With their fifth album, the Brown Eyed Girls execute a slick package of pop tracks, displaying great versatility while also demonstrating a signature maturity and sound that has allowed them to be one of the top K-Pop acts of the last seven years.
The Brown Eyed Girls’ secret to their long term success has been their ability to edit themselves and play to their strengths. There is no such thing as filler, both in the group’s composition and their releases. Their three vocalists in JeA, Narsha and Ga-In are all very solid and can stand toe to toe with most anyone in the K-Pop scene, depending on genre (another strength is that each is stronger at different genres with JeA owning ballads and RnB, while Narsha and Ga-In do very well with dance pop). Miryo, though, is the ace in the hole for BEG. While most idol groups have “rappers”, the designation is more or less nominal. Rappers in K-Pop are mostly pretty faces who companies want on stage, musical or rhythmic ability be damned. Where Miryo differs, and what allows BEG to shine consistently, is her real rapping presence. The girl can straight spit and it adds a dimension to BEG tracks that no other pop group can really match, which allows for BEG to do things with popthat other groups can’t even begin to attempt. “Black Box” doesn’t rise above the rest of BEG’s discography but it definitely does the group justice as the veterans display their comfort with pop music in all forms over the course of nine tracks.
1. After Club
In eight measures, the Brown Eyed Girls manage to wrangle more attitude out of track than Girls’ Generation could do in four and a half of minutes of flailing about in “I Got a Boy”. The bass line is funky as fuq and “After Club” serves as an excellent introductory track. The women strut with such confidence over the percussion and licks that it feels fierce. Miryo makes each break count and JeA guides the vocalists through the disco-laden proceedings. A first track should grab the listener and “After Club” sinks its teeth in and refuses to let go.
2. I Want to Fly
A soft summer R&B pop song done BEG style. The strings delight as the prominent bass keep things warm and welcoming. The keys bob up and down, playing off of the strings with all the smoothness of a stream. “I Want to Fly” shows off the softer side of the Brown Eyed Girls, and while it strays from their usual wheelhouse of dance pop and R&B, the four make it work well. The various breaks and stops keep the song from getting repetitive and the vocals staccato stylings contrast nicely with the easy-breezy production. Like most deceptively easily put together tracks, “I Want to Fly” does plenty of subtle and smart things which keep it from being a throwaway song.
3. Kill Bill
Review for the music video is here. TLDR: It owns and is one of the most fully realized music videos of the year.
“Boy” is part Latin dance party and part hip-pop but it has a hard time following the panache of “Kill Bill”. The horn trills in the background is a nice touch and the percussion beat hits all the right places but “Boy” sounds standard until Miryo comes in and really shows that this should have been a solo track. JeA and company hold the hook down fine, but the song should have been Miryo trading verses with herself and the rest of BEG on the hook to really do the beat justice.
“Satisfaction” is what would happen if Gnarls Barkley and BEG had a love child. The transition from “Boy” to “Satisfaction” is incredibly well done, as the two beats are similar without being redundant. The “ah-ah-aahhh-aahhh”s in the background are stupidly addictive and the slight changes in tempo and insane ramp ups to each verse make “Satisfaction” throttle forward like the world’s most effective tease. It may not be single-worthy but “Satisfaction” is catchy in its own right.
6. Mystery Survivor
Lady Gaga would have made this track three years ago, before she started worshiping at the alter of 1980’s nostalgia. There’s hints of euro-dance, and “Monster” era Gaga sprinkled throughout here. The synths are dark and grind against JeA’s, Narsha’s and Ga-In’s more sultry vocal stylistic choices. The only complaint with “Myster Survivor” is that it doesn’t seem to build towards anything. The beat does it’s best to keep things pumping but the Miryo rap to end the song finishes off the song much too abruptly.
7. It’s a Lie
“It’s a Lie” is a modern R&B track that goes quite nicely after “Mystery Survivor” as a more relaxing beat. The electronic notes stroll along and the percussion goes at a pace which can be described as leisurely pleasant. BEG almost whisper over the production which makes “It’s a Lie” a more intimate affair and is good evidence that sometimes less can be much more effective than more. The slide whistle is hypnotic head bobbing voodoo and “It’s a Lie” ends up being one of those tracks that would never be a single (no really addictive hook, nor insanely fast-paced beat) but is still more enjoyable than most lead singles anyways.
The review for the digital single is here. Basically, the perfect summer road trip song to bang while cruising along the boardwalk. If anything, like a perfect summer weekend at the beach, it ends too quickly.
9. Good Fellas
The obligatory ballad. JeA kills it but this is one of the times where there’s almost a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. There’s only so many lines and every vocalist wants to show that they’re up to the task, which leads to a song that sounds a little overwrought. It’s the end of an album, not a final goodbye to planet Earth. The beat is pretty standard ballad fare as well. There are strings, and flutes and everything you would expect in a K-Drama soundtrack that plays as the two leads finally lean in to kiss and learn that they both have the death cancer. Miryo (really the MVP of the entire album) provides a smart counterbalance by going for understated in a sea of maudlin. “Good Fellas” is enjoyable, but it’s manipulative tugs at emotional heartstrings stand out from all the fast paced pop that precedes it.
Overall, “Black Box” is an album that shows how BEG has continued to stay extremely relevant over the last eight years: by being able to tackle all pop trends, and tackle them well. Experience cannot be manufactured, and the Brown Eyed Girls don’t have to fake anything to execute any of the songs on “Black Box”. Every song showcases different elements of modern pop music and BEG deftly run the gamut of different styles thrown at them. I am not sure if any other group could do what BEG did with “Black Box”. A 2NE1 ballad? An SNSD “Kill Bill”, a 4Minute “I Want to Fly”, and a Davichi “After Club” all sound highly improbable because it’s hard to have acts who can adapt to multiple types of music. But that’s what makes the Brown Eyed Girls special. They make pop sound easy.
MVPs: “Kill Bill”, “I Want to Fly”, “Recipe”