but are fantastic in their own way. But this album fails to have any sort of cohesive flow or have any spectacular songs. It almost sounds like one of those idol group full-lengths with maybe two standout tracks and 10 other songs that are just odd (but well-produced) jumble of various genres. Maybe the CD only tracks are better, I don't know, and I probably will never know. I'm just really disappointed. And tired. I have so much more I want to talk about, like how lazy the album cover is, how kitsch the music videos are, and Epik High being in YG in general, but this review is running way too long, and I'm just tired. I think I'm gonna call it a day, delete this album off my drive, and pray that I'll get a Mithra solo album one day.

P.S.: After writing this overly long rant I was looking around a little and found out that this was supposed to be a "concept album". I don't know what that's supposed to mean, but I remember them saying something similar with Lovescream and I don't remember that EP sucking this much. I should probably cut them some slack since it's been a while & they probably just wanted to have some fun, but I'm still bitter.


  1. lee hayi a huge miss?? she's the best feature that epik high has ever put in a song. yoong jin, jinsil, younha, and other featured artists before would not have been able to expressed the lyrics and put the emotions that hayi did in the song. you need your ears checked.

    1. pls, no. lee hayi's skill no where near the level of some of the other featured artists. Jinsil, for example, has a very unique voice and the emotions she puts in the songs are incredible. Lee Hayi has some great vocal chops for an idol but she currently lacks emotion and versatility when singing. Besides, the main point the author was trying to make is that the song did not fit her range and perhaps style as well ( i think she sounds great with jazzy/ rnb tunes) and that's why its a miss.

  2. if one of the other artists i mentioned above was featured, i guarantee the song would not have given the same soothing feel and strong vibe. on the other hand, if hayi gets featured in one of their old songs, i bet she can pull it off, maybe even better. she may be a rookie but she's got tons of potentials. younha, jinsil, and yoong jin have already maxed theirs out.

    1. oh, something I forgot to mention in my reply below. You forgot to mention Lucia, the singer who I really wanted to see featured on this song out of all the artists I mentioned. Does that mean that you agree with me, or you just don't know her songs? Do you know ANY of Younha, Yoongjin, Jinsil, or Han Hee Jung's music, by the way? Although I'm still not sure why you're bringing in Younha and Jinsil, since I never talked about them.

  3. matter of fact, hayi was the reason the song sounded more touching and melancholic. epik high's voices alone would not have been enough to express the lyrics. i wish their fans would quit overrating epik high and treat them like gods. pathetic!

    1. many things I'd like to address in the following comment, but oh boy where do I begin.
      1) I agree that Lee Hayi has a lot of potential. I've seen bits of her singing on Kpop Star and yes, she sounds like she has a lot of talent. But the thing is, there's a difference between being able to pull off a song and "having a lot of potential". In the case of Hayi, she's only been properly singing (as in, in the actual music industry) for less than a year. And she's only 16. There's no way she can compare to accomplished songstresses like Younha, Yoongjin and Jinsil because she's just simply not at that level yet. I'd love to see Lee Hayi feature on a hip-hop track maybe two, three years down the road. But not now, and not this song.
      2) But she's definitely NOT the best featuring to ever grace Epik High's discography. ILike I said, I've seen a couple of videos of Hayi and this song just does not fit her range at all. Her range is way lower than the one required for the song. When people sing out of their comfortable range, they tend to focus on staying in tune and tend to forget everything else, like emoting. Also, I'd like to think that Hayi has quite a lovely tone when she's singing mid-range. But that pretty voice colour is completely lost here. Are you sure you are a Hayi fan? If I was a Hayi fan, I'd be angry that they made her sing a song that doesn't suit her voice at all.
      3) Excuse me but have you ever heard Younha sing? I suggest that you go check out some stuff Younha has done in the past. Also, I don't know why you're bringing her up here, because I sure didn't. I don't think she would've suited the song either, I think her voice is a bit too 'sweet' to suit the mood of the song. But Yoongjin and Han Hee Jung? Have you heard their stuff? I've heard them sing extremely 'cold' songs. Not just sad, minor key songs but COLD songs. Like you listen to the song and you literally get chills because their voices have that effect on you. I suggest that you go check out some of Casker's darker songs, like "Polyester Heart" or "47"... or hey, their cover of Han Hee Jung's "잔혹한 여행". Those songs are cold as fuuuuck. For Han Hee Jung, "너의 다큐멘트". Oh, a side note, Casker's releasing a new album next week. Please check that out before saying that Yoongjin's maxed her potentials.
      4) The comment I'm replying to right now, you're not bringing any new support for your claim. Exactly how did Hayi make the song sound more touching and melancholic? By sounding like she's focusing way too much on hitting the right notes instead of really expressing the emotions of the song? As for Epik High, I've seen Epik High do better at this whole melancholy business before, but they still manage to pull it off here. THEY WROTE THE LYRICS. They know what they're talking about.
      5) "I wish their fans would quit overrating epik high and treat them like gods" I AGREE. They really shouldn't. Oh, was that targeted at me? Have you read the whole review? I bash them right & left. And I don't overrate them at all; if I thought this album simply didn't live up to previous Epik High standards, I'd probably given it 2 or 2.5 stars. But this is just a bad album, period. I'm not overrating them. If I overrated them I'd turn a blind eye on them and pretend like I enjoyed this album. I didn't though. And I certainly don't treat them like gods.
      6) I wish Lee Hayi's fans would quit overrating Lee Hayi and treat her like a god. pathetic!

    2. let me just summarize them. first off, no you didn't mention those artists, i did - just for comparison purposes. as far as younha, i've followed her since houkibushi when hayi was still playing lego. i know her singing and songwriting skills, however, as time went by, i began to notice that her singing was lacking in richness and intensity. she's got great lungs, yes but she lacks the ability to express the lyrics emotionally and intensely especially when it comes to ballads. in other words her singing is bland. she's good though when it comes to other genres that don't strictly require such ability. the same goes for yoong jin and jinsil.

      as far as hayi, i just found out about her in "it's cold" just like a lot of people on youtube who were clueless about her but gave her favorable comments nevertheless. i've been following epik high long before i knew hayi, although, i'm not a die hard fan of them. anyway, i found out more about hayi in kpop star just like you did, but mine was more extensive. you said she only had lower range. that's what you think. actually, she can go from low to mid to high. although her bread and butter is her deep soulful voice, she has demonstrated that she can also sing in different note levels. she's also a versatile singer who can do ballad, pop, and perhaps you didn't know she can also rap. so, no i'm not angry that they made her sing this song. it suits her voice. i'm glad that they sharpened her falsetto which was non-existent in the audition. about the song itself, i'm sure a lot of hayi fans, out of respect to epik high, didn't want to comment that hayi's voice brought more flavor that made the song stand out. matter of fact i tried to picture younha, jinsil, or yoong jin in the song, but it just wouldn't give the same intensity and vibe that hayi gave. hayi did it with less effort and more emotional intensity. compared to her pre-debut songs, she's more focused on expressing the feeling in the song. so, i don't know how you came up with "more focused in hitting the right note". if it was during the kpopstar audition, yes i'd agree with you. but not in this song.

      about the overrating thing, it wasn't directed at you. i was relating to comments from epik high fans on youtube.

      finally, i'm not a fan of hayi...not yet. matter of fact, my current favorite is park bom, but even her powerful vocal didn't come close to outsinging hayi. hayi outshined her instead. just to show you i don't overrate my favorite artists nor do i treat them like gods. you and i have differences in how we hear the singers. but like they say, to each his own!

    3. Thank you for the comment. I still think she sounded strained on It's Cold but that could just be me. You obviously have followed up with her more than I did so I'm sure you know better how comfortable she is with her singing. I still don't understand how this song "suits her voice" because I personally believe in order to suit someone's voice, a song must bring out their voice tone & emotions and I feel like this song did nothing to bring out Hayi's unique voice colour at all, just prove that she can sing higher than what people expected. Good for her! And even when I'm not comparing this to her other performances, this song in general didn't invoke the same emotions in me as some of Epik High's other similar 'female vocal + so sad/broken' songs. I tried. I tried to get into it but I just couldn't. It just sounded flat. And it definitely didn't feel cold at all. Obviously another personal opinion thing between you and me. I think us arguing over this is futile, since clearly we both took very different things away from the song, and it's a personal thing. Thank you for explaining it to me though :)

      Buuut. I don't know if you still keep up with Younha but if you haven't, you should check out her performances on I Am A Singer 2. I'll admit that I've never kept up with her properly but I've seen bits of I Am A Singer 2 and she sang beautiful ballads, probably some of her best performances on tv I've seen. I believe that she's able to pull off emotions that's required for a soppy ballad, and that paired with her crazy lungs... not sure if Hayi's at the same level as her yet.

      You say that what you said for Younha applies to Yoongjin and Jinsil and I just can't agree with you on that, because three of them are completely different vocalists. Yoongjin, I still want to argue that she's fully capable of emoting. And I also want to stress the fact that she's not a ballad singer. Casker (her group) is known for being one of the few (if not only) Korean electronic acts with genuine sensibility. I've even seen them perform live and even in a small crowded venue where all the other acts of the night were upbeat electronic acts, Yoongjin sang "Polyester Heart" fucking beautifully with all the emotions required for the song. Do you know what's harder than singing a soulful ballad? Singing electronic music and actually invoking the intended emotions in the audience. Yoongjin is capable of doing that. (Sorry, you can call me a delusional Casker stan, I'll never back down until you tell me that you've analyzed Casker's discography & still believe that Yoongjin isn't capable of bringing out emotions.)
      As for Jinsil, guuuurl. Jinsil, "bland"? If Jinsil is bland I don't even know what's NOT bland anymore. She doesn't have a crazy range, and even without her unique tone, that girl knows despair and sadness like nobody's business. I haven't heard much from her (she hasn't done much to begin with, so I don't know where you got this "maxed potential" thing from) but god she's just sad as hell. She sounds like she's physically sick from being heartbroken. Hence she was perfect for Tablo's "Bad". I strongly believe Hayi couldn't have pulled that song off like she did.

      I don't know what to say now at this point. If you got that Hayi was fantastic in that song, sure, personal preferences. But it's too early to say that she's better than the other established songstresses who've been singing for years. And you're definitely wrong with the "maxed out potential" thing. All the singers you've mentioned (and I've mentioned) are still very young. And calling them "bland" is just. I don't know. I guess I don't know how to respond to this anymore. Sorry. :(

  4. From my initial assessment of the album I am going to have to agree with the blog writer. 'UP' is a good song, don't get me wrong. It's clearly well produced but YGs influence really shines through and hence dilutes the uniqueness of Epik High. It's good in a mainstream, acceptable way, without taking any risks.

    Also, their new image as seen from the album booklet and the MVs. Their image has now become 'cool' but at the same time is far less cool to me. Their outfits are all so meticulously chosen that it doesn't seem real (or maybe I am just behind the times).

    I love Epik High and one consolation is that there's still a huge library of their old stuff to listen to. Have you heard the free songs they released on the old shop? Simple beats, simple and fun lyrics - they are some of the most-listened to songs in my library. Also, try 'over' from the snail album :P

    PS: The previous three commenters are clearly Hayi fans. Just sayin'.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Although I really don't care how Epik High looks at this point because I think I'm done with being their fan (which is kind of tragic. but things change, and people move on...), I have seen their music videos and they just looked so much like second-tier Kpop boy band to me, I was cringing in my seats.

      And yes, I have heard the free songs they released. (They also released some MYK and Dok2 tracks as well, right? In the same series...) I remember liking a couple of them quite a lot, because those songs sounded like they were actually having fun, unlike this album which sounds like they're forcing themselves to be cheerful or something. And oh god, are you suggesting that I go back to the snail album? Maybe I'll actually like it after this mess. But I would rather not, I remember really disliking it, haha.

    2. Yeah, I really enjoyed their stuff with MYK. And mentioning him brings up another point - Epik High's other albums usually included an English rap track (right from Map the Soul to the snail) which is conspicuously missing from this release.

      Just give 'over' a try. Simple beat, some piano and Tablo rapping (speaking?). That's it.

      Well, I guess I officially pull out of Kpop for now. It hasn't really been interesting for me since TVXQ split up anyway :P

    3. Ooh, sorry, I didn't catch that "Over" was the song title, haha. I definitely will, I think I was just so turned off by some of the songs on the album that I just pushed away the whole album entirely. Actually, looking at the tracklist now, I remember really really liking Wordkill! Although that song was pre-leased somewhere else, if I remember correctly.

      Haha, yeah, I'll probably go back to reviewing Korean alternative/rock albums after this, since I don't really keep up with kpop releases anymore except for singles and mv's. Although I might say a bit on Block B's latest...

  5. LoL, the snail album. But even that has to be better than this current manifestation.

    1. oh yeah, definitely. I actually really liked Wordkill (despite it being pre-leased somewhere else) and I actually remember what some of the songs sound like, although it's been years since I gave that album a listen. I listened to this album just two nights ago and I don't remember what any of the songs sound like anymore. haha.

  6. This review took all the words right out from my heart. I can understand if they're going to take a new route with a lighter concept, but still... there are some points which I'm disappointed at, the poetic languages they used to use in their lyrics has lessen much more; the lack of singers who actually can 'brings the feel to the song' featuring in it and most importantly this album and the songs are no way near 'hitting' me like the old Epik High's songs used to be.

    eta: i kinda want that comparison of EH's new album & Block B's; lol

    1. Haha that block b post will probably be just a review of block b's latest album. I just couldn't stop myself from comparing it to this album because i listened to them back to back.

      I don't know, I just think that they could've tried new things, had a hell of a time AND still come up with a decent album (considering the talent in the group, honestly). I don't know what went wrong but this album is just so flat and forgettable.

  7. I agree with a lot of what you said, except I think you were a bit harsh. As a huge Epik High fan I was also a little crushed by the sound of their new album. Their best albums are: Remapping the Human Soul and Pieces, Part One. However, I still think they had some really good material on their other albums - including [e] and Epilogue. And I loved Fever's End - so much emotion in that album. As you said their was no one song that stood out like on other albums. I totally got the same vibe as you for "Don't Hate Me". I think "Up" is good (except for Bom's part) but then again I like "따라해" and I think it has a similar vibe. I think I'm the only fan who doesn't particularly like "Fly". "It's Cold" fell short from being awesome in my opinion, not because of Lee Hayi but because of them. I thought their part was a bit boring and less than impressive. "아까워 " and "비켜" are good but not great. "Ghost" is instrumental and is VERY BEAUTIFUL. The rest of the album has that same synthetic sound that YG loves. I prefer the raw,organic sound that you can hear all their other work. Even though this wasn't their best work, I'm pretty sure if you had these same songs without the help of YG's producing skills- the album would have done better. And I say this as a 2NE1 and BIGBANG fan. I like the YG sound for them just not on Epik High. Not sure what Epik High and YG were thinking when they got YG to help produce the songs. Maybe they thought they'd bring in more fans but I have a feeling they just lost a lot more with the new change- and understandably so. I hope this "sound" doesn't last because I don't think it suits them. I like both Khiphop and Kpop but I don't think the two should mix. But to brush them off because of one "bad" album is not entirely fair. Their sound did changed after 2009, but it was still very "Epik High". And the lyrics were still very good. Go listen to "Epilogue" again - specifically: Run, Over, 잠음,비늘 and Wordkill. Are they as amazing as the songs on RTHS and PPO? No, but they are still beautiful songs. Also some of their old songs that are a lot worse than on their new stuff such as Still Here, 흉 and 뒷담화. Personally I believe Map the Soul was their worst album. The only song worth listening to on there is "Map the Soul". Lastly I would like to say, give them one more chance, on their next album. If you still don't like their music then, put your High Skool days to rest.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I never said I'd brush them off; I will probably listen to their next album when it comes out, for sure! No worries there :) I do agree that I was exceptionally harsh with this album since I do have a lot of expectations for them and they ARE one of the groups that I really, really got into when I first getting into korean music. I think I stopped being a real High Skooler a while ago though, way before this album came out, and that's only natural I think. My interest in them waned as time went on and I found other bands/groups that I liked even more. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with that. But I still respect them as musicians and I will definitely check out their upcoming albums and other projects when they come out, for sure.
      I'm now curious about the CD Only tracks! Although I'll probably never get to hear them, haha.

      I do agree Map the Soul is one of their weakest albums. I'd add 8 By 8 pt.2 to the list of songs that are worth checking out along with Map the Soul though, that was just really great. And I probably should check out Epilogue, since people are telling me that it's not as bad as I remember it being. I probably had a similar reaction to it as the one I had for this album, since that album was their first - and hopefully only - Tukutz-less album and being a fan of Tukutz I resented the idea that such a thing had to exist. And I never went back after the first couple of listens. I really should give it another go :)

    2. Okay Good! Although Epilogue was released without Tukutz, don't forget it was all old unreleased material. I'm a big fan of Mithra and his mad rapping skills so I really missed his voice on Tablo's solo Fever's End.

      Just reheard 8 by 8 part 2. You're right it's not that bad. I listen to eight by eight more. They sound the same to me, and my lack of Korean language skills prohibits me from appreciating the songs individually. I see them as a unit =)
      Here is 비켜 :
      and Ghost:

    3. ooh, thank you for the links! I feel kinda bad about listening to them since they ARE cd only tracks, but I will probably try them out...

  8. I honestly didn't like this album much, I felt as if I wasn't listening to them at all. They sounded quite different style-wise.