ZE:A, also known as Children of Empire, are fresh off their concert tour of Asia and have returned with a new album Spectacular. Unlike their contemporaries, Infinite and C.N. Blue, and despite their somewhat success in Japan, ZE:A are still amongst the groups that are still under the radar. They’ve had a lot of bumps along the way, including a terrible debut, but even with fairly decent subsquent tracks, they still haven’t managed to break into the higher rungs of K-pop relevancy. Perhaps with their sophomore album they can gain more attention, but regardless of the album’s quality, the odds of doing so might prove unlikely due to the ill-fated timing with the comebacks of 2NE1, T-ara and Super Junior. Originally, their comeback was intended for mid-June, but was delayed because of leader Junyoung‘s injury. Let’s hope their album is good enough to draw attention towards the boys even with the tough competition.
1. “Love Is Gone”
The sound of this song is very haunting, especially with its hook. The song starts with a simple electronic beat, and then completely picks up by increasing the intensity of the electronic beat. The overlaying of the deep, fast raps and the higher-pitched, softer vocals is a great mix because their voices blend so well together. The song does seem to drag in places and the stanzas between the chorus feel very short, especially near the end. Another minor problem with the song is what could only be described as a poor man’s dubstep being spliced into the middle, but thankfully it didn’t last too long, because it seemed to be randomly placed there and would have detracted for the song.
Finally, a title track that doesn’t depend on heavy production and autotune to sound catchy. The haunting sound continues with their title track “Aftermath,” which is mainly because of the emotive voice of Dongjun, their lead vocalist. The sound of his voice is reminiscent of B2ST’s Yoseob, and is supported by the deeper tones of the rappers and other vocalists.
The electronic beats and light bass kept the pace of the song while the rest of the song was very light-sounding, but didn’t veer into the fluffy. While my complaint for “Love is Gone” was that it dragged in places, my only gripe with “Aftermath” is that it ends abruptly and sounds like Dongjun was cut off mid-chorus. It would have been nice to have ended with the slowing down of the bass, but this minor gripe doesn’t downplay the good quality of the rest of the song.
The synths and electronica is a lot more pre-dominant in this song, but it’s really fun-sounding. It has a little bombast and flair, with J-pop elements. In parts, it sounds like it was ripped straight from the soundrack of a Nintendo video game or an anime, which doesn’t mean it sounds bad, but it sounds like its been influenced during their time in Japan. I especially like the slow beats during the stanzas in between the chorus, which give the sound a funk and house vibe and helps to provide development in between the powerful sound of the chorus.
4. Coy Girl
“Coy Girl” is a good song for the club and for those who enjoy club-like music and over-bearing synths. The vocals and rapping is just as strong here as in the previous three songs, but it’s a little disappointing that they decided to include such a heavily-produced song, especially when the previous songs were cleaner and smoother-sounding; it made “Coy Girl” sound messy in comparision. It sounded a lot like a song FloRida and the like would churn out, and they’re not people you’d like to think of when listening to any song.
5. Body to Body
Although “Body to Body” is indeed just another club-sounding song, it was an interesting listen because of the types of sounds and synths within the song. At first it sounded like a typical Euro-pop club banger, but the inclusion of police whistles, random chanting and bleeps was an amusing backtrack to the otherwise plain-sounding melody of the song. It was a nice experimental song, with all of the different sounds all coming together to make a good song. Although, it would be interesting to see how clubgoers would react to the police whistle embedded in the song.
6. Never End
“Never End” is a return back to the clean-sounding songs and it is a vocal-driven song. The rappers are absent in the song and although I like the balance between the rappers and vocalists, the song is a showcase of ZE:A’s vocal talent. It’s a shame that their vocals aren’t as appreciated as much as other vocals in K-pop, especially Dongjun. The song has R&B tones that blend nicely with the electronica aspects of the song, and the song kept a nice pace, but it still feels like the song ended abruptly. It may be the fact that the song was so good I didn’t want it to end, but it felt sudden and without a denouement long enough to make it feel less abrupt.
7. “Begin With A Kiss”
This was a good pop ballad. The harmony of the vocals are nearly flawless and the upbeat sound of the instrumental makes it very reminscent of Super Junior, during their cute, pop-oriented days. I almost thought I was listening to Super Junior when I first heard it–except with better rapping. The flow was really smooth and had nice ups and downs as the song went along, making for a more complete-sounding song. It’s cute but in an understated way; it’s not too overly sweet-sounding. The clapping sound in the background helps to keep the pace steady, when it could have fell flat without it.
8. “Daily Daily”
“Daily Daily” is a lot slower than “Begin With A Kiss” and emphasizes the ballad side of it’s pop ballad elements. The harmony is just as powerful and strong as it is in “Begin With A Kiss,” and the instrumental makes it sound like it would be perfect as a song for an OST of a drama.
9. “Someday Dirty”
The rappers are back with this balladesque song. It has a similiar structure to “Begin With A Kiss” and “Daily Daily,” but has a more R&B feel to it. The range of ZE:A’s vocalists is amazing–with them nailing the high notes while being capable of controlling their voices for the low notes. The rapping in this song is really solid, although a bit repetitive at times. I really enjoy the harmony of ZE:A’s vocals, not since DBSK have I enjoyed listening to a group harmonize together as much. It’s a stretch to equate ZE:A’s vocalists and DBSK’s, but the vocal talent is just that strong. It’s a shame that they haven’t been getting as much recognition as other vocalists.
ZE:A has never really piqued my interest as a group. Their debut song, “Mazel Tov,” was horrible and easily made them disappear under the weight that was CN Blue’s “I’m A Loner.” They haven’t had much luck in the subsquent years after their debut either, and the delay of their 2nd album might cause them to be overlooked again, but this time it would be a shame. Spectacular as a whole exceeds my expectations of the group and actually got me paying attention to them. “Aftermath” is a good title track to be promoting and might be able to draw some much-deserved attention towards them.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Gems: “Hunter,” “Aftermath,” “Someday Dirty,” and “Begin With A Kiss”
Worth A Listen: “Daily Daily,” “Love Is Gone,” “Never End”
Weakest Links: “Coy Girl” and “Body To Body”
(Star Empire Entertainment)