Did any of you watch La La Land this year? Do you remember the scene in the movie when Sebastian feels a bit iffy about joining his friend’s pop jazz band? At first, Sebastian, a struggling musician and jazz enthusiast, is relegated to basic keyboard duties by his friend because, as we know, pop bands don’t have time for extravagant instrumentals (not even jazz ones) that are not existing plugins you can find on ProTools.
Like Sebastian’s plight between his passion for jazz and his band’s mainstream version of it, a bulk of the instrumentation on idol band CNBLUE‘s comeback EP 7°CN comes across much in the same way; it’s a balancing act between their personal sound and what they think they should sound like to an audience whose taste has shifted toward styles that are foreign to a traditional rock band.
But that is precisely why this has occurred: CNBLUE is not a traditional rock band. They are, first and foremost, idols and idols resist stagnation, oftentimes tweaking their sound to compensate for mainstream appeal. 7°CN reflects this effort quite clearly, in effect making it one of CNBLUE’s most experimental albums in a while. To get a good sense of this, look no further than lead single “헷갈리게 (Between Us)”.
Never in my wildest imagination did I think we would hear CNBLUE dabbling in trap, but that is exactly what happens on this song. As far-fetched as that sounds, truth be told, it all actually comes together rather smoothly.
“Between Us” resides mainly on solid pop-rock territory, as CNBLUE’s music usually does, but the song incorporates unexpecting shifts in rhythm during its first chorus. It is both familiar and foreign, inviting a sense of intrigue upon first listen. As the song progresses, CNBLUE builds on this platform by gradually moving the entire vibe toward more electro-pop, finishing off the back half of the song in style. The approach is refreshing and this album is at its best when CNBLUE manages to narrow their focus enough on it.
One of the group’s most charming deliverables on 7°CN comes in the form of “Royal Rumble”. The song is a breezy electro-pop mid-tempo that highlight’s frontman Yonghwa‘s timbre and his formless way of gliding throughout his vocal range. It is a song rich in melismas and shimmery guitar work that make it one of CNBLUE’s most delightful songs in their arsenal.
Where this album wavers is in its mid-section. Though it is worth commending CNBLUE for infusing their newest music with contemporary details (effectively setting it apart from nearly everything they have released), there is just something unremarkable about the end product of some of these songs.
For instance, the urban-pop “When I Was Young” is excruciating in its banality, with very little traces of CNBLUE’s unique band quality to be found. It is purposely crafted to sound current, but the effort renders it way off-brand. And that is saying something, considering CNBLUE is a band that has tiptoed across genre lines before. “It’s You” suffers from the same problem, but here at least the song captures remnants of a band in its odd R&B-lite delivery, misplaced rap verse and all.
Ultimately, what is worth noting about 7°CN is that CNBLUE understands that their sound has to evolve. While their effort was largely kept safe on 7°CN, it wasn’t without its surprises and moments of pure CNBLUE delight. The band took a risk with their lead single, and it paid off. If CNBLUE continues to seek a balance in their music that doesn’t fully compromise their identity as a band, it should only get better from here.
Genre: Rock | Release Date: 3/20/17