In my senior year of high school, I really got into Japanese music. One of the first tracks I attached myself to and learned every word of was a song called Miss You by a geeky DJ and his Korean-Japanese rapping partner. And after five years since their last original album, hip hop duo and in house favorite m-flo are back with their new record SQUARE ONE.
I so very much want to like m-flo’s new album. It’s not that I dislike it, it’s pretty good. But there isn’t anything about that is really very…solid. I don’t mean that from a quality standpoint, I actually mean that very few things about this album feel complete and whole. One thing I can say about SQUARE ONE is that it’s very current. The production throughout the album is very trendy and now. The main vibe I pull off this album is club rock. That feeling that is currently permeating the night club scene and popular music in the states, that electronic pop tinged with hip hop and r’n’b sensibilities that suddenly drops into speaker shattering bass and danceable rhythms. But the difference here, and I tend to say this a lot when it comes to Asian music lilting towards western trains of production, is that it’s done much better.
I’m not sure if it’s Taku’s superb production skills or if my bias is just that strong, but even the weakest tracks on this album are songs I would gladly listen to instead of a lot of western pop I hear on the radio. This is most apparent on She’s So (Outta Control), with vocals already confirmed to be YG’s princesses, K-Pop stars 2NE1. The song is dripping with that sound that just defines club banger. Build up hooks over simple clap along beats to prime the crowd, beat drops into power verses by leaders VERBAL and CL, and obligatory sweet vocals laced over relatively calming bridges. This song most represents the entire feel of SQUARE ONE for me. The mixing on the track does seem slightly off with the vocals losing center stage to the music, almost being drowned out at times. The standout track on this album is preview promoter All I Want Is You (female guest highly suspected to be Sony recording artist MiChi). The second preview of three, this track really embodies what this type of pop music should be. And for m-flo, it feels like a perfect blend of old and new school, a nice mixture of styles that blend together well to give us a strong concert rager. The last preview released before the album, Alive (with EXILE’s ATSUSHI lending vocoded crooning) is another track that really comes at the listener full force. Much like the 2NE1 song, Alive was produced for clubs and remixers.
One thing that has become something of a staple for the duo’s production that is really hit or miss for me is the use of drastic beat swapping (DBS). If you’ve listened to anything produced by either member of m-flo in the interim since their last loves album, you’ll probably know what I mean. The songs will generally start one way, and without much—if any warning—will drastically switch its beat to something completely different, usually sounding like an entirely different song. Towards the end of the song there is usually a blending of the two styles, though not always. For me this can be very disorienting and is probably what keeps me from really liking this album. There are a good number of songs that I like—until the DBS hits and I’m disenchanted. Songs like RUN (MINAMI from CREAM confirmed on vocals), Never Needed You (sounds like MiChi as well), Don’t Stop Me Now, Call Me and album closer Yesterday all have this debilitating use of DBS that keeps me from wanting to recommend them. The remainder of tracks is generally new territory for the duo. We heard some of the precursor on VERBAL’s solo effort VISIONAIR. Tracks like So Mama…, Oh Baby and Acid 02 present with that much darker, heavier, more progressive sound.
When it comes down to it, I do like the album. It’s good to hear the guys back in the studio making music again. But at the same time I am disappointed with the end result. As I said before, the album is very current and trendy and it has the flair and panache that m-flo brings to the studio. And one thing I will give to the duo, they are progressive. They have never been ones to sit by and do the easy thing, the thing that everyone else does. They were a hip hop duo that decided to put out a swing, jazz, and big band influenced album after their vocalist left. m-flo is always looking forward, and I respect that.
Long time fans will be split on their feelings, I think. I can’t deny that some of the album is very nice, but some of it makes me cringe—and a lot of the time it’s the same song. While the album does sound very different from song to song, I don’t actually hear that much variety, it’s all that same style of urban club pop. I just hope it’s not another five years before we hear from these guys again.
01. □ [sayonara_2012]
02. Perfect Place
04. □ [frozen_space_project]
05. Never Needed You
06. Oh Baby
07. □ [square1_scene_1 murder_he_wrote]
08. Don’t Stop Me Now
09. All I Want Is You
10. Acid 02
11. Call Me
12. □ [ok_i_called]
13. Sure Shot Ricky
15. □ [square1_scene_2_don't_blink]
16. So Mama I’d Love To Catch Up, OK?
17. She’s So (Outta Control)
19. □ [to_be_continued...]
Buy m-flo’s SQUARE ONE here!