It’s been a tough few months for U-KISS given the series of unfortunate events caused by their agency, who decided to pluck two members out of the group in exchange for fresh blood. It was all so sudden, and devastation flooded Kiss-Me’s (the name of U-KISS’ fan club) as fast as Alexander and Kibumwere flushed out of our sight. It sounds dramatic, but that’s how it goes in the entertainment industry.
And as if nothing ever happened, U-KISS is back on their feet this month with their brand new album, “Bran New Kiss“, an awkward but fitting title under these circumstances.
As they say: the show must go on.
01. It’s Time (Intro)
03. 내게 아픈 말은…
04. Every Day
05. I Don’t Understand
Made up of seven members -Dong Ho, Eli,Kevin, Kiseop, Soohyun, and the newly integrated AJand Hoon – U-KISS have come a long way from their humble beginnings – when they insisted they were all grown up and cornrows were in – as they have become one of the few boy bands that have released legitimate dance tracks worth clubbing to.
This album differs quite a bit from U-KISS’ previous ones, at least in that it’s noticeably lighter in atmosphere. Up until now, U-KISS have released very heavy singles that have pushed the limits of processing beyond recognition.
While we may cringe in agony at the sound of auto-tune, it’s that kind of strong vocal treatment that has been at the foundation of U-KISS’ style. Instead of losing themselves in the auto-tune though, what U-KISS have done is use it to define their musical status. They haven’t just been vocally auto-tuned, but basically jammed through an excessive amount of distortion – see “Man Man Ha Ni” and “Bingeul Bingeul” – and it’s so blatantly over done that we immediately think of U-KISS when we hear their music, and despite my general negative feelings towards auto-tune, instant recognition is good thing in mainstream music. After all, to stand out is to be recognized is to succeed.
Even when the Brave Sound, who produced most of their earlier work, was taken out of the picture, U-KISS still found the right group of producers who could channel that grungy style of theirs and continue releasing their token singles – like last year, when U-KISS dropped “Shut Up,” which is what I believe marked their most refined and musically cohesive single yet.
It’s that kind of progression that I look for, so listening back and forth to their previous albums and then to this year’s “Bran New Kiss,” it goes without saying that something very different is happening here. NH Media not only replaced two members, but by the sound of this EP, they are gradually reinventing who U-KISS are as a pop band.
Now I don’t mean that U-KISS are necessarily taking their style and scrapping it, but it’s more like they’ve come to a crossroad in their career where one path leads them onward to an extension of the ‘chainsaw-meets-dance floor’ style they’ve had for a while, and another toward something different. “Bran New Kiss” decided on the latter.
One easy way to point out this ‘reinvention’ is by the clear lessening of the auto-tune blow. Take the intro track, “It’s Time“, and right out of the gate this song makes one thing crystal clear: the processing on U-KISS’ vocals has changed. It’s definitely still there, but nowhere near as severe as before. The fact that “It’s Time” is a mid-tempo song is another telling sign of the direction of this EP, because it’s not really setting the typical club theme that we’re used to hearing from U-KISS. Instead, it features broad phrasing in the instrumentation amidst long and powerful melodies sung with a surprising sense of emotion. It’s like a chill song for a Monday rather than something for a Friday’s night out.
Then there’s the lead single, “0330,” which follows the Spring trend of toning down the crazy in exchange for something a little more pretty, and boy is it ever.
Aside from the clean production, what I find extra special about this song is that we get a full three minutes and a half of a great vocal performance, something which couldn’t be said about their prior singles. Heavy processing is used to either add effect to a song or to cover up ‘bad’ singing, and just from listening to “0330,” it’s clear that U-KISS possesses a strong cluster of decent singers, and it’s a breath of fresh air to hear them.
Of course, you can’t talk about their vocal competency as a unit without touching on the fact that they’ve gained two new members who have a ton of potential to shine: AJ and Hoon.
AJ is the new rapper in the group, while Hoon has wheeled in a whole new set of vocals.
Before, most of the sung lines were split between the strongest vocalist in U-KISS, Soohyun and Kevin, with a dash for Kibum and a sprinkle for Kiseop, but now they have Hoon to take on some of the weight and level out their strengths. His singing is surprisingly controlled and he has a very nice timbre. Now they have no excuse to hold back from busting out some impressive harmonies, because they have all of the parts to pull it off.
Meanwhile, AJ has done something similar on the rapping side of this group. While I had no preconceived issue with the rap sections – K-pop raps aren’t difficult by any means – it sounds like someone wanted to add a bit more force into the mix, and that’s exactly what AJ has brought to the table.
“내게 아픈 말은…” is a nice example of U-KISS’ newfound balance. The song itself screams typical K-pop arrangement for a boy band, but there’s no denying that these guys are doing a great job selling it. The transitions work well between the singing and rap verses, and even if it becomes redundant after a while, this song is still commercial gold because it’s so catchy.
“Every Day” is one of the songs on this EP that attempts to kick the pace up a few notches. It’s not as mind-blowing as “Light It Up” from their previous EP (would have really liked to hear that song in this mini, actually), but I will say this: the production is fierce. It’s hot, crisp, and the boys sound awesome. If you miss the ‘old’ U-KISS, play this song at a high volume and you’ll feel right at home.
The following song, “I Don’t Understand,” is also nicely put together, but it falls a little flat – at least that’s how it feels when “Miracle” arrives. “Miracle” is the final song on the EP, but it definitely stands out as one of the best. It radiates of happy vibes, but all of the quirks and subtle harmonies give the over-joyous theme its purpose. This kind of song fits perfectly with Kevin’s voice, so it’s nice to hear him in full bloom throughout this song. Nowhere near U-KISS’ style from their previous EP, but there’s likability here.
All on its own, this album is one of the most cohesive idol releases this year. “Bran New Kiss” delivers a taste of everything, but also does a good enough job of showcasing U-KISS’ new assets, AJ and Hoon, by opening up their arrangements to accommodate this newly discovered talent.
U-KISS haven’t always impressed, but when they released “Break Time” last year, even I started noticing their potential. They had previously developed a precise sound for themselves, and with every new album, U-KISS managed to improve on their weaknesses and continue to grow.
Now they’re really harnessing their strengths, but at the expense of losing a piece of that recognizable flair that was so indicative of U-KISS. Their previous material was so over done, but I kind of liked that. And while it’s saddening to see two members go, I like this new sound they’re going for too, particularly because they’ve done a mighty fine job of molding it.
The good thing is that U-KISS haven’t completely changed, as I still hear traces of their old selves in this EP, so I’m going to be cautiously optimistic and say that there’s enough room right now for them to inject that good-ole piercing noise from before for their future releases. “Mworago” anyone?