T-ara‘s star has been rising steadily since “Roly Poly” was released, further aided by the back-to-back successes of “Cry Cry” and “Roly Poly,” and now, after releasing their first Japanese album, Jewelry Box, T-ara returns to Korea to ideally continue that rise with a new mini-album and a new member. Much has already been speculated about the additions to T-ara, but with Day by Day, we are afforded the opportunity to hear Ahreum and pass judgement on something more substantial than rumours and old photographs. At least, I’m hoping we get to hear her — T-ara’s discography is notorious for uneven line distribution. But I have my hopes for this album, and that Ahreum’s inclusion doesn’t become a waste.

Like Gangkiz‘s “Mama,” “Day By Day” borrows heavily from the soundtracks of Spaghetti Westerns, but where “Mama” is more apparent in its drama, “Day By Day” instead has a stillness which matches the sadness of the lyrics. The treatment of the flute makes it sound as though it’s being played off a vinyl record and gives off a sense of nostalgia, a yearning for the past, that works well with both the lyrics and the mood of its MV; the clipping of the notes also allows for a modern touch which also suits the futuristic setting of the short film. It could have easily become a slow parade of repetition, but the quietly soaring bridge and rap break up the song at the right time. “Day By Day” comes across as tranquil, and I am curious to see how this would translate to T-ara’s live performances–there is a risk that without some kind of sensory punch it will become boring to watch very quickly, which may not bode well for T-ara and their long promotional cycles.

In regards to comparisons to Britney Spears‘ “Criminal,” while the flute sounds the same, the notes played are not. The sounds diverge more from that point; Criminal” gives a fuller sound by adding more instruments, while “Day By Day” keeps it clean and simple. Considering that there are many songs which sample other artists that are much loved, and that there is no actual sampling of “Criminal” occurring in “Day By Day,” I think plagiarism claims might be unfounded.

“Holiday” doesn’t abruptly change the pace, though the percussion has a more pronounced presence. The piano in the background adds body to the verses, while Soyeon‘s post-processing voice boldly carries the chorus. The harmonising between Soyeon and Hyomin at the end of the chorus is also welcome. “Holiday” is a nice enough song but it never really goes anywhere–I guess it just stayed home on its day off. Also, T-ara is definitely singing “Lonely lonely day,” though a “Lolliday” would be infinitely more fun. That said though, the Engrish here is much more tolerable than that in “(I’ll must be stay here) Day by Day,” if only because we won’t have to hear it performed every week on music shows.

“Don’t Leave” is the other song featured in the “Day By Day” MV, a sad tune with sorrowful brass, strings–actually, “Don’t Leave” is very orchestral and dramatic, which would have been hard to predict given the synth-heavy start to the song. It soars and dips in the expected places, with the raps maintaining the high before the drop in intensity brought on by the soft vocals at the beginning of each verse. Hearing different voices in the rap towards the end of the song also added some unexpected — but not unwelcome — variety, though there are some slight issues with flow.

The last two songs on Day By Day are both Korean remakes of songs from Jewelry Box; ironically, they are the only two original Japanese songs on the album, the rest consisting of remakes of their previous Korean releases; as such, the two songs have more of a J-pop feel.

The Korean version of “T-ara Magic Music,” “Hue,” is generous with the club beats and gives off a sinister vibe. Unfortunately, “Hue” puts a stop to all the wonderful real instrumentation I had been enjoying, and makes it very clear that it is not material created specifically for this album. The “Woah oh” refrain embeds itself in your head and remains there for a long time after you’ve stopped the song, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the song.

“Love Pay”  is the remake of “Keep Out,” a measured-yet-perky ditty with a light country twang. Sound-wise (not based on lyrics), this is the most up-beat song of the EP, but it still feels heavy, which at least matches the melancholy that runs throughout Day by Day. T-ara always does well with the “ooh”s and “aah”s, and some of the instruments creep back into the music in the form of percussion, but the members voices are still, disappointingly, processed.

However, I am exasperated with the inclusion of the latter two songs in the EP. Many artists have released Korean versions of their Japanese music, but they have always been restricted to a small portion of a release; two songs may not seem like much–and it really isn’t–but Day by Day only has five songs on it, and the songs that were remade were chosen by default: they were the only two Japanese songs that did not have a Korean counterpart. CCM seems to be operating T-ara’s two careers like the Tamil and Telugu film industries, where a hit movie in one language is almost instantly remade in the other, and while it may have been an easy and cheap decision to make, it comes at the expense of tarnishing the otherwise good work that has been put into the other original songs of the album, and thus, the album overall.

I said at the beginning of this review that I was looking forward to hearing Ahreum’s voice–or at least praying that I would–and CCM didn’t disappoint, giving the 8th T-ara member the climax of the bridge in “Day by Day.” Ahreum is definitely a belter, with a voice arguably warmer and more powerful than Eunjung‘s. Mostly, though, she was restricted to a couple of lines per song –the same fate as Boram and Qri, leaving Eunjung, Jiyeon, Hyomin and Soyeon to carry most of the album. Hwayoung, meanwhile, receives a good enough number of raps to make her presence felt. It is especially pleasing to see that Hwayoung finally gets lines of actual substance for “Day by Day;” Hwayoung’s raps have been slowly evolving from glib phrases like “I like this, like that, yeah!” to having actual phrases and allowing her to show her great flow. Now, if only CCM could do the same with the other “forgotten” members…

Day by Day starts off strong, but suffers from a lack of cohesion brought on with the inclusion of “Hue” and “Love Pay.” They could have gotten away with it on a full length album, but the inclusion of both songs here just smacks of laziness. That said, though, they are not unworthy of a listen, though “Day by Day” is certainly the jewel in the crown here, with “Don’t Leave” close behind. I’m giving Day by Day a 2.9/5–what score did you give it? And which was your favourite song?

(cherryshiou, Core Contents Media, Kpop Girls Color Coded LyricsRomanized Songs)