Just 8 months after the release of The Dream Chapter: STAR, Big Hit Entertainment‘s rookies have returned with The Dream Chapter: MAGIC. With the release of STAR, it was obvious that TXT was going for an entirely different musical trajectory than senior BTS, and that continues to be established with MAGIC.

The eight-track album continues to emphasise the innocence and childlike sentiments that STAR had. From singing about the woes of how stifling school can be and the nervous purity about a puppy love to accentuating the teenage boredom and restlessness youngsters suffer from, MAGIC‘s message is distinctly set for a teenage demographic.

“Popping Star,” for example, is an upbeat, light-hearted song revolving around the idea of the mundanity of everyday life. While this is probably common to everyone, it is the naive remedy to this mundanity which might make listeners break into a fond smile:

What you did yesterday is already boring.
I need more, more, more popping.
Sky and high-fives beyond the sun,
Lemon filled with lime orange, chew, yeah.

If only all of us could break free of the humdrum of life with just the flavours of lemon, lime, and orange.

MAGIC is an album that makes listeners reminiscent of the best parts of summer, and “Popping Star” is one song that especially invokes such memories. Imagery of the sun, fresh oranges, and exciting rollercoasters run the narrative of the track. Staccato percussions (synth-xylophone, mostly) dominate the instrumental, giving the track a jovial and playful feel.

“Can’t We Just Leave the Monster Alive?” builds up on a similar sound, infusing elements of EDM during the chorus to create a catchy hook. The track subtly hints at the idea of monsters alluded in STAR, where they convey the message that weird and unique traits do not make individuals monsters, they make people special. As the lyricism for “Can’t We Just Leave the Monster Alive?” draws heavy influences from the gaming scene, it expands on the analogy by mentioning how listeners should keep the “monster” within them alive, as opposed to killing it.

Where MAGIC‘s message might feel too childlike for some, the production of it steps in to elevate the album for a wider demographic. Do not mistake its childlike lyrics for a production that is equally immature. STAR gave us an album that was perfectly curated. Though there was a lack of rawness and personality, the album showed the huge amount of effort that had gone into the production and art direction. The same goes for MAGIC.

The orchestral production and arrangement of MAGIC was evident from the get-go. It would not be a stretch to say that viewers were expecting a well-executed album after watching the concept trailer.

MAGIC does not disappoint as the sophisticated production especially shines through the ballads, with tracks like “Magic Island” and “20cm.” The members of TXT are still rookies, and their songs therefore do not feature powerful ad-libs or outstanding high notes. Yet, these ballads are composed in a way that ensures listeners will not crave for the aforementioned elements. Rather, the instrumentals take advantage of their sweet, novice vocals to create two tracks that are refined.

Opening up with a gentle whistle, “Magic Island” develops to become a serene ballad about a past love. Piano notes and soft synth beats are paired with airy vocals and humming to create a subdued but alluring track.

Our start line,
the starlight of the day that we saw together.
Don’t forget that night,
you can’t forget this place.

“20cm” gives more focus on TXT’s vocals. Yeonjun‘s abilities are highlighted as his high notes begin the song. Even though there are times where the track is instrumentally heavy, they are mostly subdued when the members are singing, obvious particularly during the verses. On the other hand, Taehyun‘s holds his ground during the bridge. Although the members may not have extremely distinctive voices, it is songs like “20cm” that show how well their voices balance each other’s. The member’s vocals blend effortlessly, and because of how the song is composed, this blending feels like a huge advantage.

That being said, the other non-ballad tracks are polished in their production too. “Roller Coaster,” for some reason, is faintly an echo of something Shinee would put out. It is one of the best tracks off the album, in my personal opinion. “Roller Coaster” is a mishmash of pop and space-funk-like elements, making it a quirky but addictive dance track. The bass instruments in the verses give way to hypnotic and moving synthesisers. It is a track that’s bound to leave you with a skip in your steps.

“Roller Coaster” and “New Rules” sandwich the title track — “Run Away” — between them on the album, and together, the trio of songs make for an addictive album introduction. While Run Away does not stray too far from a typical synth-pop song, the uptempo is kept consistent throughout the three tracks, and “New Rules” does a lot in keeping listeners wanting to listen to MAGIC.

At first listen, “New Rules” may not stand out, but its intricacy jumps out more once the album loops back to the track after the outro, “Angel or Devil.” “Angel or Devil” is a typical Supreme Boiproduced track: rough vocals with a rhythm not unlike raps, a choppy hip-hop instrumental beat, and a heavy influence of autotune. These elements make the smooth and effortless “New Rules” even more prominent on the track-list.

“New Rules” repeats the catchy “let me go, let me go” hook from the concept trailer. The higher-pitched, airy vocals and minimalist bass instrumentals are contrasted with deeper vocals and a more instrumentally complex pre-chorus and chorus. This composition is what makes the track engaging and memorable. It is also one of the only tracks where the members (Yeonjun and Hueningkai, specifically) attempt to rap, and it sort of works. Combined with Soobin‘s and Beomgyu‘s quieter vocals, “New Rules” works as an admirable introduction to the album, and to the members themselves.

All in all, MAGIC continues on to establish the great production quality that STAR had started with. If anything, it lets listeners know that they can expect something thoughtfully orchestrated and carefully curated from future releases. Even though the messages of the songs drip with naïveté, Big Hit has gained enough experience to turn that into an advantage without making the concepts cringe-worthy or embarrassing.

The Dream Chapter: MAGIC does make one wonder if this synthetic, conscientiously-arranged image is what Big Hit is trying to push with TXT. Their debut image and releases since then have been meticulously coordinated, which is not too different from groups from other entertainment companies. However, it remains a far cry from label-seniors BTS and the rawness they had. Still, the group is only in their first year. It remains to be seen if they will stay on this path, or diverge from it.

(YouTube, Lyrics Kpop. Images via Big Hit Entertainment)