After a pretty damn effective teaser campaign, f(x) has finally dropped their music video for “4 Walls,” the group’s first music video since their flat out amazing “Red Light” and the subsequent departure of Sulli. While “4 Walls” thankfully picks up on the eclectic path that “Red Light” set before it, f(x)’s latest comeback frustratingly fails (seemingly purposefully) to be a very gripping comeback.
As a song, “4 Walls” does more right than it does wrong. The production is an understated winner. The slower pace and measured energy strikes a good balance between mood music and dance pop as the beat is able to convey a sense of liveliness without falling for the easy temptation to get turnt up. The distorted electronic beats and deliberate heavy-handed bass contrast nicely with the f(x)’s vocalists’ light and high notes and Amber’s rap gives the song’s first minute a grounded energy. However, while the track’s restraint is admirable and easy to listen to in some ways, it’s a bit lacking in others. The beat’s slower tempo often sounds like it needs an added punch that the group’s vocalists never reach for and the house-ish influences of “4 Walls” tend to meander in the absence of a strong hook. The resulting single is one that is easy to play and replay but it is also one that is hard to recall fondly.
The video for “4 Walls” brings an ambitious artistic aesthetic to the comeback but even that comes at the cost of coherency. Taken as individual stills, “4 Walls” achieves a stark beauty that is to be admired. The white and blue hues of the “square aspect ratio scenes” are lovely in their simplicity, pale lighting and props. The extended wide screen shots of the rich forest scenes are filmed with such a punch of purple that gives the video a wonderfully unsettling dusk hue. The color choice is made all the more appropriate by the transitory moments in time that the scene is able to capture.
As a whole though, the video just doesn’t add up to the sum of it’s parts. What looks gorgeous when paused become unfocused and frustratingly framed when in motion. The “square” scenes are shot in a way that the aspect ratio becomes distracting and claustrophobic as f(x) becomes edited down into disembodied blocks of hair, torsos and limbs while members swing in and out of each limited shot. The forest scenes are an improvement but the video’s insistence on a hyper-dream state leads to REALLY blurred backgrounds and foregrounds that often end up swallowing whole shots. It’s a shame because the video is constructed with a clear vision that doesn’t rely on (too many) gimmicks or choreography shots to fill its three-and-a-half minute run time and that in and of itself is worth applauding.
While “4 Walls” is not perfect, the art house direction and understated musical approach (which the minimalist teasers perfectly hinted at in hindsight) does give the group a blueprint for further distinguishing itself from its louder, electronic dance pop driven roots. “4 Walls” is a hook and some aspect ratio tomfoolery away from being sublime but what we end up with is a mildly pleasant, if slightly undefined, experience nonetheless.