20130721_seoulbeats_brown eyed girls2It’s been nearly two years since Brown Eyed Girls last released and promoted music as a unit, and if you ask me, it’s been two years too long. I’ve been missing my favorite female group. But it’s not like fans have been waiting around empty-handed. The sexy foursome have been busy focusing on solo activities.

Miryo was the first when she released her self-produced EP Miryo AKA JoHoney in February of last year. While the album wasn’t perfect, it still showcased another side of the oft-underexposed rapper. The four came together to release digital single “The Original,” but sadly there were no promotions. Then came maknae Ga-in with her second solo album Talk About S with the controversial and overtly sexual single “Bloom” in fall last year.

Then, at the start of this year, we finally got a solo album from leader and mastermind of the group JeA when she released Just JeA as Narsha joined the cast of Immortal Song 2. They wrapped up the first part of the year with Ga-in releasing a spring duet album with Cho Hyung-woo and Narsha starring in the musical When a Man Loves — not to be confused with the drama of the same name. Obviously, they’ve been incredibly busy, but now they’re back. Released on July 30th, Black Box, their fifth studio album, was well worth the wait.

The album opens with track “After Club,” and this track is the epitome of disco. “After Club” strikes a chord that is so distinctly ’70s that it brings me back to listening to a record of Claudja Barry or Pattie Brooks with my dad. The bass-driven track is modernized by the marriage with the background electronic beat, but it never overtakes the track, letting the disco take the lead.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR0BwXD_4ss]

I wish there had been at least one more rap since Miryo came in so early, but with fantastic vocals, the song is strong. The highlight is the ending. It sounds muffled, almost like the listener is walking away from a club, and since the track is about what happens after having a few too many drinks and hitting up quite a few clubs, it makes for a perfect fade out.

The next track “I Want to Fly/Before Sunset” could easily be a simple upbeat R&B track, but with well-placed pauses and prominent strings the song is interesting and lively, adding tinges of retro. It sounds so positive with the lightness of the strings, but with a heavier bass and drum, it makes for an impressionable track. With such an epic romantic feel, musically it matches well with the lyrics about missing someone in a long distance relationship, making for one of my favorites on the album.

The single “Kill Bill” has an obvious Western influence — think cowboys and outlaws — in the music with the whistling in the introduction and through the chorus and especially the twangy guitar throughout it. Admittedly, I found the whistling somewhat annoying with my first listen. After a few repeats though, I found myself whistling (well, attempting to whistle) the tune because it was just so catchy. Plus, it’s there for a reason: it all comes together to build a rebellious concept of a woman threatening to take justice into her own hands when dealing with a former lover — at least that’s what I gather from the lyrics.

These ladies own this track from beginning to end. The vocals have a brashness that suits the track. Miryo’s raps are seamless and tight and somehow fit perfectly with this Western pop. Combined with the catchy hook, this track is fierce and a logical choice for a Brown Eyed Girls comeback.

The music video works with that theme and pays homage to Quentin Tarantino, hence the name of the track. They take on the roles of characters with uncanny similarities to those created by Tarantino and spend the seven-and-a-half minute affair trying to kill each other between cuts of sexy choreography. Throw in styling that consists of lots of black, leather, and fringe, and the music video really capitalizes on the crunch of the beat and the fierceness of the track.

[youtube http://youtu.be/tyBTH3hCyWo]

To follow that up comes the even sexier “Boy.” Combined with a fantastic trumpet and the bell effect, the track is heavily influenced by funk, which matches wonderfully with the suggestive lyrics. With lines like “I tried to cover it in case you find out/This feeling, this trembling, this feeling about you” and “I want to lick you like ice cream/Wanna lick it like a lollipop,” it’s pretty obvious what this song is about (read: sex), and the breathy vocals only emphasize that tone.

I particularly love the final hook where Narsha’s voice sounds both musically and literally like a climax before it’s interrupted by a quick cut to Miryo’s rap. Yeah, I’m not kidding. But this track is one of those that only Brown Eyed Girls could sing because it’s not sexual to be cheap and pander to a male audience. In the same way that Ga-in took control of her sexuality in “Bloom,” “Boy” is about a woman in control and wanting to satisfy herself. It’s evident in one particular line: “However my body feels/I want to follow it.”

And to continue the sexual innuendos, the next track is titled “Satisfaction” though it has more of a sexual undertone than overtone. The chorus in particular is suggestive, but with a snappy, jazzy vibe to the track, again it doesn’t seem like a cheap grab for attention. There’s a reason these two songs are not singles, as great as they are. I particularly enjoy Miryo’s raps, which ground the track with a sort of grittiness.

I need to get it now
I need to feel it now
I need to say it loud
I need satisfaction

The album shifts gears musically and thematically with “Mystery Survivor,” a song about a woman who is tired of games in relationships after being hurt in the past. The track has a celestial element with the electronic music used, which goes with the whole mystery of push and pull mentioned in the lyrics. This song’s outer space feel seems out of place within the rest of the album, making it one of the weaker tracks on the album. The best part of this song is Miryo’s raps as they pack the punch that is missing in the vocals.

“That’s a Lie” is a softer track that echoes the celestial feel of the previous track with a more disco edge to it, bringing it back to the overarching musicality of the album. The lightness of Narsha’s vocals right at the bridge into the chorus reminds me of “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash, and even though the songs are different musical styles, they address similar themes. The track uses a synthesized twinkle effect that pairs nicely with a funky bass, making for another favorite track.

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Another track on the somewhat slow side, “Recipe” was the pre-release single. It came out at the beginning of July and makes for a lovely teaser for the entire album. It is probably the most even track in that it falls so perfectly between the retro and modern because Miryo is all over it, weaving between the vocals. I particularly enjoy the back and forth she does with JeA and Ga-in in the chorus.

The album ends on a soulful note with “Good Fellas.” The lyrics are a reflection on the good and bad in a relationship, but it highlights the possibility of the future and what good it will bring. It’s an honest love song, and the vocals showcase that. What really fills this track is the harmonizing throughout the chorus and the raps. It never seems bare, and it never seems like too much. Instead, the track has a finality to it, like a goodbye, ending with a bittersweet but lovely sentiment.

It seems that disco is here to stay — at least until the trend passes — because this album bleeds disco and funk and in the best way. While many artists have released songs tinged with discos, such as SHINee and Seo In-young, the style suits the voices of Brown Eyed Girls particularly well because they all sing with such maturity and soul.

Of course, Black Box isn’t entirely disco. It definitely has infusions of R&B, jazz, and pop to add flavor and novelty to their sound. It’s subtle work, and much of the credit goes to the album’s producer, renowned composer Yoon Il-sang with Miryo, who is stronger than ever on this album, helping out in the songwriting process. The album is clean and sharp with powerful songs, a strong return for Brown Eyed Girls.

Rating: 4.8/5

(Nega Network, YouTube [1][2])