CLC has long had problems with their image. Namely, they don’t have one, not really. Like many other groups searching for that breakthrough song, they’ve cycled through a plethora of concepts, from classy to cute to girl crush, but none have ever stuck. Now, though, we’re rounding a second release with the same concept, the dark girl crush. And while Black Dress was held back by a lacklustre EP, that’s not an issue No. 1 has. Is it great? No. But it’s consistent in quality and tone while allowing CLC to play to their strengths and gives them something to build on.

CLC’s first swing at the girl crush petered out by virtue of “Hobgoblin” being 4Minute-lite. They’re not the crazy party girls dominating the dance floor. They’re the above-it-all ones who mock the crazy party girls and are just over the whole scene. Seriously, CLC’s attitude throughout No. 1 is a fabulous amalgamation of boredom, arrogance, and lust.

This is clearest on “No”, which is 2019’s first sledgehammer to the patriarchy. Here, they refuse to change anything themselves. They reject pressure to engage in materialism, pressure to be cute, pressure to be sexy– pretty much pressure to be anything but themselves. The most telling aspect is the delivery of “No”. CLC isn’t angry or hurt. Instead, they’re bored, not just ignoring the pressure, but straight up not feeling it.

This aura of being done with people also shows up on “Breakdown”. When CLC make the change of cutting their long hair, their boyfriend’s subsequent behavior reveals him to be an asshole. So, instead of waffling over how their lover has changed, they simply declare the relationship over and note that not only has the world continued unimpeded, it’s a lovely night out.

CLC’s turn towards arrogance is present on the rest of the EP, though mixed with lust rather than boredom. “Show”, “Like It” and “I Need U” show CLC seeking out new relationships, but the emphasis is clearly on the physical. It may be couched in love-centric terms, but when they entice someone to deeply penetrate their heart, it’s not their heart they’re talking about.  They make a booty call in order salvage a rotten day and jump into bed with a new beau. However, at no point do they express doubt about being wanted. These aren’t tracks of seduction, but statements of fact. CLC are dead certain that the apple of their eye wants them, and have no qualms about acting on that want.

The instrumentation is less defiant than the lyrics; continuing to ride the EDM trend that I’m patiently waiting to die, but it earns some goodwill by riding that trend well. For one thing. No. 1 has energy. “No” and “Like It” are dark and thrumming, “Breakdown” is an R&B ballad built on a killer interplay of bass and handclaps, and “I Need U” is a pivot towards eurodance that I hope CLC follows up on. Even “Show” which is pure trop house, has New Wave influences on the synths that add color and vibrancy to a sound that tends towards washed out.

The best way to sum up the production of No. 1. is “dynamic”. This is EDM you can actually dance to, filled with varied runs played on actual instruments. There’s guitar, some solid bass, great usage of drums on “Breakdown”, xylophones, and “I Need U” has some brass tones I’m almost inclined to call country. In a music landscape defined by sterility and disposability No. 1 stands out for the simple fact that it sound like effort was put into it.

No. 1 is a fantastic release for CLC. It’s not perfect– the production could have used some stronger hooks and trop house needs to die– but the weakest tracks only sin is sounding too close to “No”. This is something that CLC can build on, which is the best thing it could be.

(Images via Cube Entertainment, YouTube)