It would be a lie for me to say I haven’t been waiting for this release for months. News of an EXO comeback has been circulating ever since the winter season—that’s a long, long time ago—and nothing was confirmed until June of this year. Even then, we were only promised a July comeback, without any more details aside from the fact that EXO was bound to release their fourth album in a month’s time, and that Chinese member Lay couldn’t make it for this comeback (but I’ll get back to that later).
Then, the time came. SM Entertainment opened up Twitter, Instagram, and Weibo accounts for the group (and by the same means, killing the EXO-K and EXO-M sub-units once and for all), and posted a teaser you could unlock only by tweeting out one of the three hashtags related to the release (brilliant promotion tactics, everyone at SM). Long story short, the internet blew up, and anticipation multiplied tenfold.
By the time July 18 rolled around, I was hyped—and, fortunately, EXO didn’t disappoint. The War is a varied, creative piece of music, incorporating an onslaught of genres and influences, distinguishing itself as EXO’s most ambitious work to date.
Shimmy Shimmy, “Ko Ko Bop”
“Shimmy shimmy, ko ko bop, I think I like it…” “Ko Ko Bop,” the title track, is a smooth, slow, nicely-rhythmed reggae-influenced song, with varying beats and brilliant composing. To think the song actually comes from a variation of a clapping game is a little crazy.
But upon first listen, it’s hard to capture everything that makes up “Ko Ko Bop.” There are just so many good things about it that it gets overwhelming, and we miss out on so much that it almost ends up sounding too generic.
So do yourself a favor and take the time to truly listen to “Ko Ko Bop,” music video views aside. Pick apart the guitars from the beginning that follow throughout the entire track. Notice the subtle additions of elements during the first verse, and how they end up building the chorus only to be broken off by Chanyeol’s (brilliant) pre-chorus rap. Bask in the vocalists’ murmured voices (especially Xiumin’s, in the second verse), or the aah ooh’s that follow right after. You’ll find that despite its simple structure, made up of slower verses and choruses and fast-paced EDM breakdowns, “Ko Ko Bop” has a lot to offer. Obey the little (kind of creepy) voice that chimes in and tells you to “listen” at some point before the bridge.
What You Can Find in The War
However, as much as I love “Ko Ko Bop,” I have to say there are some gems hiding in this album. The War brings us everything: from hip-hop to R&B to synth pop, it’s such a varied and eclectic album that it’s almost too hard to pick favorites.
“What U do?” would be first on my list. It has hints of guitars at first, before that addictive and catchy bass line takes over right from the beginning and follows through the rest of the song. “Yeah, I want it; yeah, I need it,” sings Chen at the beginning—and so do I! I want that beat to build up; I want those guitars to take over once again—I need those synths to completely blow me away. And they do—oh, they do—at the chorus, exploding in a colorful and bright way. “What U do?” might stand side to side with Red Velvet’s “Zoo” for me as the best songs for the summer so far. You’ll find yourself belting out the lyrics to the chorus before you even know it.
Another big favorite: “Going Crazy,” which takes from EXO’s complex EDM roots from the likes of “Black Pearl” or “Hurt.” It surrounds the group’s delivery with a steady and well-built backing track, and the breakdown at the chorus is simply to die for. The harmonies are also stunning, especially at the bridge, when Suho sings with bewitching voices alongside him. A highlight you won’t want to miss: Baekhyun’s (impossible) high note at the end. Also, if you think the song sounds familiar, you’re not crazy, and I’ve got the answer right here for you.
A nice surprise is “Touch It,” with lyrics penned by Kim Jongdae (Chen) himself. It’s groovy, it’s old school, it’s sexy, and it contrasts the vocal and rap line very well, with fast transitions and back-and-forth moments between the two. Add in the brass elements, the enchanting little oohs and the na na nas, and you have me completely sold.
There’s still so much to talk about and so little space, so here are some more of my favorites: the magical R&B ballad “Walk on Memories” makes everyone in the group sing, where Kai’s voice definitely stands out, while the grand opening track “The Eve” is a track that inspires majesty and mystery; it’ll definitely become a live hit.
If you feel daring, take a listen to “Chill,” composed by the skilled G.Soul, incorporating EDM with a wide array of rhythms and harmonies where Sehun, Chanyeol, and D.O. particularly shine. Or check out “Diamond,” a melting pot of hip-hop and an odd structure that might not be for everyone but that is definitely worth a shot (especially the end, with the oud adding itself to the mix). Finally, “Forever” brings an EXO touch to hip-hop with its highly complex choruses to the rap-heavy song.
Overall, The War is incredible, and definitely deserves your attention—or at least the half hour it takes to listen to the entire thing. It might not top EXODUS for me (what will top EXODUS, honestly?), but it definitely ranks high amongst my favorite releases of the moment. The one downside? The fact that Yixing (Lay) couldn’t be part of it. But there are many, many reasons as to why that is that, extending far, far beyond SM Entertainment’s evil little profit-generating business scheme. Waiting around for things to get fixed is simply not an option. There is nothing I, EXO, or SM can do about it (and some people still don’t understand that). For my part, I’ll just have to enjoy The War and wait for Yixing’s upcoming solo release (because we know that’s happening soon, too).
For real, though. I know I can be terribly biased, and I know I’m not always right, so go see for yourself and listen to The War. All things considered, I doubt you’ll regret it.