K-pop sensation Monsta X are back at it again, this time with their 2nd full length album— “Take 1: Are You There?”. A 7-member group under Starship Entertainment, Shownu, Wonho, Kihyun, Minhyuk, Jooheon, Hyungwon and I.M are infamous for their masculine appeal and aggressive hip-hop dance tracks.
With promises of dramatic concepts and intriguing ideas, the album had a lot of expectations riding on its shoulders even before dropping. Packed with themes of “light and darkness, good and evil, life and death, and everything on the border”, one cannot help but feel a tad bit excited for what’s in store.
The intro “Are You There?” is packed with electronica and curiosity. It leads the listener on, pondering as to what awaits them in store. Ending on a note of water droplets, it segues into the appropriately titled “Underwater”; the 1st song off the new album. A relatively relaxing sound, this was a pleasant surprise coming from Monsta X. One would be speaking too soon though, as the calm does come to end after the first chorus—evident with the random break down of a sudden gritty beat. Though somewhat jarring, they make it work.
The title track, “Shoot Out” was one that had the highest of expectations as one simply could not predict what the track would be like. Monsta X has experimented with different genres for their latest 2 comebacks—the rock opera-esque “Dramarama” and the sensual yet modern “Jealousy”—so it beckons the question: what now?
Reverting back to their debut sound, we see the side of Monsta X that they pull off effortlessly. Amongst the greasy beats, cacophonous synthesisers and throbbing bass, it’s almost comforting to see them slip back into their signature style. Jooheon and I.M deliver as always, even more so with their aggressive rap fitting the demanding nature of the song. Almost assaulting its listeners with the biting “walker, walker, growling” intro, “Shoot Out” is an interesting blend of the chaos circa “All In” and the elegance of “Beautiful”.
Kihyun’s outstanding vocals carry the chorus without a doubt, aided by Shownu’s clear crooning. This formula of aggressive songs with emotional choruses that Monsta X seem to have created works perfectly for them—evident from this choice of a title track—will continue a part of their legacy.
However we do see the boys exploring different genres as well, more with the latter part of the album. “Heart Attack” is a pleasant shock to the system—with its addictive use of drums and almost xylophonic instrument—a complete change from the previous sound. Coming from the previous producers who worked on “Dramarama” from “The Code”, “Heart Attack” is an energetic track done right; keeping one on their toes from start to finish.
“I Do Love You” however, is a slow reserved track, oozing charm from the 7 of them as they sing about their love for their fans. The track was almost recognisable at first listen as the sound does not stray too far from “From Zero”. Almost all the members participated in writing the lyrics of the song, which adds a personal touch to it.
The stylish “Mohae” deserves an honourable mention of its own. The track is almost powerful enough to be a candidate for the title track, which makes one wonder what if they went in that direction. The vocals of Minhyuk, Hyungwon and Wonho especially shine here, singing almost all of the verses before being swept up gracefully by Kihyun and Shownu.
A track dripping future bass, it was the first song that youngest member (or maknae) I.M composed, arranged and wrote lyrics for. Jooheon and him complement each other ridiculously well, it feels as if they are in a relay race—seamlessly passing the baton to the next person without any gaps. Overall, “Mohae” feels like a more polished “Incomparable”—though the comparison isn’t an egregious one.
At first listen, “Oh My!” seems like your average rave track—but it’s one very well done. The song doesn’t once let up, delivering a wonderful experience. The inclusion of the gun cocking and firing tinges the song with a little danger, and ties up the theme of “Shoot Out”. When put together, all the choice of sounds and the throbbing Moombahton trap—which came to everyone’s attention in BTS’ legendary “Blood Sweat Tears”—end up nothing less than a masterpiece. With almost Bollywood-like sound, this is arguably one of the best songs off the album to get your groove on to.
As we edge towards the end of the album, Monsta X throws a complete curveball with the surprise of “Myself”. A track that is reminiscent of the 90s alternative shoegazing and grunge scene, this completely catches one off guard. Perhaps their most experimental genre yet, Monsta X successfully accomplish the intended effect of the song.
The hazy atmosphere that the song evokes with the use of guitar chords and haunting vocals and rap is almost dream-like. Hyungwon’s unique voice is fully utilised with this track, tingeing it with a feel of the phantasmagorical. Of course, it goes without saying that Kihyun’s high notes are what sealed the song with a stamp of approval—but the whimsical nature of the song blurs all the lines together and results in the wonderful mesh of all the members voices.
“By My Side” begins with Minhyuk singing in English, promising of a love that will last all day, which would move any Monbebe listening. Ending on a slow number, “By My Side” has a frustratingly simple instrumental but is apt. Contrasting the bright nature of other tracks, it is wave of calm to wash over one with reassurance. A potential concert crowd favourite despite not particularly standing out, it is clear that this track is where Monsta X’s heart lies: with their softer songs for their fans.
The album also included a Korean version of their Japanese single “Spotlight”, which made the charts in the land of the rising sun. Ranking 1st on Oricon Daily Chart and Tower Records, the 3rd single off their Japanese album also earned a “Golden Disk” —an award given only when one has sold over 100,000 albums.
All in all, “Take 1: Are You There?” may potentially be one of Monsta X’s best albums yet. Delivering solid tracks, experimenting with new sounds all while maintaining their natural flavour; Monsta X does not disappoint at all with their new release.
Further making their mark in the K-Pop industry; they will be the1st Korean artists to perform for the Jingle Ball main stage for 102.7 KIIS FM Los Angeles, Wild 94.9 San Francisco, 101.3 KDWB Minneapolis, Kiss 108 FM Boston, Q102 Philadelphia. On 30th November, Monsta X will be sharing a stage with the likes of Cardi B, Shawn Mendes, Calvin Harris, Camila Cabello, Khalid, Dua Lipa, G-Eazy, Alessia Cara, Bazzi, 5 Seconds of Summer and more.
One thing’s for sure; this is just the beginning for the septet. With talent, charms, good looks and even better dancing skills—who knows what they hold for us in the future?
Review by Leyasheena Panicker.