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New Release: LOONA - [&]

Right, let me preface this with a bit of context. Those that know me know that I have a little obsession (maybe a big one) with K-pop, and LOONA is absolutely one of those obsessions. A lot of the time, K-pop is branded with this preconception of being cutesy and/or outright weird pop music, but let me stop you right there.


Who are LOONA?


LOONA (이달의 소녀, directly translated as "Girl of the Month") are a Korean girl-group consisting of twelve members who each individually released 'pre-debut' tracks. Further the band released a number of Extended Plays (EPs) as sub-groups prior to the full group debut. Yeah, it's pretty extensive.


If you like [&], I would highly recommend going back through the repertoire and having a listen to some of the sub-group tunes. A couple that spring to mind are "LOONATIC" by ODD EYE CIRCLE and "love4eva (feat. Grimes)" by the yyxy sub-group.

LOONA

[&]


As the fourth mini album released by the full group, [&] is following the highly acclaimed [12:00] which was released in October last year. I'm not going to get into the narrative lore of LOONA, but this release marks the return of the full line-up for over two years since one member, HaSeul, took an extended break from the band for personal reasons. As such, the fan hype around this release was high.


Having listened to the mini-album through a number of times, let's dive into a track-by-track.


"&"


As with every LOONA release, the intro track plays a huge role in establishing the overall vibe of the EP.


Introducing some of the motifs heard in the title track, "&" starts things off with a number of familiar dark synth elements (a stable of previous releases), before transitioning and leaning much harder into some Indian/Bollywood-influenced elements. I'd love to say that the first time I listened to this intro (in comparison to previous EPs) I was blown away, but I have to say it was much more convoluted and didn't make a huge amount of sense on it's own. Don't get me wrong, once you've listened to the title track following it, it will fit better, but it has nothing on their previous intros.


I just wish next time they manage to link the intro into the title track without such a stark fadeout.


"PTT (Paint The Town)"


One of the things that keeps me (and others) coming back to LOONA are the ridiculous song structures that switch things up every few bars and catch you off-guard. Following the intro, the first verse slaps you with cheery innocence that at first listen fooled me into a false sense of security and assumption that the hard-hitting LOONA I know has just dished out a soft title track. To be honest, the top line of the first verse had me a little disappointed that they'd ended up releasing a weird summer track, that a lot of other bands have done also. This false sense was quickly removed as we move into the second verse.


A catchy and fast-moving top line covers the eight bars needed to move into what feels like a rollercoaster of pre-choruses. Honestly, this section makes the song. As I'll discuss, the chorus hits hard, but this section builds the foundations. There is absolutely no need for two distinct melodies in the pre-chorus, but what they did works in a way I don't think many could without becoming cheesy.


The drop into a heavy and half-beat first chorus catches you off-guard; not because you weren't expecting it, but because you weren't expecting that. As I alluded to, this is what keeps me coming back and looking forward to new releases. Based on the verses, I was not expecting the chorus to drop into a dirty and aggro-fuelled beat. The second half of the chorus picks back up to be driven by the same Bollywood elements present at the beginning of the song to become easily my favourite section to move to. Kudos has to go to the producers and writers on this one, because daaaaamn.


The second set of verses are, to be honest, a little cliché. Not saying it's bad, it works, but a K-pop song with a rap verse after the first chorus has been done time and time again. Having said that, the second four bar section is catchy and flows very nicely back into the pre-chorus and chorus sections.


With a short but sweet vocal-driven breakdown we're back into a modified chorus to close the song off.


Overall, great title track to comeback with.


"WOW"


Following a track like "PTT (Paint The Town)" will always be tricky, but I'm not sure "WOW" achieves what it was setting out to do. All of the attitude built up in the first two tracks goes completely out of the window for this one and it's honestly a real shame. Immediately I'm back in the world of fairly generic sounding synth lines which would be hard to differentiate from any other girl group.


A pretty disappointing third track on the album, albeit with a fun and bouncy chorus hook.


"Be Honest"


Okay. Switch this and the last track around please. The album just would have flowed much better into this.


Honestly though, I don't have a lot to say about this song other than my liking toward the initial synth line bouncing around and underneath the verses. The chorus is a little too cheery for the vibe of the title track again, and could (in my mind) be dragged out of a Red Velvet record. Previous LOONA EPs have done a good job at making the B-sides stand out on their own, but so far I can't say the same for this album. It might be the market push for summery-feeling songs, but it's not working for me.


"Dance On My Own"


Easily an underdog on this record, "Dance On My Own" slows things down with a beautifully simple yet catchy melody and guitar combination. This track is a super easy and satisfying listen for me which sets itself apart from any of the other B-sides.


The chorus is still stuck in my head. Help.


"A Different Night" and "U R"


I have decided to group these two songs together because I just got bored. I hate to do this because I'm used to LOONA records keeping my interested until the end with tracks like "OOPS!" and "Stylish" but I'm struggling with this release.


"U R" tried to keep me interested with an fancy-enough chorus melody, but that's about it. Disappointing end to the EP.


My verdict?


[&] started as an incredibly high-energy hit of everything I love about LOONA, but unfortunately that started to falter after the title track. For the first time, I'm not sure I could consistently listen the entire way through this EP without skipping.


"PTT (Paint The Town)" is a fantastic comeback track, I just wish the rest of the EP lived up to the same level. Welcome back LOONA, you've been missed, but I'm holding out for the next one.