After releasing several EPs and one LP, Monsta X is back at it again with their repackaged studio album, Shine Forever. Much like their past works, their newest set of releases generally have a mainstream-friendly electronic hip hop sound. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop the album from being interesting. Heavy trap elements along with some unique touches and unexpected transitions all help link the songs together; contributing to a sense of cohesiveness. But the songs don’t fail to differentiate themselves mood-wise — utilization of interesting effects and different genres lighten the heavy hip hop when necessary, while the vocals and rapping create an individual Monsta X sound.

The titular “Shine Forever” rides conspicuously on the wave of recent popularity for the future bass genre. Its gritty sounding instrumental is evocative of a heavier hitting and more trap-influnced Flume, or Slushii song. Getting into the logistics of the musical production, the sub-bass is nicely implemented, adding a layer of intensity to the light instrumental. The hi-hat rolls provide another item of interest, injecting energy into the song. Furthermore, the rapping and the layered vocals boosts the complexity of the otherwise minimalistic track. As a title track, “Shine Forever” is impactful; it bounds with energy and epitomizes the trendy sound of the album.

“Gravity” is an almost 180 degree mood change from the previous song. To use an exercise analogy, “Shine Forever” is like the long stretch of a marathon while “Gravity” is the water break, or cool-down period that comes after the race is done. The song’s calming instrumental is complemented with a relaxed, ’90’s era hip hop-like beat. This doesn’t mean “Gravity” isn’t devoid of musical trends, however; triplets are used in the bridge to add variety to the rap’s rhythm and flow — a technique that has been used more frequently in hip hop, as of late. “Gravity” is a welcome break from the heavy trap that dominates the album.

And then “Ready or Not” hones the focus back onto a trap sound. Brass stabs are prevalent throughout the song, while the high frequencies of the leads furbish the sound. The mixing was nicely done: the low-pitched sirens, reverb on the saws, delay, unique risers, fragmented bleeders, and scattered 808s throughout the drop play off of each other quite well. Although, the sound design isn’t anything particularly special. In fact, it is practically a redux of BTS‘s “Fire,” which is highlighted through the similar song structures, identical sounding accent saws that contrast with the songs’ respective lower frequencies, and becomes especially notable in the 4/4 kick near the end of the track. However, the pre-chorus, chorus, and rap bits are structured differently, which creates a different overall feeling from “Fire,” and infuses the song with the characteristic Monsta X aura.

“All I Do”  emphasizes a smoother melody and de-emphasizes the electronic hip hop that characterizes the rest of the album. A 4/4 drum pattern is paired with a guitar, creating a funky disco vibe evened out with some rap and heavy-handed vocals to modernize the sound. The verses bring to mind a much more upbeat, high octane version of Daft Punk and Pharell‘s “Lose Yourself to Dance.” Even though the vocals and rap already do a fair job adding a modern touch to the song, the build-up and chorus go even further — completely deviating from the initial disco sound by doing away with the guitar and simplicity of the verses. This inconsistency unnecessarily obliterated any potential old-school charm the song could have had; which is a shame, considering the number of oldies-style hits in recent K-pop and western music history.

“5: 14” is similarly melodic. The high-passed orchestral effect and piano melody create the basis for a more introspective and soothing song. A reverse effect is used to transition from the intro to the break, nicely connecting the two while emphasizing the jarring differences of their sounds. However, the spotlight is definitely shone onto the sentimental lyrics. Monsta X muses with an imaginary lover about appreciating all their moments together, good and bad:

5: 14, remember that time
Today, I was given a present that will last forever
This is happiness
It’s honey time that gave you honey-like memories

Even though the message is hardly unique, something about the lyrics ring raw and genuine. Perhaps this has something to do with the seemingly anecdotal mention that Wonho makes to “Putting the stage behind/ Putting the fans behind” and discussing “performances” that he “could have done better.”

Finally, the album ends on a maudlin note with “I’ll be There.” The song is a light hip hop number constructed in a manner suggestive of 8-bit sound designs in old video games, causing it to sound like a cross between a DJ Mustard production and a Legend of Zelda soundtrack. High-pitched and fast plucks brighten up the low frequencies to create a peppier feeling. Snares are used in lieu of the white risers, bleeders, and lev risers that are normally used as transition effects in songs — just something interesting to note about the production. The lyrics are essentially a love confession of sorts that borders on the cheesy side at times. It definitely wasn’t my favorite track, but it wasn’t a terrible one either.

In general, Shine Forever doesn’t stray very far from Monsta X’s typical electronic hip hop sound, which is sure to please fans of their previous releases. But even though Shine Forever boasts a largely trendy sound, it avoids sounding banal by doing some interesting experimentation with effects and attempting to mix in some uncharacteristic genres. There is definitely room for improvement, nonetheless, chiefly in the area of execution in regards to some of the more atypical genres that Monsta X played with. As a final verdict, Shine Forever is a decent album, albeit with some minor issues.

Album Rating: 3/5

(YouTube, Images via Starship Entertainment)