It didn’t take long for Noir to align themselves with a hard-hitting sound of their own: they explored rap on “Gangsta”, trap on “Airplane Mode”, and now the genres’ intersection with “Doom Doom”. ABYSS, their newest EP, centers on propulsive beats and darkness but sounds best during its airy, light songs. Their adherence to dense trap and speedy beats might have been precarious, for half of this EP showcases promise where the other half indicates mismanagement. The EP shouldn’t be an EP, but rather two distinct pieces.

The first part of the album — “Intro” and “Doom Doom” — is dark, patchy, and at times innovative. There’s something to be said about preludes; they are tonal primers and are frankly not present in enough albums. Rightfully, for the proceeding track, the aptly named “Intro” hints at fast-paced darkness and speedy tempi while introducing the digitally-made baritone “I’m a Noir / I’m a Noir”. The choice is right, for it’s the best “Doom Doom” has got to offer, which is a shame for such a promising song. 

Most simply, the A-track “Doom Doom” is brittle. Its elements hint at potential, starting with Yoosung’s breathy voice over a tastefully empty melody, but ignoring cadence as the vocal prominence extends over the first rap verse, making the vocal editing more apparent than the backing synths. The accelerato is exciting, but the transition to the pre-chorus is jarring, reminiscent of Weki Meki’s “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” off-putting tonal changes. With a hindered pre-chorus in charge of building momentum, the powerful intercalations of “I’m a Noir / I’m a Noir” and high notes can only do so much for the chorus.

Taken in a vacuum the hook is powerful, the most banging part of the song. It is electronica-imbued pop a lá K-pop, which is strikingly different from the less innovative verses that surround it. For the rest of the song, the cycle predictably repeats and makes clear that vacuous melodies and loud beats don’t make for dynamism. Similarly, the lyrics become stale quickly, for they seem to be constructed with rhythm and not meaning in mind, having Noir’s ideas become muddled under inarticulate words.

Conversely, Noir’s performance of the song is dazzling, making the faults in the production of “Doom Doom” all the more apparent. Unbalanced mastering, incomplete cadences, and rough transitions make for a few innovative ideas and not much more. These mismanagement issues are similarly present in the music video and clearly beyond the members’ control; the poor color work and stabilization artifacts undermine the talents of the group, arranging “Doom Doom” in a patchy package.

After “Doom Doom”, the EP purposefully diverges in theme and incidentally betters. ABYSS lightens up with the joyous “Diamond”, a cheerful melody that screams youth. It’s light and playful but full-bodied enough not to be childish; it’s more reminiscent of adolescence. It feels somewhat through-composed and consequently narrative, avoiding over repetitions beyond hooks. Production heightens here, making a mix that’s without glaring issues. “Diamond” has the boys of Noir mix flow rap, spoken rap, and sung verses to create a song that’s cheerful and demonstrative of their capabilities.

In the same vein, “Hello” follows similar brightness with breathy vocals. It takes the concept of a ballad and enhances it with tempi movement and snappy modal changes. It’s dynamic but delicate enough to maintain unison in the vibrant imagery it evokes. It’s not innovative, but there’s no point in reinventing the wheel — especially when it works as well as it does here. The compound of smooth blue-like vocals with the harmonical layering of pop deliver the best song in the EP.

Both “Diamond” and “Hello” make clear that the second part of ABYSS is the antithesis of what the album indicates to be and initially is. Not only is it conceptually contrary, but the quality of the songs is completely different. Luk Factory’s desire to maintain image coherence with the dramatic tone of previous tracks is understandable but short-sighted. Groups whose image is spearheaded by a concept are few in the world of K-pop, and it’s clear that in this case, the choice is limiting the artistic development of the group.

For an EP that centers around darkness, it all feels surprisingly ironic. Light melodies spearhead the best of this EP and reveal what could be of Noir were they to take a different approach. The EP also signals the mismanagement of a talented group of boys, all the way from music production to conceptual developments. If Luk Factory can’t figure it out, then Noir won’t make it. ABYSS is half-way successful, but in exactly the way it shouldn’t have been.

(Youtube, Images via Luk Factory)