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Album Review: Red Velvet's 'Perfect Velvet' Is The Best K-Pop Album of 2017
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Album Review

Album Review: Red Velvet's 'Perfect Velvet' Is The Best K-Pop Album of 2017

By  November 27, 2017

Red Velvet have cemented themselves as one of K-pop’s more conceptually unique groups in recent memory, exploring soundscapes that range from colorful, schizophrenic pop (known as their ‘Red’ side) to sultry, moody R&B (their ‘Velvet’ side). Their debut album in 2015, The Red, is one of the genre’s greatest, with its amalgamation of adventurous musical ideas that meddled with pop conventions.

Admittedly, I had a lukewarm reception to Red Velvet’s first 2 singles this year, Rookie and Red Flavor - while those songs have seen tremendous chart success, they felt musically safe compared to their predecessors. Thankfully, just when it seemed like the group was losing their edge, their newest single off their sophomore album Perfect Velvet dispelled all doubts once again. Peek-A-Boo is delightfully spooky, riding on tension derived from the modal interchange in its chord progression and a chorus that evolves into a ritualistic chant. The song superbly marries the contrasting sides of the group- its relatively subdued nature is a nod to their ‘Velvet’ concept, but those playful harmonies and production flourishes are clearly ‘Red’ in essence.

The rest of Perfect Velvet similarly heads in a more mature direction while retaining the group's signature sonic vibrancy. Nu-disco jam Look radiates with its lush synths and lively basswork; My Second Date appears to settle into a finger-snapping R&B groove- until it takes a wild but rewarding turn into EDM territory. Album highlight I Just is an intriguing future bass track, corroded into brain-melting synths and off-kilter vocal rhythms, with a chorus that’s both massive and desolate- its loneliness palpable in the spaces between each syllable. It’s brilliant for how it twists the trappings of an increasingly derivative genre, into fresh sounds that astutely captures the feeling of emotional exhaustion.

One of the group’s greatest strengths is their gorgeous harmonization, which take center stage in the alt-R&B Kingdom Come- the best track of the record. The vocal arrangement is intricate like embroidery, as various timbres and rhythms are layered and melded together seamlessly. Harmonically complex, the details in its contrapuntal texture require multiple re-listens to uncover. The palpitating old school hip-hop beat also adds another dimension to the song, imbuing a restless fervor into the warm atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine another group pulling off this song half as well.

Perfect Velvet’s second half is not as strong as its first half, with Attaboy being the weakest track overall. Its experimentation backfires on itself- it merges sing-song raps, dissonant harmonies and (shoddy) hip-hop beats, but the maximalist approach fails to juxtapose its elements meaningfully and ultimately feels directionless. The album picks itself back up with Perfect 10, another harmonically rich R&B song that drips with sensuality. The final trio of songs may not reach the album’s previous highs, but they are neverthelessly well-written and executed. Swing ballad Moonlight Melody is a bittersweet closer, as the elegant arrangement adorns the record’s final moments beautifully like the ending credits to a classic romance film.  

Red Velvet’s sophomore effort is a refreshingly well-curated collection of diverse sounds that stands out among the sea of filler-heavy releases in K-pop. It presents a more refined image of the group while showcasing their versatility and experimental capabilities- even its lesser tracks still contain ideas worthy of appreciation. Is it better than their debut album? Not sure, but it definitely comes close. Perfect Velvet is the best K-pop album of 2017 and a must-listen, even especially for those who shun the genre. 

 

 

 

Track Gems: Look, I Just, Kingdom Come

Photo Credit: SM Entertainment

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