Review: Sunny Summer by GFriend

Sunny Summer by GFriendHere I am thinking, “maybe GFriend have realized their last three comebacks have been… sad.” Nothing wrong with that – I actually liked that direction they took, although the minis, like most of K-pop, have been inconsistent – but then, here they are with Sunny Summer, which from the name alone suggest something sunny, something, er, summer-y. They did call this a “summer mini-album” and the five tracks are upbeat, bouncy, but with the GFriend character we’ve expected in their earlier stuff – the “Me Gustas Tu” template is all over the record. That also means this is an inconsequential record, but that is not a criticism. This is a summer record. K-pop loves the dance-y stuff at this time of the year. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting this, though, because the trend seemed to go towards something more sublime (see Lovelyz’s summer single “Wag-zak”) or something hotter (see APink and Mamamoo‘s latest releases). This is a throwback to the old times, to when summer songs were feel-good anthems rather than out-and-out bids for pop chart domination. (I know Twice are doing this too, but they’re in that awkward stage of rediscovery… thankfully, because they have to.) Now here I am thinking, “is the next album going to be really sad?” [NB]3/5

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Review: Time for the Moon Night by GFriend

Time for the Moon Night by GFriendLast year I wondered whether Parallel, the last mini album from GFriend, was for me. I was wary about the step back to their old sound (although it clearly works for them) but, more importantly, I was wary about how much of a slow burner the record is. Now it’s clear that’s definitely their approach: the girl group who established themselves in one sound, tried to break out of it, and returned to it, is doing things slightly differently. “Love Whisper” and its follow-up “Summer Rain” were the old sound, but with a tinge of maturity and elevated subtlety, down to the sampling of German pianist Robert Schumann. Now we have Time for the Moon Night, which ups this further with a title track that’s not an obvious hit, but somehow makes you feel blubbery. (The lyrics are blubbery.) Is this the sound they’re looking for? Perhaps, but they don’t really commit to it: apart from the similarly sublime “Love Bug” and their first proper ballad “Bye”, there’s still the fun GFriend sound from the School era. But now all throughout you can’t help but feel melancholic. Is this an album about sadness and less? It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but they might as well have. [NB]4/5

Review: Parallel by GFriend

Parallel by GFriendLately I find that K-pop albums take a while to grow on me, if ever they decide to, which spells chaos for my one-listen-only review style. A part of me thinks I will change my mind about Parallel, the fifth mini from GFriend. (I’m a bit certain about this: Shalla’s drawn to title track “Love Whisper”, specifically its choreography, specifically Yuju’s segments. “Music for the eyes,” she puts it.) I was, inevitably, unsure about the girl group’s return to the sound of the School trilogy, their first three, dreamy, releases. Sure, I still play “Rough” a lot, but I’ve grown to appreciate “Navillera” – the group’s defining moment, a statement of intent that shows they’re ready to go places – and, to a degree, “Fingertip”. But then they have not shed their old image. They’re still pure girls that can do a mean (and synchronized) dance. Parallel just, well, parallels that, a step back that feels comfortable (like The Awakening) but somehow manages to miss one trick. What made their earlier stuff so potent is how catchy they are – subtly catchy, but catchy enough to be memorable, a feat for a rookie group amidst the din of new debuts left and right. “Love Whisper” lacks a hook, though. The whole album lacks a hook. It meanders, which is not what I expected, and frankly, not what I came for. But then, perhaps I have to let it grow on me. It might be all about the “music for the eyes”. It’s a path they took for The Awakening, after all, but, well, I expected better from one of K-pop’s new big guns. [NB]2/5

Review: The Awakening by GFriend

The Awakening by GFriendAs the narrative goes, GFriend should be growing up. The school trilogy (which included their biggest hit so far, “Rough”) is long wrapped up, and their first full-length album LOL set them up for an evolution of their sound. But The Awakening is much more overtly about the girl group (slowly) shedding their pure image and playing up the “powerful” credentials they have gained over the past two years. But hard habits are hard to shake off. The Awakening is no upheaval of sound – wisely, I must add – but it ends up being a record where the photobook carries most of the weight. The concept images were intriguing – and yes, we now know we’re now supposed to see them as sexy, independent women – but the songs are comfortably familiar. Unusually, the single, “Fingertip”, is the misfire, doubling down on powerful, resulting in an anison-like song that lacked a “Navillera”-like hook. But the rest of the mini makes up for it with subtle riffs on disco (which they played with on the first mini’s “White”) and familiar friendship-extolling sing-alongs. Lesson: they shouldn’t try so hard. [NB]3/5

Review: LOL by GFriend

LOL by GFriendIt took me forever to let GFriend into my daily play queue. I complained about how they have that usual sweet girly concept: a “safe” formula for the rookies. GFriend, though, has this crazily synchronized crazy choreography thing going on, which is exactly how they became huge. The first three releases – a trilogy, as it turns out – are so similar you can layer them on top of each other. “Glass Bead” was hopeful dreamy, “Me Gustas Tu” is flirty, “Rough” is hugot dreamy. “Navillera” isn’t any different, although it’s bouncier and less… dreamy. But I like it. The first half of the album is your usual GFriend, but the experimentation starts at “Distance”, which sounded reggae-ish to me, but not quite. Seriously though – I couldn’t get my head around it, and even found it annoying that a looot of people like it. The rest of the tracks are an interesting bunch: “Water Flower”, “Mermaid” and “Compas” (yes, the English name has one S) stood out for me. GFriend goes back home with the final track “Gone with the Wind”, which to me is the best thing they did. It’s good that they had more variety on LOL, but it’s great that they did not change things up a lot on this one. [SY] | 4/5