ALBUM REVIEW: GFriend - Labyrinth

Orchestral refreshment

GFRIEND - Labyrinth (2020 Source Music / Kakao M Corp.)
 

In an industry saturated with synthesisers and EDM, GFriend’s new effort offers a refreshing break with a signature style that creates a wall of sound through orchestrally inspired instrumentalization.


Twice a year it comes time for my favourite KPOP group GFriend releases a 'comeback' album (in KPOP terms a new release is called a comeback), a concept and a music video. The group's newest mini-album (another KPOP term coined for an 'album' that contain from four to seven songs, more generally an EP in the west) Labyrinth with the music video for "title track" ‘Crossroads’ was released on the 3rd of February marking the first Korean comeback after the acquisition of Source Music by Big Hit Entertainment, home to global fan sensations like BTS and TXT. To clarify for those unfamiliar with KPOP, a "title track" in KPOP refers to the lead single promoted by the Korean media and is, for the most part, the selling point of the album for the general public (but for clarity I will refer to it as the lead single.)


The acquisition has allowed GFriend’s creative team to up their production value with a high budget music video and quality song producers; however, this has not clouded GFriend’s own distinct colours that shine through the album. Having debuted as a group 5 years ago they have now become a senior group in an industry in which most groups disbands after the 7 year mark, making their mature and coming of age concept full of nostalgia as we see them and hear their voices grow into a new stage of their lives.


The first song on the mini album is titled ‘Labyrinth’ and is credited to various composers, most notably the CEO of Big Hit entertainment himself, which makes a statement that GFriend really is under his company now. ‘Labyrinth’ as a song is very impactful and quite different from the signature style of GFriend’s lead singles. With loud synthesisers, electric guitars and emotionally-charged vocal performances, the contrast and staccato between the instruments and the vocals lends this song a very KPOP-ish feel to it, not only because it is completely in Korean but more because of the use of the EDM genre. The song has the dance-ability that KPOP songs require from the listener; it wants you to dance to it and it is this aspect which I really commend. The use of the electric guitar at the end of musical phrases help to frame the song, giving it an edge that I frankly did not expect from an EDM song. The highlight of the song is definitely the vocal bridge before the last chorus, the vocals and melody lend the perfect balance to what could have been a very repetitive song.


Following the opening track comes the big boy of the album, the lead single, ‘Crossroads’. I literally have goose bumps every time I listen to this song. Composed by the producers of their hit songs ‘Time for the Moon Night’ and ‘Sunrise’, ‘Crossroads’ is as much of a musical masterpiece as most of their previous lead singles. The heavy string and classical guitar instrumentalization combined with low synthesizers that set the melancholic tone in the opening of the song but are mostly just used to create the bassline of the song, is a musical style that rarely is given any attention in modern pop culture. I have always been fascinated with how GFriend create such melancholic sounding songs with a fast and deceivingly happy beat; the dichotomy between the melody and the message the song carries creates a really poignant oxymoron. In my opinion the highlight of the song is the bridge and last chorus, I am obsessed with the silence in instrumentalization just before the final chorus which highlights the vocals and gives you a moment to breathe before the apotheotic end. I love ‘Crossroads’, it is signature GFriend and that’s all I ask for whenever they have a new release; yet, somehow the song falls a little flat and I think it is because the producers are playing it safe. I knew I was going to like this song even before it was released because I can trust their musical style will suit my taste, however, I just miss some type of oof factor that has been present in other lead singles like ‘Time for the Moon Night’ or ‘Love Whisper’. Nonetheless, ‘Crossroads’ is overall a great song.


‘Here We Are’ is a mid-tempo contemporary R&B song similar to other songs GFriend has experimented with in the past reminding me of one of their more popular b-sides titled ‘You Are Not Alone’ from their second full length album. The songs instrumentalization consists of cool synthesisers that lend it a sort of mystical feel to it; the first verse is a bit bland compared to the chorus and the rest of the song. HOWEVER, let’s talk about the chorus and post chorus for a bit, coming from a pre-chorus in which there is a deliberate withholding of tension through the repetition of the same chord that holds the harmony together, the chorus feels liberating and solidifies the catchiness of the song. The post chorus is playful and a bit more subdued from the chorus lending the song a bittersweet feeling. My favourite part of this song is definitely the way the different synthesisers create a perfect platform on which the voices of the members can really stand out.


Now, ‘Eclipse’. Arguably my favourite song from this album. GFriend and their entertainment company have a habit of always delivering one of these pearls as a b-side in all of their albums. ‘Eclipse’ carries the instrumentalization that ‘Crossroads’ has but gives it a little more nuance, it really reminded me of songs like ‘Flower Garden’ and ‘Memoria’. The song begins with the ticking of a clock which is so bizarre but I find so cool that they always like to play with mundane noises (like in ‘Summer Rain’ were there is actual rain mixed into the song) and give it aesthetic value within a pop composition. The use of the harpsichord (or a keyboard that’s using the harpsichord setting) is something very unusual to modern pop yet it works so well for this song. The groovy piano mixed with the high strings during the verses is so fun to follow that it almost eclipses the vocals. ‘Eclipse’ is heavier on the synthesisers making it have a sort of EDM edge to the single, however the strings and piano keep it in the classical pop vibe that they were going for. This song is beautifully mixed together, all the instruments shine on their own.


After ‘Eclipse’ comes the ballad of the album ‘Dreamcatcher’. Honestly, in KPOP albums there is always a ballad and pretty much always they are always misses instead of hits. Most of the time they just feel low effort, fall flat or are kind of there just for the sake of diversity in an album. The first time I heard ‘Dreamcatcher’ I was not the biggest fan, I thought it was just a generic ballad with R&B inspired flourishes. After having given it a few listens I have gathered my thoughts, I don’t know if it is because I want to like it or just because I have heard it a few times but I do enjoy the song. I don’t see myself listening to ‘Dreamcatcher’ on repeat, but I do have to say that the chorus is somewhat catchy, the voices and instrumentalization sound really pretty.


Lastly, comes ‘From Me’ and what a way to end this album. ‘From Me’ is another ballad-esque song but where ‘Dreamcatcher’ falls short this one stands out. The only way I think I can really describe ‘From Me’ is like a late 2000s ballad pop song from Taylor Swift or even Kelly Clarkson. It has beautiful guitar running through the entirety of the song mixed with strong mellow vocals that lend the song a poignant bittersweet feeling. I really recommend listening to this song.


Labyrinth by Korean girl group GFriend is one of their most cohesive albums up to date in terms of sound cohesiveness, battling with releases like their mini-album Time For The Moon Night and their first Korean full album L.O.L.. Out of the six new songs I only truly do not see myself going back and listening to ‘Dreamcatcher’ that much. The themes, sound and concept ties in beautifully to be one of my favourite by the group. The mini-album does suffer somewhat in a technical level as the mixing of the songs can at times sound muddy and almost hazy. I do not know if this was a creative statement by the team that wanted to lend a sort of old-school/nostalgic feel or if the songs weren’t mixed or compressed properly, but nonetheless if you have never listened to KPOP I truly recommend you listen to this album and others by GFriend.

 

- 8.3 -

excellent


highlights:

'Crossroads', 'Eclipse', 'From Me'

 

Guille Fernandez is music lover who studied the cello for almost 10 years before moving to the UK to study English literature at King's College, London.


Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England. Subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a post is published on the site.