Monsta X is back with their dynamic fifth mini-album The Code! The theme for this comeback seems to be time-related, with the music video for their title track “Dramarama” in particular being about time travel, and most track names relating to the topic of time. The number of tracks matches the number of members, and the seven songs are extremely diverse in style, yet are still distinctly Monsta X.

Monsta X really suits the strong, bold, dance jams, so it’s no surprise most of their tracks, including “Dramarama”, fall under this category. However, there are a few surprising elements that sets their title track apart from other typical dance pop songs. The layered, choral, a cappella opening with the gradual harmony in the vocals builds suspense, which leads to the surprisingly relaxed electric guitar line inspired by genres of funk and pop rock. The guitar instrumental to me is sort of reminiscent to that in the opening of Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” (although that could also be because I’ve been watching too many of Kihyun’s solo stages of that song during their concerts).

The overall tone for the opening is very different from their usual title tracks which usually go all in with a heavy beat right from the get-go. The pre-chorus section drama(rama)tically slows down, playing with the literal time and tempo of the song to match their theme of time. It is also a little unusual as it takes away from the build-up to the chorus, but somehow works as it stretches the tension to release in the strong chorus. The group has two very strong rappers IM and Jooheon, each with their distinct styles, and in many of their previous tracks, each would have their own individual rap part; however, during the climax of “Dramarama”, they engage in a call-and-answer style of rapping to meld both of their styles. It’s an interesting technique that really works to add cohesion to the track. Overall, it’s an amazing title track that really sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The rest of the more upbeat tracks, namely “Now or Never”, “X”, and “Deja Vu”, do not disappoint. “Now or Never” is a dark, fierce track that is driven by the powerful rap at the beginning as well as the instrumental siren-like motifs; the recurring dance breaks are the perfect opportunities for the group to show off their extremely synchronised moves, as seen in their performance of the track during their comeback showcase. The funky opening of “X” gives it more of an uplifting feel, but this is quickly grounded by the deep bass line. It would be your typical dark and powerful dance track with the overuse of autotune which is the song’s one pitfall, but what saves it is the interesting harmonic suspension during the chorus providing a tiny moment of dissonance. It works with the contrast of the smoothness and richness of Kihyun’s vocals to give a purposeful and sassy charm to the track.

From the very start, there’s a urgent vibe to “Deja Vu” not unlike a thrilling car chase, but this culminates in a weird high-pitched shout/yell that really just sounds awkward. In contrast to the rapid opening, the song is actually a lot slower in tempo, but the heaviness of the bass line prevents the slower tempo from taking away from the bold atmosphere. The chorus is where it’s at, though: the anthem-like chant will have you nodding along to the beat before you know it!

Strategically inserted between the above tracks are these more mellow, slower ones: “In Time”, “From Zero”, and “Tropical Night”. Of the three, “In Time” would be the only ballad track. Although the rappers do feature on the track, the vocals really stand out. Monsta X has a very diverse vocal line, and this track showcases their individual colours: Kihyun’s powerful and soothing voice, Shownu’s light and delicate tone, Wonho’s melodic and lyrical timbre, Minhyuk’s raspy tone, and Hyungwon’s deeper yet soft vocal colour. The sparkling bells and lullaby-like notes, especially at the end, make for a soothing song perfect to enjoy on a chilly evening.

“From Zero” is a transition track that bridges the more energetic tracks from the more mellow ones. Strictly speaking, it is a dance track, but it is a soft and delicate one. Monbebes should be very familiar with the song, as it was performed as a duet with Wonho and Hyungwon at their concerts earlier this year. Since then, many, including myself, have been looking forward to a studio version, so this is a real treat! Parts have been added to include the rest of the members, but the essence of the song is kept, featuring soft and delicate vocal lines leading perfectly into the dance breaks, similar to “X”. However, like “X”, it unfortunately goes a bit too heavy-handed with the autotune. Finally, “Tropical Night” is a slow jam with heavy R&B influences. It’s my favourite of the entire album, not only due to the genre, but also because of the interplay between the vocalists and rappers during the chorus, with the interplay of layered vocal lines with deep interjections of rap.

Monsta X has really shown growth with The Code while keeping true to their roots. Although most of their songs are heavily pop-inspired, there are added elements to keep them new, different, and most importantly, memorable. Barring the overuse of autotune which was tacky and entirely unnecessary, each and every track off the album is a gem in its own right, so kudos to Monsta X for coming through with their latest comeback! Here’s to hoping that they will finally get their very well-deserved first win!

(Images via Starship Entertainment)