Whew! What a mouthful, that album title. From the title alone, Cravity’s latest mini-album promises great things: a “new day,” a new side of the group, a new set of charms.
Sadly, The New Day is no new breakthrough. The New Day is a highly polished collection of solid songs, but it’s also entirely faceless — what even is Cravity’s concept? Are they aggressive, growling bad boys? Are they young starry-eyed pop crooners? Are they retro-loving dancers?
Who knows? At this point, all I can really say about Cravity is that they’re talented K-pop idols who make decent music. Beyond that, I haven’t the foggiest idea what makes Cravity stand out from the hordes of other K-pop boy groups.
Let’s start with the main culprit of this album: the title track. “Flame” is a strangely empty song. For some reason, the verses contain only percussion and vocals — painfully sparse. No other sounds. If only the producers had added synth pads or electric guitar or rippling bass or anything, really, as long as the song didn’t feel so hollow.
There are some minimalistic songs that work very well, but “Flame” is not one of those. It just doesn’t feel like it was written to be a minimalistic track. Instead, it’s almost as if Cravity’s producers thought, An instrumental that consists of only percussion? Cool — let’s try it!
Then, presumably, decided that “percussion-only” means “insultingly simple.” Contrast that with SHINee’s “One Minute Back,” which is driven entirely by percussion and vocals, but harnesses different shifting textures to craft a palpable sense of rhythm and complexity. Now that’s how to properly do a percussion-based song.
But I digress. This is a Cravity review, after all, not an ode to SHINee. The forgettable “Flame” is even more frustrating because “Believer,” one of The New Day’s strongest b-sides, is such obvious title track material.
“Believer” opens with an intriguingly dramatic flute, before propulsive percussion sets in. The first verse wafts by pleasantly, but when Jungmo starts singing, the song really opens up. His lines are a series of steadily descending notes; the creeping melody brings incredible energy to “Believer.” From there, the song snowballs to its dubstep-influenced chorus, complete with a grandiose layered exclamation: “And I believe in you!” The second verse is a delightful piece of emphatic rap, thankfully with no trap beats anywhere.
“Believer” possesses a breathless sense of drama, power, flashiness — by far the most title-track worthy song in The New Day. This song alone makes me a true believer in Cravity’s potential.
In “Realize,” the best song in The New Day, that potential is fully realized (pun not intended). “Realize” opens with simple piano but quickly adds little accents of distorted synth. Then we’re treated to bursts of rippling electronics and crashes of drum, before the chorus finally slams in. And what a chorus it is — it hits all the right spots, managing to be emotional and propulsive and dance-ready, all at the same time. Taeyoung’s lines in the chorus are particularly beautiful. And the second verse, a nasal Dawn-esque rap courtesy of rapper Allen, serves as a perfect foil to the swirling chorus.
Sadly, the rest of the album works as hard as it possibly can to undermine the good will generated by “Believer” and “Realize.” It’s stuffed with a variety of different songs, yes, but with no creativity whatsoever. Each and every track is utterly beholden to current trendy sounds.
There’s “Ohh Ahh,” Cravity’s spin on future bass. Except there’s no spin — “Ohh Ahh” is a completely predictable concoction of flourished electronics, with nothing to differentiate it from the thousands of other future bass tracks floating out on the internet.
There’s “Breathing,” the obligatory drippy ballad. It opens with all-too-typical acoustic guitar and soft sad vocals. Pretty, yes, but ballads like this are tacked onto the end of so many K-pop albums that it’s hard to not feel a little cynical. “Breathing” represents Cravity too well — kowtowing to industry trends and doing it decently, but kowtowing all the same.
There’s “Hot Air Balloon,” an attempt at the bouncy summery fare that so many other groups are peddling at the moment. The first few seconds do not bode well: Serim whispers “Cravity, Cravity!” but ends up sounding more like “crappity, crappity!” Luckily, there are some fun ideas here: little panting breaths during the verses, and “ooh ooh ooh” adlibs that add texture to the chorus. Ultimately, though, “Hot Air Balloon” is simply too wispy and insubstantial. The song is so sweet and light that it collapses under its own weight.
And finally, there’s the tropical “Sunrise,” which is a serviceable but slavishly generic piece of pop. I’m inclined to forgive the been-there-done-that instrumental, but only because the tropical trend has died down slightly in recent years. If “Sunrise” had been released two years ago — when K-pop was flooded with tropical music — this b-side would hardly warrant a listen.
During the chorus of “Sunrise,” the boys are forced into a high falsetto: a thin, quavery sound. This isn’t a criticism of their vocal abilities — after all, we all know how hard K-pop artists work, and they certainly deserve respect for all their efforts. But I wish Cravity’s producers had written a song that plays to the members’ strengths.
Ironically, this album does present many different facets of Cravity, but none of them (save a few brief exceptions) really stick. The group’s constant genre-switching falls short of experimentation or versatility — instead, Cravity is directionless, with no clear idea of what path it wants to follow. Hopefully, the group will slowly develop its own unique musical hallmarks. But until then, it seems that we’ll have to make do with generic albeit solid music.
(YouTube. Images via Starship Entertainment.)