EXO…you didn’t have to come back like this!
One of the best things about a group growing up is that, if they are smart, they start to come into their own power. We mean that they really learn what works for them and how to separate themselves from the pack by doubling down on what makes them unique and powerful. Six years into their combined careers, we think that EXO have finally hit that sweet spot.
If this album had only given us the goodness that is Tempo we think we still would have chalked this up as a win for them. The title track of this album has the group in their element in terms of harmonies and style with a solid amount of acapella goodness midway through to both impress be functional to the track. But there is so much effort in making a cohesive project that give lots of flexibility in style while still having songs individual enough to easily stand out from one another is something else.
Every song flows at its own tempo (pun only slightly intended). As soon as Tempo slides away with its New Jack influences, Signs slides in with its throbbing bass and twerk-craving beat. We get some sweet softness on With You, some cool-off with Oh La La La, and some danger on Damage. More than being just songs that fit the time, they are very much something that stands out and isn’t so watered down as they lose personality. The production is rich without being overwhelming to the ear, a hard thing to do with the vocal concentration throughout the songs.
And the vocals…EXO long since stepped out of resting on their laurels as a group with a bunch of good-looking guys with better-than-average voices and showed us that they can grow and that growth has been incredible between this and the first iteration of The War. The harmonies are incredibly lush from track-to-track and the do enough transitioning between close harmony, full harmony, and unison singing that nothing ever feels level (in a good way). This might the album that may confuse newcomers to the group because the lead vocalists have been working together so long that they are starting imitate each other’s flourishes a little, but it’s not something you can’t differentiate after a few listens (and this is a project that begs them). They all have a stunning range though, with strong falsettos littered throughout without depending on them to make the tracks interesting. The lower register vocals are actually good as well and it can be hard to draw in attention for that low an octave with all that bass but EXO manages to do it and do it well. We would love to get our hands on the backless masters for this because you always hear something new with every listen.
In short, this is the kind of album that groups long to make; something that really makes their mark in a crowded field. The simple fact is that there is no generation three group out there that could make this album right now. EXO has the sheer numbers for complex harmonies and their main vocalists are some of the best in the business. They have something that no one else has at the moment; the ability to perform these tracks both in the studio and live. It makes the songs that much more enjoyable.
EXO has always been that group that you can say “gave you one” but they have gone above and beyond on this set and we cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the kind of album that makes new fans and bolsters a fandom. If they can keep this level once the inevitable re-release drops, we will be adding our first physical EXO album to our collections.
Our favorite songs are With You, Damage, and Oasis with Oh La La La bringing in an honorable mention. Honestly, we can’t say we find anything skippable about this album but, if we had to pick, we would go with Smile On My Face for the simple fact that it is probably the song we will go back to the least.