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[Review] [Album] Block B – “Blockbuster”

written by: drowningn00b

Since their debut, every release from Block B is a time to pause and analyze the mainstream scene at large. Dalmatian has gone the shameless dance pop route with “ER”; Hi-Lite recordings have gotten glossier with higher production values; G-Dragon incorporated street and indie sounds into the label-giant’s releases; and 1llionaire is rising to be a big player in mainstream hip-hop, if there’s such a thing in South Korea. Within themselves, Block B’s overall sound and internal dynamics keep changing as well. They’ve expanded their slow tempo sounds, PO went from sideline rapper to full on hype-man, and have even added dance music into the mix. Even elements that haven’t changed got better. U-Kwon got better at singing and past track “LOL” stands at the peak of the Zico/Park Kyoung rap duets hall of fame.

That said, Block B’s first LP, ‘Blockbuster‘, has all those elements – the good and the bad.

To live up to their name, the lead single, “Nillili Mambo”, is lead in with its own trailer, “Interlude”. The introductory track is big and dramatic, with huge string and horn effects. If the trailer for ‘Skyfall’ had this music, I wouldn’t look twice. For the main event, “Nillili Mambo” can best be described as the hip-hop version of action sequence music for the video game “Uncharted”, if Nathan Drake was black or liked hip-hop effects with his orchestra. Similar to “Nalina” in many ways, “Mambo” sees Block B adding different sounds and effects that their debut single, “Freeze!” didn’t possess. Subtlety is not this track’s name sake, except for a drum riff near the end of the break that you can only catch in the instrumental version. The strings and horns play off each other well, with the horns doing the heavy lifting while the strings ease the transitions between segments. They did well with and even got the hang of the synth-siren-percussive beat structure, and hearing them expand that base production style for “Nillili Mambo” is great.

The neo-disco track, “Mental Breaker” is the best of the earlier tracks in “Blockbuster”. Having dabbled in dance for “Action”, this track speeds things up, adding a fantastic bass guitar lick to pound your ears. It has elements of 90’s dance, like Tae-il’s dragged out singing of the title over a spare synth background (for those curious, check out Robin S’ dance hit “Show Me Love”) . “Mental Breaker”, for as good as it sounds, is actually simple. The chorus is repetitive and much of the harmonies are used for “ooh’s” and “lalalalas”, of which there are many. And as brief as it is, the spare lyrics are among the track’s best, not to mention that Zico sounds really good singing! Granted, his segment sings more like a conversation, but he doesn’t sound awkward like other rappers do.

As most full length albums do, this one takes a dip in the filler pool. The opener, “11:30”, is a 180 degree turn from their normal, going for the heart of the loins, as it were, instead of the neck like “Wanna B” and “Halo”. It’s a slow R&B track for hip-hop artists, with the heavy bass and the harsh drum machine to give the sensuality some edge. It’s generic, with the “eh’s” and production style of numerous early Teddy tracks, notably in the heart of BIGBANG’s “Remember”. As an opener, “11:30” doesn’t set up “Blockbuster”. It is the only straight R&B track here, and it isn’t the best in anything. The rock-lite “Movie’s Over” has some nice harmonies by the guys, with a good mood-setting guitar riff underlying the drums. But other than Zico’s singing, “Movie’s Over” is a ballad that’s been heard before, with parts from the much copied “Irreplaceable” and the “eh-eh-eh” stutter common in other songs. Considering the source, bland and generic are not words I use with Block B, but these two tracks don’t push Block B into new or fresh territory.

The saving grace of the ballads is Tae-il’s solo OST track “Where Are You?”. I’m not the biggest OST fan, railing against every attempt music labels put out as cash grabs. “Where Are You?” is not safe from this. This is the first time Block B has recorded something that deliberately sounds this way. Their other OST contributions still had a Block B-esque quality to them, and “Where Are You?” is devoid of it all. That said, it is also the first time since joining Block B that Tae-il shows off his vocal talents on a recording. Like Hyorin’s “Because It’s You”, the instrumental melodrama is there, but Tae-il is in full control of his voice, stretching it for effect without straining. It’s beautifully sung and it’s bare start and slow progression makes the track emotive.

Sadly, there’s less to enjoy moving forward in this album. The obligatory diss track “No Joke” leaves very room for enjoyment. With a deep, grated bass underneath a cheesy eerie tone loop, “No Joke” tries way too hard. Even PO on it can’t save it. “LOL” was, and will be, the best “suck it bitch” from the rap duo, with “Halo” right behind it. And if you take away those two tracks, “No Joke” is a Barney version of horror compared to the as yet-to-be-released Zico track inspired by the torture-porn doll, “Sam”. Both share repetition in the hook, but “No Joke” is a doll made to spook infants, whereas the rapid-fire of “samsamsamsam” is a possessed ragged doll that loves to irritate. Not only that, the title “Sam” is a play on words! Zico and Park Kyoung can do better than this, and they know that. That’s why the last track is a re-release of “Halo”.

One of the qualities that keeps me coming back to Block B is their propensity to experiment. “In Sync 100%” had indie-esque hip-hop, and that trend continues here with the album-ender, “Dreams Come True”. This synth and drums mid-tempo tune, like “Did You or Did You Not” and “In Sync 100%”, has great singing and harmonies by the guys without shrills and shrieks. Even B-Bomb passes, and that’s saying something. But the king here is Tae-il, throwing in scat, a jazz element rarely heard in K-Pop, let alone jazz in general. Jazz it isn’t, but what “Dreams Come True” is that “11:30” is not is: Block B taking established elements of popular music, new and old, and making it their own. It’s a must listen, with the growl in the middle an added threat and all.

==

“Blockbuster” has holes in it. Prior releases were tighter and concise, given their size. On a LP scale, however, the bad parts are noticeable. With the heights Block B reached in “Welcome to the Block”, one would think they would reach a little farther. Maybe Zico saved the best for his mixtape, but “No Joke” is – for a lack of a better term – a joke, feeling lazy and uninspiring. “Movie’s Over” and “11:30” don’t do anything new in their respective realms. I even wish the latter went down a dirtier route, but given their audience and their history with language, it wouldn’t have done Block B any good. But “Blockbuster” does well with what Block B does best, taking the strengths of the members and expanding them into new territory. “Nillili Mambo” brings in orchestral loops for a crazy good hip-hop party track, while the Asian-inspired neo-disco “Mental Breaker” builds on “Action” for some club goodness. “Dreams Come True” brings in scat to their repertoire, and much to my chagrin, “Where You At?” is a perfect highlight of Tae-il’s vocal ability. I just wish Block B took more risks with “Blockbuster”.

==

Scorecard

11:30
.5
Nillili Mambo
1
Mental Breaker
1
No Joke
0
Movie’s Over
.5
Where Are You?
.75
 Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
Dreams Come True
1
Did You or Did You Not?
.75
Halo
1
Total Points
6.5

Points to stars conversion: [(6.5/9) x 5] + 0.25*

3.9/5


*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.

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13 thoughts on “[Review] [Album] Block B – “Blockbuster”

  1. lol @ “No Joke” getting 0. That’s my second favorite song (after “Dreams Come True”) in the entire album but I definitely see where you’re coming from with it being a “try too hard” kind of track. But, as always, such a GOOD review! Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the effort! I was surprised that u gave a 0 for ‘no joke’; personally i think that’s one of the best tracks on the album lol. Good beats, good lyrics & punch lines, only complaint is that production could be tighter. But since its a full-length album after ‘welcome to the block’, i suppose expectations would be really high. Nevertheless they are pretty much the only kpop boy band in recent years that i’ve seen who know what real experimentation means and they do it well with a diverse array of genres

    • Ironic that “No Joke” even had punch lines.
      Ditto with the array point. And what I particularly liked about the experimentation is their way of keeping their own flavor on things, not straying so far that it feels fake. Thanks for reading!

  3. I liked reading your review. Like the comments before me, I can see where you’re coming from on your crit of “No Joke” buuuut that song still gets me twerking like it’s my job or something.

  4. Pingback: Top Korean Songs of 2012 « McRoth's Residence

  5. I actually didn’t like Mental Breaker at first. I found it annoying… but it did grow on me. I liked Movie’s Over and No Joke instantly. (Movie’s Over sounds kind of pretty and easy to sing the chorus. No Joke maybe tries too hard, but I still found it fun and was in the mood for that attitude.)
    I agree with you about 11:30. Though I do like to sing along with it now, the beginning has never appealed to me and when I hear it, I forget about the sing-along middle part and almost turn it when it starts.
    And yeah, I also agree that they could do better, haha, but they are still a pretty new group. I’m hoping they continue to move in a relatively upward motion with each new release.

  6. I’m not sure if you know, but “Dreams Come True” is actually a remake of Cho PD’s Dreams Come True from last year. I feel like Block B added at that extra touch to it that makes it the better of the two.

  7. Pingback: Block B – BLOCKBUSTER Review [OTAKU POST] | Otaku Ramblings

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