20131202_seoulbeats_vixx2Superheroes. Space vampires. Love-obsessed doppelgangers. Industrious, real-life rookie idols who don’t let more than two moments pass without releasing something new. Tying together the roles that the guys of VIXX have played since their debut 18 months ago is a common thread: sleeplessness! So, it’s no surprise that they wrap up a jam-packed 2013 not with a vacation (or even a nap), but with one last release—their biggest yet.

Voodoo is their first full-length album, heavy with the weight of a hulking 15 tracks and the group’s lofty aspirations. With this outing, it’s clear that the Jellyfish Entertainment outfit seeks to define a signature sound and declare itself ready to take its place amongst K-pop’s top flight.

A mélange of the familiar and the new, the fun, the romantic, and the macabre; some of the ten original tracks on the album call upon tried-and-tested formulas from VIXX’s past hits, while others experiment with current pop modes that play to the individual members’ strengths—especially Ken’s skillful, dulcet R&B vocals. Voodoo wraps up with rereleases of previous singles, including “Super Hero,” “Rock Ur Body,” “I’m Ready to Get Hurt (On and On),” and “Hyde.” The album serves as a solid first major effort with flashes of greatness here and there, and only a few low points. Voodoo is melodious and dynamic, and displays the sextet’s talents in a way that augurs a bright future. While the album may suffer a few dull or laughable moments, it’s a testament to each member’s special gifts and star power that they manage to shine throughout. (It needs more Hyuk, though.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOG7BexjPjM]

Voodoo opens with a short intro—70 of the most gothic seconds in K-pop. Ominous piano melts into sorrowful-yet-romantic, sweeping violins, harp, and cello. In comes a solemn synth chorus, more piano, and a final chime, a death knell to put this song to rest forever (unless you hit repeat). It’s a good set up for the next track and current single, “Voodoo Doll,” the most intense song on the album. Employing an identical song structure to “Hyde” and a similar melodic trajectory to its spooky predecessors, “Voodoo Doll” is the sonic equivalent of meeting up with an old friend. An old, creepy friend. But a galloping, hard-hitting beat, prog-rock synth riffs, and industrial accents make the old sound new and imbue the song with energy and drama. “Voodoo Doll” is an early highlight.

20131202_seoulbeats_vixx_ken and leo20131202_seoulbeats_vixx_raviBeautiful Killer,” aka “Ravi, Ravi, Everywhere,” picks up where “Voodoo Doll” left off—and adds more Ravi. He provides all the backing vocals, singing the high and low parts. Ravi ticks speckle “Beautiful Killer” like sprinkles on a cupcake, as he supplies ALL the adlibs. He sings half the chorus. He has a rap solo. A mega dose of Ravi may seem like to much of a good thing, but it only augments the song: his singing adds richness and warmth to all the others’ voices, while his vocables amp up the energy and gift the song with cool. “Beautiful Killer” maintains the menacing, industrial sound established by “Voodoo Doll,” with synth accents that sound like grinding gears and exhaust, a melody that hints at peril around the corner, and a trippy beat that keeps the song moving.

The next track, “Someday,” is where things take a turn for the dreamy. Quiet, and romantic, with a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds that give the song an atmospheric quality, “Someday” reminds of the pop ballads of the ‘90s and early aughts, and downtempo, chill-core acts like Zero 7. Slide guitar and whistling work in concert with beeps and digital-sounding flourishes, all reverbed, to give the song a sense of sparkly vastness, like a starry night sky; while synth in the background adds buttery warmth. The vocals are purred—even Ravi’s rap is purred, as if Skat Kat were whispering sweet nothings into your ear. Ken’s vocals are standout in this song. His voice is clarion and emotional, but not overdone, and his falsetto is absolute perfection. “Someday” is another winner.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGNT6GCU4I8] If “Beautiful Killer” was all Ravi, all day, every day, then “ONLY U” is the Ken Show. The MV sees VIXX traipse the streets of Stockholm sporting fashionable grandpa wear, eyes glittering like constellations because of the cinematography. Ken is the main attraction in the MV, not only because his eyes twinkle the brightest, but because his vocals dominate the song, and boy, do they do it justice. ONLY U has an R&B-inflected, mature sound—Ken’s bread and butter. He croons with precision and clarity, coloring the song with beautiful melisma when it fits.

Leo’s singing sounds more like that of a balladeer, so it was an expert move to give him less solo time here. Still, he handles the vocal acrobatics his part requires quite nicely. The others’ contributions are spot on and show their growth as singers, but the song displays how tragically underused Hyuk is. His solo vocals—mere milliseconds of the track—are clear and his timbre is rich. But the singing isn’t the only standout in “ONLY U.” Santana-like guitar adlibs and a scratchy, recurring sample of an old timey tune give the song attitude and a hip hop quality. Someone was thinking clearly when they chose this as the first single.

20131202_seoulbeats_vixx_hyuk320131202_seoulbeats_vixx_nB.O.D.Y.,” the next track, is the album’s New Jack Swing installment (‘90’s retro). I’m going to be honest. It is silly. You will giggle uncomfortably when you listen to it and hope your little brother doesn’t walk in so that you won’t have to defend your musical tastes to him. (Not everybody can be Drake, Kyle!) It also represents a return to the sounds of VIXX hits past. This song is the cousin to “Starlight,” and the follow up to “You’re Mine” on Hyde, the track in which a guy is trying to convince his girlfriend to go all the way, and she agrees in the end. Well, apparently getting to know his ladylove in the biblical sense was a religious experience because “B.O.D.Y.” is three minutes of him gushing over the splendor of her form and their naughty times. The cheesy horns and the overuse of the word “body,” pronounced “bah-deh” like a smarmy lounge singer would, make this song a tad bit cringe-inducing. Let’s just forget this one happened, mmkay?

Anyone who’s watched the unfortunately-named “Mnet Mydol” or “Plan V Diary” knows that Ravi has songwriting aspirations. So it’s heartening to see him achieve his dreams! “Secret Night,” the next track on the album, was written and composed by Ravi, who has crafted a melody unlike any VIXX has ever presented before. The song seems to call upon horror movie scores for melodic inspiration as it goes back to the foreboding, industrial style of the first few tracks. An unrelenting beat and gritty synth base up the intensity of the song. Leo’s high vocals really shine and Hyuk sees a more substantial role in this song than in most others. “Secret Night” spells redemption for Voodoo after the previous track, which shan’t be named.

20131203_seoulbeats_vixx-hongbinSay U Say Me,” sharing a name with the Lionel Ritchie song, sees Voodoo bounce from horror to pneumatic romance once again. But what’s especially interesting about this song is that it repurposes some instrumentation characteristic to ‘90’s house music, to create a distinctly current, pop-R&B sound, which, to me, is quite inventive. The rhythmic organ and keyboard that give this song its innocent romanticism and ebullience are some of the genre-defining elements found in songs like Robin S.’s Show Me Love” and Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman.” Clearly, the Thomas Edisons who composed this song know their pop music!

The melody is sweet and hopeful, ornamented with ‘90’s and early aughts pop-R&B tropes, like the distorted record scratch a la Bad Boy Entertainment and the quintuple “yeah” that Brandy and Britney employed so well back in the day. Ken’s vocals soar here, in the genre to which his singing best suited. It almost sounds as if “Say U Say Me” were composed with him in mind, his parts are so lovely. Leo shows off the beautiful tone of his voice, his ability to belt it out in some instances, and his restraint in others. Ravi’s rap break is a delightful, almost comedic attempt at cuteness. Oh, and Hyuk gets more than two milliseconds of action! This track is one of the best from the album.

The next track, “From Now On, You’re Mine” is a bit of a shape-shifter. Just when you think it’ll bore you to tears, it morphs into an almost completely different, infinitely more fun and interesting song! Phew! It opens as many a contemporary pop-R&B tune does—a “boom-clap” beat with a fairly predictable melody. Yawn. Didn’t Usherneyo Derulo-Beaver or whoever already make this song? But then things take a turn, beginning an expectant ascent, only to transform into what sounds like an anime theme song: delightfully cheesetastic, ‘80’s power pop. Yes! Infinite is too jealous. And to think, I almost threw this one back!

20131204_seoulbeats_vixx2The final original song on the album, “Thank You for Being Born,” is the obligatory ballad and what sounds like the lead song from the OST of a drama involving teens and romance. Expressing a guy’s devotion to his love on her birthday, this tune is tender and sincere in words and melody, and may hit you squarely in the feels if you don’t have an allergy to sappy things, so be prepared. For those without a sweet tooth, you may see this as one to skip, as it is a ballad through and through. But you’d be missing N’s vocals, which are at their best here, and Ravi actually sings! “Thank You for Being Born” is a lovely note on which to unofficially wrap up Voodoo.

The guys of VIXX have taken a giant leap with their first full-length album, positioning themselves for K-pop prominence. The album runs the emotional and stylistic gamut, serving up romance, horror, and fun in dance-pop, R&B, and power pop form, keeping things fresh and appealing, despite a run time of roughly 12 years. If this is only the beginning for N and crew, as long as growth and experimentation remain on the agenda, then great things are on the horizon!

(YouTube[1], Images via Jellyfish Entertainment)