Album Review: Seventeen – Love & Letter

Release Date: 2016.04.25

Tracklist:
1.  엄지척 / Thumbs Up

2. 예쁘다 / Pretty U

3. 이놈의 인기 / Still Lonely

4. 유행가 / Popular Song

5. Say Yes

6. 떠내려가 / Swept Away

7. 아낀다 / Adore U (Vocal Team Version)

8. 만.세 / Mansae (Hiphop Team Version)

9. Shining Diamond (Performance Team Version)

10. Love Letter

Total Runtime: 00:33:03

Recommended for: Pop music fans who can appreciate some tasteful rapping

NOT recommended for: Heavy metal or slow ballad lovers; people who like extreme music

The 13-member Pledis rookie boy group Seventeen is back with their first studio album, Love & Letter. Composed of ten tracks total, this album encompasses a number of different musical styles, letting each member shine with their rap and vocal abilities. Even more impressive, many members of the group worked on composing and writing a number of songs on the album, with vocal team leader Woozi being credited to every track but one. A rookie group working to create their own music to such a high standard this early on in their career is certainly something to be commended. So let’s have a listen to what these boy have been working on for this fun, breezy spring comeback.

1.  엄지척 / Thumbs Up

The Love & Letter album opens with a high energy track titled “Thumbs Up.” This fast-paced song begins with a series of notes from brass instruments and then the hiphop team jumps in with some rap verses. The more electronic influence of the song begins here as the rap alternates with some interludes of singing. The pre-chorus is entirely vocal focused as the background instrumental slows down before the dubstep chorus enters punctuated by some aggressive rapping. The rest of the song follows this same pattern of fast-paced rapping coupled with breaks of singing for an altogether lively, upbeat track. This song does an excellent job of balancing the rap and singing parts so that neither aspect dominates the song. The difference between the dubstep and more traditional instrumental parts of the track is a bit jarring though, almost so severe that you could believe you’re listening to two different songs. Still, I really love the play of trumpets with the more electronic influenced sound. Overall, “Thumbs Up” still is one of the most fun tracks on the album and a perfect one to enjoy during the transition into these upcoming months of summer parties and vacation.

2. 예쁘다 / Pretty U

“Pretty U” is the second song of Love and Letter and the title track of the album. A rather abrupt change from the hard-hitting beats of “Thumbs Up,” this song is pop-y and bright, everything you’d expect from a teenage boy band. It begins with a “Seventeen…” sung acapella before Wonwoo jumps in with a short rap verse. The track soon switches to singing from Joshua and DK before returning to a rap bit from Vernon this time. Things start to speed up in the song during Seungkwan’s pre-chorus until the instrumental falls away for a moment just before Hoshi jumps in with his singing during the actual chorus. The chorus, with its percussion and guitar instrumental, features the vocal talents of a number of Seventeen’s members in a way that plays on each boy’s strengths. After the chorus, the song returns to its pattern of alternating between rap and singing until the climax of the song is reached where Seungkwan gives an impressive demonstration of his high notes. The track finally finishes with some last verses from the rap unit of Seventeen. “Pretty U” is the type of song that, even though it didn’t wow me at first, becomes really catchy after a couple of listens through. It’s a very dynamic song, with the constant change from rap to vocals, but somehow never manages to sound disorganized or awkward. In a way I feel that it’s a performance-based track because the choreography seems to elevate the song. While it is undeniably a fun, upbeat song to listen to, “Pretty U” becomes even more so with the visual accompaniment of the boys’ dancing that emphasizes all the drumbeats and other nuances of the instrumental.

3. 이놈의 인기 / Still Lonely

Up next on the Love and Letter album is “Still Lonely” and it carries a more subdued, laid-back vibe than the first two tracks that preceded it. The instrumental is an interesting mix of electronic keyboard, soft percussion, and some subtle 80s synth beats that makes the song easy listening. Vernon begins the song with his slightly monotone singing (not flat in a bad way, but more like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to rap or sing). An extended rap bit follows this to then transition into a combination of singing and rap until the chorus begins. The chorus utilizes just the vocal talents of the Seventeen members with some fun added sound effects to the instrumental and ends with a really lovely falsetto. The next verse begins with singing this time until the rap-vocals come back in during the pre chorus. After another chorus, the third verse returns to just a rap before revisiting the chorus one final time. While the track is titled “Still Lonely” it doesn’t have a melancholy feel to it at all; rather, I would describe overall tone as funky instead. Like a throwback to the Western boy bands of old with a just a pinch of Michael Jackson thrown into the mix. One of my personal favorites on the album, it’s the type of song I’d play on a day trip in the car with windows rolled down. Light and breezy, like spring weather.

4. 유행가 / Popular Song

The fourth track of the Love and Letter album is called “Popular Song” and a little bit of a surprise. This song tricks you into believing it’s a slow, almost ballad-like track with its subdued, lyrical rapping and beautiful soft singing in the beginning. And I would have been perfectly happy if the song stayed with its slow piano instrumental punctuated by snaps as the vocal unit harmonized but the track picks up energy and speed in the chorus. Whereas the words of the first verse were drawn out much like the background music, in the chorus everything moves much faster in an instant with the repetition of “Yuhaenga” from the China-line again and again. The transition back to the slow, contemplative tempo of the verses is just as quick as a rap begins the second verse. Even the rapping is a bit sing-song and the smooth blending of layers of vocals returns in the pre-chorus. “Popular Song” uses vocal harmonies in a big way, perhaps more than any other song on the album and this is really something Seventeen does well, thanks to the many talented singers in the band. The song reaches a new intensity near the end as the instrumental all but disappears except for violins and soft piano playing. DK and Seungkwan each get to shine with their vocals and Wonwoo demonstrates his versatile rapping. One final chorus finishes the song, ending it with resounding vocal harmonies that linger in your ears. All in all, a really lovely song that expresses a very sweet longing without being overly brooding or complicated.

5. Say Yes

“Say Yes” is the fifth song on Love and Letter and one of the only true ballads on the entire album. It is also sung entirely by main vocals Seungkwan and DK, an aspect that I think was very advantageous in allowing them to explore their vocal ranges. The song starts with a very simple piano instrumental as Seungkwan begins singing before DK takes over for the second part of the verse. Just before the chorus, Seungkwan returns with some beautiful, rich vocals that utilizes his some of his lower range. In contrast, DK begins the chorus in head voice and both boys stay in their upper range for the entirety of the chorus. As the song proceeds, the instrumental gradually becomes more complicated, with violins and some steady beats entering in the second verse. As the chorus ends the instrumental loses this complexity, falling away to a brief moment of silence before the boys enter a final chorus with a sudden surge of background music. The song ends with some ad-libs and the last notes of a violin and piano, returning to simplicity in favor of an explosive finish. In my opinion, the vocals really make this song and I especially loved the dynamic of some lower notes in the verses and utilizing the upper range in the choruses. Overall, a beautiful song that showcases the honey vocals of the immensely talented main vocals of Seventeen.

6. 떠내려가 / Swept Away

Up next on Love & Letter is the sixth track of the album, “Swept Away.” Rather than the entire group participating in this song, it just features the vocal and rap talents of S.Coups, Joshua, Jeonghan, Mingyu, The8, and Seungkwan. A drumbeat begins the song as Jeonghan sings the first lines, followed closely by Joshua. S.Coups then jumps with his lyrical rapping that you could almost call singing. The contrast of his lower tone and the brighter, lighter sound of Joshua and Jeonghan’s voices is quite nice. Then Seungkwan enters the song along with some piano and string instruments. After a short line from Jeonghan, The8 sings the repetitive chorus “Tteonaeryeoga” with his sweet vocal tone, accompanied by harmonies in the background of the song. Jeonghan begins the second verse and Mingyu follows with a rap in his low voice. Seungkwan and Joshua take on the bridge this time, effortlessly using their higher registers, and The8 returns for the chorus. The song finishes with a sing-song rap from Mingyu and S.Coups as the music abruptly cuts off. “Swept Away” is a light and dreamy song; pop-y and bright while still expressing the nostalgia of days past. A nice addition to the album, and one that gave some spotlight to members that don’t usually have the most lines, which I appreciate.

7. 아낀다 / Adore U (Vocal Team Version)

For the seventh track of the Love & Letter album the vocal team returns to the boys’ debut song “Adore U.” Woozi, DK, Seungkwan, Joshua, and Jeonghan combine their vocal talents to take the peppy, upbeat track and turn it into a ballad version of the song. The instrumental is fairly simple: a violin and piano version of the previously upbeat music of the original track. The lines are divided fairly evenly amongst the four boys, even the chorus gives each of them a chance to sing. The bridge of the song is particularly lovely, with the instrumental becoming more subtle as Joshua, Jeonghan, and Woozi take their turns to sing. DK’s transitions into falsetto throughout this song are absolutely effortless and Seungkwan really gets to show of his vocal chops here as well. The other three members certainly hold their own too and the blending of light and rich vocal tones creates a nice sound overall to the song. Still, DK stole the show for me in this reinterpreted version of “Adore U.” This is probably my favorite of the old tracks Seventeen’s vocal, hiphop, and performance teams redid for the Love & Letter album.

8. 만.세 / Mansae (Hiphop Team Version)

The hiphop team takes on their reimagined version of the Seventeen’s last title track “Mansae” for the eighth track of Love & Letter. None of the original lyrics except for the chorus remain in the hiphop team’s version of the song however, as they use their rap talents for adding in new verses to the song. In the chorus the boys come in to quickly rap “Mansae” repetitively in a sing-song tone. They throw in a “Yaho” for good measure too, but it’s a fairly simplistic chorus. The instrumental in this song is a basic as well, sounding very reminiscent to the soundtrack of an 8-bit video game mixed with Wii console music. Rather than it being electronic though, the instrumental is mostly the repetitive tune of a keyboard, and the tinkling of piano keys to silence marks the end of the song. The fast-paced rapping and staccato instrumental it a bit of an odd mix, and not one I found overly interesting to listen to. While it’s not a bad song by any means, in my opinion this song is the weakest of the album. It’s not due to the four boys skills however; the arrangement and background music just felt lacking and a bit awkward somehow.

9. Shining Diamond (Performance Team Version)

The penultimate track on Love & Letter is the performance team version of Seventeen’s previously released song “Shining Diamond.” Rather than this being a re-recorded track though, it’s more akin to a remix because it features the vocals and rap from the original song. This means that members from the other two teams participated in this song, so simply attributing the performance team to it is a bit misleading. This track is a shorter one and sounds a bit like the house version of the original “Shining Diamond.” The song begins with rhythmic snapping and then synth beats enter the song, before we get a few short lines of rap. Then there’s a period of only an upbeat instrumental, something that would be perfect for a dance break. Which was likely the intention of this song: giving the performance team a new song to actually perform to, rather than completely re-recording the track. The majority of the lyrics in the song are simply “shining diamond” and “slip into the diamond life” with a few other verses thrown in but the instrumental dominates the song rather than the vocals. The song is a little bit haphazard, making unexpected switches in tempo, but it’s funky and interesting and doesn’t manage to sound too disorganized despite the constantly changing instrumental. I like that the boys didn’t take the easy dubstep route to turning this track into a more dance-friendly song and instead took a retro but still electronic route to accomplish this.

10. Love Letter

The Love & Letter album wraps up with the final song, “Love Letter.” It starts with some guitar strumming and light, sweet vocals from Woozi. Three other members of the vocal team add in their own talents to first verse before the boys all come together to sing the chorus. The hiphop team take on the second verse with their lyrical rapping and Seungkwan sings the bridge into the next chorus. Jeonghan and DK sing the beginning of the third verse and then the instrumental falls away but a few notes from a guitar as Wonwoo sings (yes, sings) with his wonderfully deep voice. Vernon jumps in with a “You know it can’t get any better than this, baby” before an impressive ad-lib brings us into the final chorus. The chorus is repeated twice; first with the more complex instrumental and finally with nearly no background music and few vocals. Just in the last moments of the song the song builds up for an explosive finish and ends with a note of finality. “Love Letter” is just cuteness in song form and really captures the boyish spirit of Seventeen. I love the use of so many layers of their vocals during the chorus of the track and the energy it brings to the song. In my opinion, that is one of the benefits to groups with a large number of members: finding the right way to combine their voices for a unique and harmonious sound. In the end, it’s a fun track, not as upbeat as the more electronic “Thumbs Up” perhaps, but still a nice way to finish out the album.

Overall, Love & Letter is really nice album and perfect for springtime listening in a period that is just broaching on summer. The tracks featured are wonderfully diverse, going from electronic dance song to ballad in the span of less than ten songs. So while the overall sound to album isn’t entirely cohesive, I enjoyed the nice balance of soft and upbeat tracks. There’s a little something there for everyone and Seventeen’s talents for both rapping and singing was able to shine through because of their unique track list. Some songs are immediately addicting open first listen, others more forgettable, but the overall album is a perfect addition to any pop fan’s playlist. And I will say that Seventeen does ballads exceptionally well and their slower songs were just as good of an addition to the album as their more energetic ones. Their image as lively youths was maintained throughout this album, so the concept itself wasn’t anything groundbreaking. What is impressive is the Seventeen member’s involvement in writing and producing these quality tracks, a good indication of their talent and growth to come. All in all, the Love & Letter album is great addition to Seventeen’s already fantastic discography: perhaps not my personal favorite album of theirs, but certainly one that deserves a good listen.


Replayability – GREEN

r21pIbRThe full album went straight to repeat upon first listen.

Cohesiveness – YELLOW

yellowratingreviewA wide range of musical styles limits the unity of the sound of the album.

Originality – YELLOW

yellowratingreviewThe sound of the album is fresh enough, but nothing groundbreaking or wholly unique.

 

Wasta
If there's a Baekhyun, there's a way.

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