After nearly six months of heartache, the remaining members of SHINee return with new hope and a classic sound to brighten our lives.

So many of us were wondering what SHINee would sound like now that Jonghyun, who was responsible for writing so many of their songs and was at the core of their sound in a lot of ways, is gone.  They are a group that has managed to stay together, active, and popular for ten years; so they deserved the chance to try something new.  But they also have a signature sound and a celebration of their past together couldn’t just abandon all that fans had come to love.

The production choices in this set can be characterized–with one exception–by a single word: DROP.  Every song starts off with a minimum of instrumentation and builds its tension until the chorus hits and everything just pops.  But what interested us is that, after the first chorus, this shouldn’t work anymore and it does here.  This has a lot to do with the decision to vary up the support sounds on the second verse so that, when the drop hits for the second chorus, there is a freshness to it.  Even on You & I, the build up is more subtle, but it’s still there.  Only Jump deviates from this pattern as the build up in the bridge and pre-chorus leads to the same sonics that made up the verses.

Lyrically, they are in as fine a form as ever.  While not everything has been translated yet, we have seen enough and understand enough to know that the songs are full of metaphor but easily understandable even by a non-Korean audience.  Everything hangs together well and we can see a theme developing in the songs that are available in English.  We can even see why this is called The Story Of Light as light figures very prominently into several of the songs in one form or another (candles, stars, dawn, sunlight, etc.).  It has us wondering if there will be a reordering of tracks when the inevitable full version is released as these five tracks tie in so well together.

The vocals are strong and resonant.  Everyone comes in with their distinct style for their solo moments while still being able to fold in seamlessly with the others when it comes time for harmonies and unison singing.  The adlibs in this set are well executed and add just the right color at the right moments, working with the production choices of the songs instead of against them and making for something that is easy on the ears without being listless or uninteresting.

But the vocals are where the change is most notable.

If there are two places where Jonghyun’s absence is heard the most (with the understanding that this assessment might change given that this is part one of three), it’s harmony construction and execution.  If you compare the songs in this set with the more subtle harmonies of Odd Eye or the more overt harmonies of Replay, there is a lack of dimension in the newer tracks.  Some of that is unavoidable; when a group goes from a five-part harmony to a four-part harmony, there are going to be some differences.  However, the songs in this set compare a lot more closely to View and Married To The Music in that there is a lot more unison singing or low-tone emphasis close harmonies.  This is coupled with the lost of some of the layering three-tiered (or more) layering that made songs like Don’t Stop so lush and complex despite the simplicity of the production.  This is not to say that this is a bad thing, but open harmonies and deep construction are something that made SHINee standout against the pack (as close harmonies are the dominant style in Kpop) and there are moments where you keep waiting for the vocals to open up and they never do.

Still, this is a good EP and opener for the celebrations that are sure to abound for this group this year.  At the very least, it has us interested in what’s to come and how this segment will join with the other two.

Our favorite tracks are All Day All Night and Undercover.  The most skippable track is You & I because, despite the beautiful lyrics, the lack of fuller harmonies detracts from the overall sound the most here.

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