Monday, September 24, 2012

DBSK/HoMin - "Catch Me"

Album number two from Twoshinki is here, and everyone's having a field day, me included. There's just so much to talk about, and so much brilliance to spread. Also, what an apt album for my "big comeback". (Best 18th birthday gift ever. EVER.)

There are so many reasons why DBSK is still my favorite group, and this is the part of the year when I'm reminded of all of them. Everything I complain about with other acts, everything I look for in a new group -- they're all patterned after what DBSK have, and what they've done.

The consensus among the people I've talked to, and read, ever since "Keep Your Head Down" came out, all the way up to just now when the album came out, is that Yunho and Changmin have carved their own sound, independent to the previous, five-piece, DBSK. Now whether people think that's a good thing or a bad thing, I have to partially disagree. On the outside, it may seem like that -- Yunho and Changmin have really traded the epic, tear-jerking, ballads, demanding SMP singles and a capella re-arrangements in favor of trendy beats, slick R&B-inspired jams, and quaint midtempos.

But is that really all DBSK was before the split? You cannot just pit "Catch Me" and "Mirotic" against each other, because not only have things changed within the group, the industry, and the standards have all changed. Every now and then we all have to remember that "Mirotic" was four years ago, and the distance between then and now is like the distance between "Mirotic" and "Hug" -- things, beyond our control, have happened.

A true identity is something that transcends -- transcends time, change, and everything in between. Moving forward means trying new things, yes, but it also means being sure of who you are and what you do. Beyond the international success, beyond the "Love In The Ice"'s and "Rising Sun"'s and the leap to "Keep Your Head Down"'s and "STILL"'s, DBSK was a group with talent that really did blow away all the competition. That's what DBSK were pushed as, and that's who they were. It was that kind of talent that made them such a versatile group, that sold them to a skeptical public, it was that talent that got them respect in Japan, and it still is that talent that keeps them right where they are, no matter how many they are.

That talent has never left, and "Catch Me", as a whole, is solid proof of that. I've been saying this a lot this year, but this is truly the formula done right -- DBSK are the epitome that statement, and they've always been. I can’t stress that point enough, which is why it will keep coming up throughout the review.

Conviction is another word I throw around a lot, and it's something Yunho and Changmin have bucketfuls of. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but DBSK are right smack in the middle of it, with overflowing confidence, not overflowing arrogance. Delivery is so, so, important, especially in pop music where all the songs basically sound like each other -- it's the one thing that makes an act stand out. What Yunho and Changmin have isn't the normal kind of conviction though, what they have is raw passion. This isn't the kind that you see in how many hours they worked in the studio, how difficult or new their vocal techniques are, in how high they belted that high note, or in any of those behind-the-scenes aspects. This is the kind you see in the actual work, in the simplest of lines, the shortest of notes, this is the kind that screams "I deserve to be here, I deserve to be doing this, so I'm going to prove it to everyone, even if I'm just standing here and doing nothing." You don't find passion and conviction in what you do, you find it in how you do it. And it's that kind of conviction that gets them places.

"Catch Me", the song, really is one of the best songs on the album, and it stands for everything DBSK is, and has become. It has dynamics that go beyond a few explosions here and there and give the song texture. “Catch Me” literally jumps through hoops and fire, but it doesn’t do it alone -- it takes you with it.

The intro is beautiful -- that piano line is heavenly, and Yunho sounds amazing -- it gets you ready for the pending brilliance, which is balanced out by the dubstep just before the verse. Honestly, if we were talking about the dubstep alone I would’ve hated it, and actually I do hate it alone as a loop, but you have to look at “Catch Me” as a whole, and also go back to what DBSK is. They are the formula, this loop is the trend now, but they are also the formula done right, and they made the loop fit the song, they gave it contrast and they gave it depth.

I had the first of many heart attacks today, courtesy of the verses because let me tell you, I had many more after. The conviction in Yunho and Changmin’s vocals are through the roof, and the instrumental gives it urgency and a build-up without drowning out the melody. My favorite part about it though is how effortlessly but confidently it builds up to the chorus -- it’s not obvious until you actually get to the chorus and you’re left wondering how it happened. Listening casually, you still hear all the brilliance, but the more concentration you put into it, the more your actually appreciate what you hear. Again, the formula done right.

The chorus of “Catch Me” gave me my second heart attack of the day, and it was glorious in it’s epicness. There are so many things happening during this brilliance that is the chorus, but one thing’s for sure, the vocals and the melody are the most important parts of it. It’s catchy all right, however what makes it so DBSK is that the catchy doesn’t come from the autotune or the synth loop -- it comes from the vocals, from the belting with harmonies. Belting! With harmonies! In the first chorus! Who does that?! The instrumental is stunning, with that piano line from a while ago really taking as much of center stage that it can without yanking the spotlight away from the vocals.

We get dubstep again, but this time with a sort of post-chorus melody that the two share, whose brilliance (the melody, I mean) makes the dubstep so much more bearable. This is before we’re literally flung into a very, very urgent bridge that’s so glorious you’re still hung over by the time the chorus literally sneaks it’s way in again. And if you were thinking we’d get time to breathe after, sorry to burst your bubble but Changmin skips the hook all together and goes straight for the middle 8. Which reminds me a bit of the middle 8 of “Bonamana”, until Yunho comes in and then they make this brilliant harmony that’s so brilliant I’m just gonna keep calling it brilliant until I can’t. Call it brilliant. Brilliant. No DBSK song is complete without Changmin’s scream, albeit a short one, which transitions us into a dubstep verse reminiscent of “ANDROID”, complete with a proper dubstep dance break!

Despite everything that happens in between, and basically everything happening in the song, the last chorus is just as brilliant as it was when it first appeared, tying each and every one of the elements together.

As for the rest of the album, honestly I wouldn’t call this the album of the albums of the year just yet -- “Catch Me” as an album is outstanding, yes, but for me, as much as an album of the year has to be cohesive and unified, all the tracks also have to stand firmly on their own, and there are some tracks that can’t do that just yet. We’ll see.

Viva” is another song you have to look at as a whole and not as individual elements, because it’s such a dynamic, well-produced song when you do. The rapping at the beginning was a big iffy for me, and didn’t sound DBSK enough for me, and the first chorus was a little disjointed as well, but by the time the second chorus hit everything came together. It’s the kind of song that needs time to digest, because it’s very un-DBSK. The first time I heard this I pictured Big Bang doing the rap portions, but the more you think about it, the more you realized that they carried it the right way, and by the end of the song you’ll really want to replay it.

Destiny” is so “Keep Your Head Down” -- it would have no problem fitting right in beside “She” and all the other midtempos. In a sense, this is the other side of the new DBSK sound, the kind of songs you’d hear from more classy lounge singers, and by now they really have mastered it. Gorgeous melody, strong vocals, and truckloads of a mix between sexy and confident.

I don’t know about you guys, but despite the title, “Like a Soap” is one of my favorites on this album. It’s cashing in on that ever-present acoustic craze without becoming a snooze-fest, mostly because Yunho and Changmin’s voices have the intensity to make it interesting. I love the arrangement on this because it’s so high-budget Disney Channel series, with the sharp instrumentals and very predicable, but still gorgeous, transitions. The chorus is so quaint in it’s being pretty, courtesy of those gorgeous harmonies and that nice electric guitar running around in the background that gives it some dimension. And also, the middle 8 and the second to the last chorus -- beautiful. If this was the theme song of “To The Beautiful You”, the world would be a better place.

The Korean version of “I Don’t Know” was one of the tracks I was really excited for, because I still worship the Japanese version (and their performance of it at Tokyo Dome was MIND-BLOWING with the screens and the dancing and the WOW), and to a certain extent it delivered. We have a Korean version of an amazing song. I still like the Japanese version a lot better though, because I loved the contrast that the graceful Japanese lyrics gave the very gritty song. The Korean version is just all grit and spunk and no grace, especially because Yunho and Changmin’s voices are more stiff and less melodic.

Dream” sounds like a theme song for a Japanese drama. That has it’s appeal, usually when they do songs like this on tour, but this is the kind of song that even if Yunho and Changmin are really good at carrying songs, it’s been done so many times before and it’s starting to get boring. I mean I love my string sections and perky melodies, and I love “Like A Soap”, but this is all cliche and no DBSK whatsoever. Except maybe for the first chorus which is gorgeous because it’s basically just Changmin singing (very well) with minimal instruments.

This is the part of the album where it’s SM-ness begins to show, because “How Are You” is the second boring song in a row we get. I mean it’s and okay song, and it’s a lot better than all the other boring SM songs everyone else gets because of the delivery, but the standards are higher for a group with more talent, because more gets wasted if they get a boring song. It’s also obvious in their delivery that the two of them are kind of not in it, because they’re starting to sound bland. Maybe not bored yet, but one more bad song and I might have to go storm SM.

Getaway” is like what “Gulliver” should’ve been. You know, without the painful growling? I’m not the biggest fan of “Getaway”, but it’s pretty obvious that Yunho and Changmin approached this song with technique, and care for their voices. Growling is never a good thing, unless of course it’s done right. And I think anyone can recognize good growling from bad growling -- if your throat starts getting itchy and your ears start hurting, the person growling is probably in pain too. Fortunately for us, Yunho has technique, so the growling is half-singing, half-rapping, as it should be. I like the melodic parts, and I like how they really took advantage of the fact that this is Changmin’s forte. That middle 8 is brilliance.

Everyone has been freaking out over “I Swear” since it came out, because Changmin wrote it for Cassiopeia (awwwwww!), and it’s a very pretty song, yes, with a gorgeous and really good arrangement. Also, if Changmin was the one who put in that gorgeous drum line into the second verse -- you’ve been taught well. It’s very subtle in it’s being pretty, but for me it’s the subtlety that keeps it as just pretty and not beautiful or stunning. And that works for some people, plus the fact that it’s a nice break from the very intense, stand-out songs, a break that isn’t a snooze-fest. But then it kind of lost it when everything came in together at the end, because you have these very conflicting instruments like the drum kit and those cymbals which do not, for the life of them, sound good together. Changmin has the gist of it, but he needs more work in terms of the nitty gritty.

Gorgeous” sounds very album track -- it’s a good song that just blends into a bunch of more striking ones because even if it’s well-done, it’s very one-dimensional and lacks a wow factor that isn’t the singing.

As this album comes to a close, I realize that my stand-out favorites are the first and last track, because really guys, how can you not worship “Good Night”? It’s like the song you play after “Before You Go” because you’re still high from it but need something to ease you back into the real world. Slowly. Very slowly. Those verses are heavenly -- not just beautiful or stunning or brilliant -- heavenly. The sharpness of the chorus gives a really nice contrast to the instrumental, and those beautiful solo lines that follow. And I just died at “have a good, good night”, as well as those ad-libs that followed. The middle 8 is like the cherry on top -- I really did go to heaven and back. The attitude of “Good Night” is very nonchalant, but that’s what makes this song so good. Effortless beauty is always the perfect way to end an album.

The Best: Catch Me”, “Good Night
The Better: Like a Soap”, "Viva”, "Destiny
The Worst: "How Are You"
The Rating: 4.7/5, but 5/5 for the lead single!

NOTE: If you've noticed, my label for the current DBSK line-up has always been "DBSK/HoMin", and this review is no different. Things have changed since the last time I used this label for a major review -- majority know DBSK as Yunho and Changmin only, hence my usage of "DBSK". However, my stand on DBSK's situation, past and present, is that Yunho, Changmin, Jaejoong, Junsu and Yoochun make up DBSK as a group, so if Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu can't call themselves DBSK because the other two aren't present, then Yunho and Changmin have to be identified as the other fraction of DBSK. I recognize the fact that Yunho and Changmin are called DBSK because they are the other fraction of the original five-piece DBSK who remained under SM, but I also recognize the fact that there was a point when DBSK was not just the two of them.

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