Over two years since the release of his first solo EP, Empathy, EXO’s D.O. is finally back with his sophomore mini album, Expectation. Known for his rich, warm vocals, D.O.’s solo return arrives just in time for autumn, with the album itself mirroring many of the feelings of comfort and coziness the new season naturally brings. 

For an album titled Expectation, there is in fact plenty to be expected here. For one, there’s the largely acoustic production, notably guitars, that creates a clear link back to 2021’s Empathy. As with Empathy, D.O. mostly croons over themes of love and relationships on Expectation too. And, in an all-too-expected feat, he delivers crisp, flawless, and emotion-filled vocals that never cease to amaze, nor falter from holding the listener’s attention, throughout all six (technically seven, including the acoustic version of “Lost”) tracks on the album. 

Despite all this familiarity that Expectation entails, that’s not to say it’s a copy-paste of his first album. The connections are obviously there, which points to D.O.’s self-assuredness in his solo sound and musical persona. But beneath the surface, there’s also a richness in both production and storytelling that Expectation makes known that Empathy doesn’t completely possess. 

As a concept, Empathy hinges much more on its thematic cohesiveness rather than telling a narrative story from beginning to end. It’s also not quite as sonically diverse, but that helps it get its point across. Expectation, on the other hand, tells the story of a relationship from before it even starts (“Somebody”) through after it ends (“The View”). Given that this album isn’t necessarily as sonically cohesive as its predecessor, this tactic adds an extra layer of subtext to the EP to make it feel far more dense and substantial than it may come across upon first listen. 

To follow this narrative arc, which mirrors the trajectory of a real-life romantic relationship, the album kicks off on a hopeful and sappy, but still serious, note. First track and title “Somebody” sees D.O. yearning for “somebody,” “even if it’d take long” and “even if passion’s not fiery.” Unlike with “Rose,” his very first title track from two years ago, “Somebody” hardly has any ounce of whimsy to it. Now, D.O. is serious about finding his love, even if it’s not the kind of love he once imagined (“Love to me always fails to be like a movie”). 

The production follows as such, and is noticeably heavier (like the rest of the album) than his previous work necessarily allowed for. On “Somebody,” a dense, throwback beat grounds the acoustic guitar and layered harmonies and vocals that flood the rest of the track. “Wonder,” which brings D.O. to fantasize about his shared future with his new love interest, is the EP’s most upbeat selection, and at first sounds like something off of Empathy with its folky, rhythmic acoustic guitar. While the buoyancy of the guitar informs the track’s perky beat, it still returns to the fullness that “Somebody” first introduced when the track’s layered harmonies come in during the chorus. 

“I Do” brings the sappiness of the first half of Expectation to a head, with D.O. in an equal parts endearingly literal and playfully figurative sense proposing to his lover (“If I tell you, would you say, ‘I do, I do?”). The song is rife with cheeky lyrical musings about love (“I’ll get the stars for you if you asked me to”), but the real focal point is its hefty bassline, which is hardly as obvious on other tracks on the album as it is here. Like with most of the rest of Expectation, it’s a stark (but still subtle in the context of the song and album) element like this one that adds a whole layer of richness to serve as a proof point of growth since D.O.’s last release. 

All good things must come to an end, though, D.O. tells us on “Lost.” Here, his relationship comes to a screeching halt, even though “Lost” is really where Expectation musically takes flight. D.O. kicks off the track noticeably solemn in tone, singing “I remember everything about our story/From the clumsy confession to the last anniversary.” Lyrically, it’s clear that things are over, but where “Lost” truly stands out is during the chorus when the tempo picks up and the crooning guitars are drowned out by booming percussive beats. While brief, the instrumental change-up in the chorus holds a mirror up to the post-heartbreak chaos and confusion D.O. sings of. 

Final two tracks “Ordinary Days” and “The View” are necessary downtempo closers to both the album and its story, but hardly feel forced in their execution. “Ordinary Days,” a slow ballad, is where D.O. lands once the dust from the aftermath of “Lost” settles, reminiscing on happy memories between him and his lover and what could’ve been had they stayed together. Meanwhile, “The View” turns the nostalgia factor up a notch just as the album closes as D.O. sings intensely and solemnly of just how much he misses the person he was once with (“I miss, I miss, I miss you, the view”). Still, the track’s more earnest instrumentals keep an air of hope afloat, bringing Expectation’s story to a bittersweet end. 

Although on the surface, Empathy and Expectation appear as twin flames, Expectation gets to the heart and soul of who and what D.O. is all about on a much deeper level than its predecessor. The similarities between the two are clear, but it’s Expectation’s differences that set it apart and expand D.O.’s musical to world to a brand new level — one that feels even fuller and more complete than the one before it. 

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3][4]. Images via SM Entertainment.)