Pre-Debut Album Review: Stray Kids – Mixtape


Release Date: January 8th, 2018

Tracklist:

  1. Hellevator
  2. GRRR
  3. 어린날개 (Young Wings)
  4. YAYAYA
  5. Glow
  6. School Life
  7. 4419

Total Runtime: 00:24:02

Recommended for: Stray Kids stans, Those with a diverse music taste and an interest in a variety of genres

NOT recommended for: Those looking for a cohesive album 

After finalising their member lineup through their MNET reality show, Stray Kids have dropped their pre-debut album, “Mixtape,” which consists of the tracks featured on that very show. Impressively, said tracks were produced by the Stray Kids members. So, how do the studio tracks measure up to the live stages? Do JYP’s newest boyband offer something new, or are they just the same old, same old?

Track Review:

Track 1 – Hellevator 

Ah, “Hellevator.” The song that introduced Stray Kids to the public for the first time was generally well received, and for good reason. I won’t lie, the track’s cookie-cutter arrangement and mediocre EDM hook aren’t exactly cutting edge. However, whatever the song lacks in originality, it most certainly makes up for in performance. The vocals are great, and the rap is even better. In fact, it’s undeniably the rap performances that carry the track. Members Changbin and Jisung are the standouts for their impressive flow and duality respectively. As the first track, “Hellevator” represents the overarching theme of the album; the difficulties that the trainee life brings and the burning desire to follow one’s passion.

Track 2 – Grrr 

Frankly speaking, “Grrr” is just a worse version of track four, “YaYaYa.” The song features aggressive lyrics and even more aggressive instrumentation. It’s essentially a whole heap of angst that blurs together, making it difficult to differentiate between the song’s start, middle, and end. “Grrr” is supposed to convey pubescent mood-swings and the frustrations of adolescence. However, the remarkably unimpressive lyrics fail to do so in a way that feels even slightly authentic. Throughout the entirety of the track, you constantly get the feeling of a group that’s trying just a little too hard.
The vast majority of people would agree that “Grrr” is nothing short of an attack on the ears. However, at the end of the day, I do believe that this song simply comes down to the taste of the individual. There’s definitely an audience for the track, it’s just not everyone’s cup of tea.

Track 3 – Young Wings

“Young Wings” is a stunning song that lyrically explores the psyche of youth everywhere, and musically presents an exemplary arrangement and vocal performance. The lyrics refer to a young person’s desire to mature, but also the underlying fear that comes with growing up. The overall progression of the song is very natural and smooth; nothing is rushed or forced, yet nothing is held back. It’s truly commendable that the song is engaging, yet somehow calming at the same time. Almost everyone listening to this gem of a song is likely to be able to relate its message and appreciate the way in which it is delivered.
Although the lyrical themes of the song are similar to that of “Grrr,” it’s a sound that feels far more comfortable for Stray Kids. Thought-provoking lyrics, laid-back rap and smooth vocals are a winning combination for “Young Wings.”

Track 4 – YaYaYa

“YaYaYa” is a great song. It’s punchy, it’s impactful, and it’s exciting. It’s a pretty bold and unconventional track that’s definitely not typical of the K-Pop genre. However, a few of those elements are lost in the studio version of the song.
The verses, pre-chorus, and bridge are all solid; pleasant melodies, excellent rapping, fluidly scattered hype-vocals. But points are most certainly docked for the chorus, as well as the overall production and delivery of the song. In the live version of the song, the chorus really packed a punch, just as any good chorus should. However, the studio version takes away from that excitement due to the production. There’s just a teeny bit too much reverb in the chorus, which is awkward to listen to. In fact, the entire song sounds just a little too stripped back, like it’s lost some of the impact that the original had. It’s a crying shame, because the delivery of the song was truly the most commendable point of the live version.
However, the good most definitely outweighs the bad. On the whole, “YaYaYa” is an exciting track that succeeds in capturing Stray Kids’s wild, rebellious side.

Track 5 – Glow

“Glow” is a beautiful ballad. The song is delicate, from the composition to the performance. The melodic rapping in the first verse is a pleasant change from the hard-hitting verses delivered in the previous tracks and the vocals similarly adapt to suit the mood of the song. The lyrics are candid, and clever parallels can be drawn between literal references and subtler metaphors.

Main vocal Woojin’s performance during the second half of the song is exceptional and showcases a different side of his voice that isn’t present in the other tracks. The song’s ending feels somewhat grand, as the background rap placed on top of the final chorus adds the extra energy necessary to give the song a satisfying close.

Track 6 – School Life

“School Life” almost seems like it’s trying to be corny.
The lyrics express frustration at the rigid routines of the education system and the internal conflict between one’s desire to give up and the hope for a happier tomorrow. Supposedly. In reality, the lurid instrumentation combined with the shamelessly bright and overly enthused delivery cancel out any lyrical impact whatsoever. Furthermore, the arrangement of the song is as basic and bland as the performance and lyrics. The bouncy verses seem to go on forever before the disjointed hook poorly transitions into the cheesy, lackluster chorus. On the whole, “School Life” feels like a desperate and contrived attempt to fill the group’s “fun” quota. The song is evidently meant to feel playful rather than downright childish. However, it definitely fails in that regard.
“School Life” is a wasted concept. I get it what’s trying to convey, but it’s pretty hard to take away a serious message from a song that sounds like an anime opening.

Track 7 – 4419

Almost all of the songs on the album have been altered slightly from the live version, but “4419” is arguably the song that benefits the most from those changes. Although “4419” worked as a song on the “Stray Kids” show, I feared it would sound a little gimmicky on the album. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and some very clever changes have been made to the song in order to make it suitable for a studio track. If being stripped back from the live version was the downfall of “YaYaYa,” then it’s definitely the saviour of “4419.”
More than the arrangement, the emotion is the most important point of this song. “4419” is all about memories, and it really does capture the feeling of nostalgia.

choiyujins
Huggable maknae blogger who likes CLC and raisin toast

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