Earlier this month, GFriend returned with their seventh EP, 回:Labyrinth, which comes almost five years into their career. Throughout their career, they have forged a musical identity that is uniquely their own — a mix of lush, feminine vocals delicately placed against some of the most aggressive guitar lines of the K-pop scene, rounded up with the drive of the mid-2000s pop rock boom.
GFriend stuck to organic instrumentation when most groups turned to electronic influences, and managed to make their own niche rather than follow trends. Of course, they are more than a little notorious for the fact that so many of their title tracks sound so similar. To counter such criticism, it is worthwhile to say that they have made efforts to expand their repertoire, while returning to what made them big in the first place. That said, GFriend does have a good variety of songs in their discography. It just takes a little more work to find them.
Off their first album LOL, “Sunshine” is a track that shows off the sweeter side of GFriend. A delicate mid-tempo ballad, this is a song that just invites smiles. The soothing piano plays perfectly against GFriend’s vocals. It is also far more dynamic than most ballads, providing points of interest to play against the ladies’ steady delivery. There is also minimal vocal gymnastics here, instead putting emphasis on the earnest, heartfeltness of the lyrics. This is a track about thanking the person who is always there for you, and it captures that warm feeling of being with someone who has your back, no matter what.
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is “Click,” also from LOL. “Click” is a masterpiece of lyrical dissonance. The instrumentation is utterly joyful, with bouncy riffs, playful synths, and GFriend at their most sassy, even getting some cheerleader chants in the mix. Audio only, “Click” is happiness in three minutes, guaranteed. The lyrics, on the other hand, are full of depression and pain, with GFriend plastering on smiles for the ‘gram and hoping “fake it ‘til you make it” applies to emotional states. The impulse to smile, even when it hurts, is just too strong to ignore.
Closing out mini album The Awakening is “Crush,” the story of an unwanted crush. Specifically, the song directs itself at a crush you do not want to have. GFriend’s repeated lamentations that they cannot seem to get over this crush is less tragedy and more annoyance that their heart will not get the point. Their frustrations with themselves is backed against production that takes its cues from new jack swing, with a bouncier bass and fuller mix than is usual. “Crush” is crowded, every part clanging into something else, but it simply builds into the irritation that GFriend feels as they attempt to deal with their unwanted feelings.
“Rainbow”, the eponymous track from the reissue of Parallel, is an interesting song because it sounds like a stereotypical GFriend song, but taken up to eleven. In the intstrumentation, the guitar is rollicking and fierce, the piano sparse and poignant, the drums forceful and manic, all tied together into a powerful and resilient song. This only amplified by GFriend, whose vocals are impressive both technically and emotionally. “Rainbow” is chock full of runs, but GFriend dance up and down the treble clef with aplomb, sounding desperate, driven, and resigned in equal measures. It is the embodiment of the silk hiding steel sound that propelled them to stardom, and it is amazing to hear.
Sunny Summer marked a new sound for GFriend, one that is present on “Love In The Air.” A turn towards synthpop, this is a silly love song in the best. Literally, GFriend have fallen in love, and are embracing the feeling with complete rapture. A lighter track, the production carries that through by utilizing mostly strings and synths for a fizzy, bright tune loaded with twinkling flourishes. Yet, there still is a guitar present to anchor the track and give the otherwise saccharine instrumentation some needed bite. “Love In The Air” is effervescent without feeling disposable, the embodiment of pure joy.
Rounding out our picks is “Labyrinth” from 回:Labyrinth. “Labyrinth” sees GFriend experiment even more with electronic influences, going for a soundscape straight from a 90s rave. This is mania set to music, grandiose and panicked. The vocals soar with drive, or crumble rapidly in confusion. The vintage eurodance synths are frenetic and bubbling, keeping the production always off-kilter. “Labyrinth” is a headrush where everything is moving so fast. It is not even clear if the issue is the inability to get out of the maze, or the desire to stay inside.
GFriend has had an impressive career over the last five years, but they are often lamented for having pigeonholed themselves into the sound that made them famous. This is an unfair assessment, as they have proven themselves capable of working in a plethora of styles. They just need to be better known.
(Images via Source Music. YouTube )