There is something perpetually nerve-wracking about summer releases. On the one hand, a good summer EP or song can give a group a definite boost, as well as provide a built-in excuse to make music where the only goal is fun. Indeed, it is completely possible to build a career with good summer jams. On the other hand, many times the idea that a summer release doesn’t really count artistically is taken to mean that it requires no effort, and K-pop is littered with forgotten summer songs that died on a lack of attention. 

Yet, when Twice announced their EP Taste of Love, there was optimism. After all, previous summer EP More & More is a highlight in their discography and one of their best-selling albums. Sadly, that optimism is misplaced. Taste of Love is a stark reminder that no matter the end goal of an artistic work, whether critical acclaim or commercial success, you will only get out what you put in, and JYP Entertainment put in very little.

The most noticeable issue is also, ironically, the least persistent. The first two tracks, “Alcohol Free” and “First Time”, are achievements in poor composition. Both sound as if they are written solely in the upper half of the treble clef, resulting in a shrill, grating sound. The vocals are hard to pick out from the crowded mixes and both are plagued with distracting audio flourishes–bells on the former, water drops on the latter–that serve no purpose but to rend both tracks into thoroughly unpleasant listens. Yet, while the rest of the EP has a merciful rediscovery of the bass clef, once the audiences’ eardrums are no longer trying to collapse themselves in agony it serves only to let them absorb the two less immediate yet equally detrimental flaws: instrumentation and mixing.

Taste of Love has Twice utilizing more organic instrumentation over the synthpop they are better known for. “Alcohol Free” has them turning more bossa nova, “Sandal” has some excellent piano, and “Conversation” goes all-in on the summer island aesthetic and utilizes the xylophone as a key component. Normally, this exploration is a positive, a mark of growth and exploration. But again, music gives out what is put in. Across all of Taste of Love, the instruments sound flat and warped, as if nothing got tuned properly. As a result, the rhythms and grooves all sound dull, clunky, and a bit atonal, even when the actual composition is good, as seen on “Baby Blue Love” and especially “Conversation”.  Using organic instruments means nothing if you do not take the time needed to ensure they sound good.

Then there’s the mixing. It would not be accurate to say that Taste of Love is badly layered, because that implies layering. The instrumentals, vocals, and post-production effects are just slopped onto the track, with no regard for how it sounds. It is honestly hard to hear Twice over the shoddy production. They are completely drowned out. It screams of lazy, slapdash work. “SOS” and “Baby Blue Love” could be standout Twice songs if not for how the lack of breathing room and overcrowded mix just blurs into bland, unmemorable noise.

And that is the truly frustrating thing about Taste of Love. The foundations of a good, maybe even great, EP are here. “First Time” has a killer groove; it just needs to be transposed down an octave or two. The nu-disco of “SOS” gives an aura of mystery and class that Twice proves they can work in, and “Scandal”, with its rock and roll piano and whispered low alto chorus, could have been Twice’s best title track yet. Every bit of potential on Taste of Love was squandered by a stunning lack of care. It was slapped together with no regard for putting out a listenable product, let alone a quality one. The best song, bar none, is the English version of their previous digital single “Cry For Me”, because dark, sleek, and confidently toxic, it alone sounds like work was put into it. 

Taste of Love ping-pongs back and forth between depressing and infuriating. The former from what it is, and the latter from what might have been. Sure, Twice is a huge group, whose massive fanbase, unfortunately, ensures quality is not needed for success. On the other hand, Twice is a huge group with a massive fanbase, so there was no excuse to rush out this slapdash, poorly produced EP.

(Images via JYP Entertainment, YouTube)