[Album Review] f(x) – Pink Tape

f(x) Pink Tape

f(x) released their Pink Tape album today and it certainly is an f(x) release, through and through. The album is packed with some experimental pieces with interesting musical influences from different genres such as jazz, swing, hip hop, and even rock. While some creative pursuits did not quite achieve the full effect it sought, there were many shining moments in the album that makes this a standout release among the waterfall of releases this summer so far, reasserting f(x) as one of the top tier k-pop girl groups out there.

Rum Pum Pum Pum

The album opens up with Rum Pum Pum Pum, the title track of the album. A rather interesting track to open up the album with and it really sets the precedent for the rest of the album. As the opener track, it establishes the common elements between the tracks of the entire album: harmonization, speak-singing, and genre-mashing. I won’t speak too much more about this track as I’ve talked about it before but it definitely is an intriguing track to start the album and, luckily, the intrigue continues on for the rest of the album.

Shadow

One of the tracks that I was most anticipating was Shadow and, as the second song in the album, it was strategically placed. For me, the second song in the album is a pivotal track. The first song can set the tone for the rest of the album but whether or not the listener continues through the album is dependent heavily on the second track. If I hate the second track, I’m going to either stop listening or have a negative impression coming into the rest of the album. Luckily, this track is just fantastic and serves its purpose well. We got some whimsical instrumentals with some distorted jazzy vocals in the background. The vocals from the ladies of f(x) are pleasant to hear. One thing that strikes me about f(x) is that they may not be the most vocally powerful group out there but they are adamant about sticking to the cutesy tone that is characteristically f(x). The jazzy chord progression being played by the electric piano (or whatever it is) is very lovely and I just love the second verse when the electric piano is taken away and the song is toned down a bit before the piano is reintroduced and the liveliness of the song and the full extent of the energy of the song is revealed by the end of the song. All in all, it is a very light, whimsical, and a very f(x) track that is pleasant to listen to and this track, for sure, reached the high expectations I had for it coming into the album.

Pretty Girl

The next track, Pretty Girl, was a huge surprise for me (surprises, it seemed, was another recurring element for me in this album). Earlier, I dismissed it as reminiscent of One Direction with a weird xylophone sprinkled in the background but the song begins with an enigmatic beginning that quickly transitions to this really nice harmonized vocal section that again transitions to this high energy chorus. The rock guitar riff contributes greatly to the energy of the track and reminds me of a more subdued version of “Kids” from the Sleigh Bells’ album Treats. In fact, it seems like “Pretty Girl” borrowed the hip hop/rock fusion from Sleigh Bells as well, seeing as the chorus sports a bangin’ hip hop beat underneath some pretty awesome vocals. Amber’s rap was welcomed rather than intrusive (save for the too tame and awkward English part but I’m willing to overlook that) and seemed very smooth in delivery. This song was surprisingly cohesive and rarely had a boring moment and is definitely a standout track in this album.

Kick

Not being disappointed yet, I was very optimistic coming into the proceeding track, Kick. I originally thought it would be “Electric Shock Pt. 2” but, if anything, it’s more of a psychotic, hyper mess of sounds. Lots of speak-singing in this track which was alright but I felt like the focus was the extremely frenetic and crazy sounds in the back. If you thought Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy” was tiring to listen to because it was a million songs in one, “Kick” is f(x)’s billion songs in one of a response to that. The song has a couple of sections being threaded together and there’s a lot of distortion. The producers seemed to go all out in this track to make it as experimental, edgy, and maniacal as it could be by adding in every sound they felt sounded cool. Weird synths, cymbals, speak-singing, random English words (“pancake, no-no, ok”). The vocals in this one is actually pretty nice and adds to how schizo the track sounds because the transitions from section to section are so minimal that it is as if the sections of the song were in a big traffic accident and crashed into each other. One moment, someone is rapping about pancakes and, the next moment, Luna is belting out an ethereal vocal section. A very tiring song to listen to and experimental at best but, if you’re feeling bored and need a delirious pick-me-up of a song, this is it.

Signal

At this point, my ears are exhausted so I was hoping for a more downtempo track and, appropriately, Signal is a disco/lounge track that fit the bill. Very strategic placement of the song but, not being a huge fan of disco, this track did not quite resonate with me as much as it should have. The vocals were nice but did not sound too disco-appropriate (too cutesy, should have been more soulful). Amber’s English lines in this track were very distracting and annoying. I understand that they were going for the space, radio theme but the song could have done without that cheesy element. Compared to the other tracks so far, this song is the most consistent genre-wise, which is why it is a little lackluster.

Step

I was very excited to listen to this next one, Step, because the teaser for it was just damn sassy. Lo and behold, this track met my expectations. The brash horns coupled with the sassy “na na na” in the verse just did it for me. I love the progression of energy from the vocal section to the “na na na” section to the pre-chorus to that sasstastic chorus. The chorus’ bold synths in the background really gave the track that kick and that bridge where Luna is belting out those notes just really made the song for me. One laughable moment though was right after Luna’s part where Amber politely implores us to “hey, get out of the way, please“. Damn, sassy and classy, gotta love them and this track. Perfect for strutting down the runway or the aisles of Safeway, I definitely recommend this song.

Goodbye Summer

The album tones things down again with Goodbye Summer. EXO’s D.O. lends his smooth vocals for this track and it is a welcomed addition. His lower range really complements the girls’ cutesy, higher range and helps balance things out as Amber can’t be the only one producing a masculine sound in this song. I love the vocals in this song and the harmonization that comes up again. I read somewhere that Amber herself actually wrote this song and I have to give her props for writing a very solid track. This song is a breath of fresh air as it deviates from the speak-singing, genre-mashing chaos that preceded it. I feel like the first half of the album really reflects a lot of the song in the album as many consist of going back and forth between being mellow and flamboyant.

Airplane

Airplane continues this mellow route and reminds me of Zedd’s “Clarity” with the electronic instrumental. The build up to the chorus was very appreciated and the retro sounding background is very appealing to hipster ears as this retro sound seems to be the trend among indie electronic bands lately. SM has been doing its homework for sure. I love the dynamic changes in this song and when the song is broken by “come with me”, “airplane”, “love”, it gave the song added tension for the release that is the explosive chorus. This is a surprisingly hipster sounding track, considering it is on a k-pop album, and f(x) executes it rather well. Being one of the few, non-mashup tracks on this album, it is actually a pretty strong track and deserves promotion for sure.

Toy

This next song was one of the songs I had really low expectations for because the chorus we got to hear in the highlight medley was very annoying. Oddly, in Toy, there’s more of a Sleigh Bells sound in the verses with the ominous distortion and guitar blaring in to break up the verse sections. There were actually some singing in this song and the peppy, cheery vocals in major key really contrasted with the minor key chorus that had a really weird chord progression. There was a dubstep dance break in this song which was a pleasant surprise. I’m not a dubstep listener so I can’t judge the quality but it seems legit. I definitely see f(x) performing this song with an intense dance break for the dubstep part. I wouldn’t say “never, never” to this song; maybe more like “occasionally, occasionally”.

No More

Now things are getting summery with No More. Right away, the “ooh wop” signals that this will be a throwback to retro American pop. The guitar riff and claps all follow along with the summery theme and the chorus is just so joyful and dreamy. If I had a beach music playlist or an elevator music playlist, this would definitely be on it. The instrumental was very reminiscent of American pop classics “My Girl” by the Temptations and “Stand By Me” by Ben E King. All of the elements of the song are cohesive, Luna gets to show off her vocal prowess, everything just sounds right. I just can’t help but feel happy and optimistic and summery listening to this song; another standout track in this album indubitably.

Snapshot

Amber has a very Vaudeville-esque introduction for “the love f(x) ladies” in Snapshot. It has been a challenge liking this song because I am so torn. The electroswing and jazz elements used during the verses are nice touches to the song and I haven’t heard electroswing in k-pop yet so it was definitely awesome to hear it here. The chorus is where things falter for me as it sounds too disjointed and does not mesh well with the jazzy elements of the verses. The grandiose intro Amber gave set the bar high and the weird chorus limboed under it with room to spare. Out of all of the genre-mashing songs featured on this album, this song perhaps missed the mark the most as it seemed the least cohesive (or at least as dysfunctional as “Kick”).

Ending Page

We finally end with the obligatory ballad, Ending Page. The guitar and drums in the verses made the song seem like a downer or a “the struggle is real” kind of song but then the chorus comes in and turns it around with a more optimistic and uplifting tone. The addition of rock guitar gave the song that extra edge to it, which was a very nice touch. I must say, I have to revoke my earlier statement of it being a generic ballad because it is not generic, it’s pretty decent.

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Conclusion:

In a way, “Ending Page” ties the album together and ends it on a strong note by recapping what f(x) has offered us with this release – better vocals accompanied by mellifluous harmonization, genre-mashing, a lesson in contrast, and consistency in sound regardless of song. This, by far, was a much stronger release than f(x)’s Electric Shock. Whereas their first album crumbled under the mess of experimentation, Pink Tape demonstrated the fruits of those experiments by bringing tracks that are deviant and that transcends the boundaries of genres. While their efforts were not without faults and there were some lackluster tracks with poor musical decisions made, you have to hand it to them. f(x) hasn’t released anything for more than a year but their year-long hiatus has given this gem of an album. Their dabbling in different genres and the diversity of all of the tracks in Pink Tape makes the album a big standout among the releases this summer as everyone can find at least one favorite song among the album’s extensive (comparatively) track list.

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TL;DR 

—Recommended Tracks:—

Shadow [jazzy chord progression + quirky instrumental + f(x)’s vocals = bomb ass song]

Pretty Girl [rock/hip-hop fusion à la Sleigh Bells, strong vocals paired with strong instrumental]

Step [sasstastic and bombastic, crisp, dance club beats with brash horns, sassy yet classy Amber]

Goodbye Summer [very solid downtempo track with welcomed addition of EXO’s D.O., smooth vocals]

Airplane [retro electronic instrumental à la Zedd, energetic and hipster-approved]

No More [true summery pop inspired by American pop classics, feel-good, lighthearted jam] 

—Not-so-recommended Tracks:—

Kick [cacophony of sounds, very tiring to listen to, very experimental]

Toy [oddly melodic verse, lots of speak-singing/chanting, really weird happy sounding verses and ominous sounding chorus]

Snapshot [weird mix between electroswing and jazz and retro electropop, not the good kind of weird, unfortunately] 

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5 comments

  1. Nice take on the album! It’s nice to hear the opinions of someone with a different ear than mine while coming to very similar conclusions about what the album means overall for f(x). I disagree with some of your perceptions on the disjointedness — I think that it’s part of what makes f(x), f(x), and not some other girl group. Moreover, it’s disjointness created with the intention of being disjointed, and thus, not disjointed. (That totally did not sound confusing XD)

    1. Thanks for checking out my review! It means a lot to a burgeoning reviewer like myself! I understand where you’re coming from – perhaps some of the songs really were disjointed intentionally so it was just an element to add to f(x)’s style. I think some fans will enjoy and appreciate the characteristic disjointedness in the songs but I think where things falter is when you look at the general audience of k-pop. Most of them are used to the cookie-cutter, easy-on-the-ears, dance pop music so they don’t react well to a lot of f(x)’s releases, which typically break the mold. If you read comments about “Rum Pum Pum Pum”, a lot of people disliked it merely because they couldn’t appreciate the disjointedness of the track. It wasn’t your typical pop song (and you can say that for pretty much most, if not all, of the songs in Pink Tape) but I agree that the atypicality of the release in general is what makes f(x) who they are as k-pop idols and is also what made me attracted to the album in the first place.

      1. Sad, but true indeed.

        I think the one thing that made me appreciative of Pink Tape holistically is that it’s the album that finally made f(x) jump from faux-experimentalism to real experimentalism. I couldn’t take them seriously in previous releases because everything had a sense of “wannabe hipster.” Yet the complexity and musical depth manages to pull through in Pink Tape in ways that I could have never imagined; overcoming the poor attempts at being unique and different for the sake of being unique and different.

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