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Since their debut back in 2012, EXO has dominated the Korean music scene. Whether it be breaking records, collecting awards like they’re Christmas cards, or simply just becoming trailblazers for evolved sounds and sonic experiments that seemingly always deliver, the group has undeniably managed to find the recipe for success when it comes to music making. Dubbed the “Nation’s Pick” back in their native country, the group are arguably one of the most popular K-Pop has ever seen, and will no doubt go down in history as iconic.
However, despite this popularity, and the fact that every member possesses enough talent to shake the charts on their own, solo efforts are hard to find when it comes to EXO. So, when member Chen (Kim Jongdae) announced his solo EP April, and a Flower, it instantly became buzz-worthy. A vocal powerhouse, Jongdae’s time to shine has been long overdue, and this debut six-track offering is all the proof you need of that.
Opener “Flower” starts the release off tremendously, with the soft, refined vocals taking centre stage, accompanied at first by only a soothing piano melody. The song’s composition feels almost familial in nature, and it’s a relaxing yet colourful offering. The clever addition of other elements to the track manage to maintain the subtlety needed to ensure the track remains flawless, but the song’s euphoric climax that truly allows Jongdae’s talents to shine through is the real triumph. It’s a number that has immense quality in all aspects, but what ultimately makes it memorable is the unmatched vocal performance on show.
“Beautiful Goodbye,” the lead-single of this EP, follows, and sets the bar even higher for the standard expected from this offering. A sublime ballad, the vocals are the highlight once more, but the simple composition further allows for everything to remain simplistic and straightforward. There’s no needless attempt to make things overly complex, as the perfected vocal technique and raw talent shown throughout stamp these songs as unique and almost impossible to replicate in their own right.
Continuing, the emotion-filled “Sorry Not Sorry” paints a fantastically melancholic picture. Every note feels like part of a story being told, and the exemplary instrumentation gives the track an ethereal feeling. The vibrato and occasionally emphasized vocals add extra layers, but it’s the song’s apex that really feels special. Every second is poignant, and the gut-punch of visceral emotion evoked by this offering is something you’ll struggle to hand-wave.
“Love Words” feels slightly brighter, but still maintains the feeling that this is an EP full of emotional springtime ballads. Chen’s higher register feels tailor-made for this season, and the powerful chorus offered here is difficult not to appreciate. Despite the almost upbeat melody, this track is about getting into a fight with a lover, and the chorus’s vocal delivery adds an intense feeling of desperation in a search to end the conflict. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how masterfully packaged a song like this is, as it’s truly unrivaled in quality.
From there, there is a seamless transition into “I’ll Be There,” a number that strips everything back to its bare bones. There is a tender pacing to the track, a warmness to the vocals, and a subdued feeling to the melody. The song is almost healing in its essence, and the dynamic throughout is perfect. It’s a ballad that once again tackles a heart-wrenching topic area, but Jongdae’s reliable execution takes you on a comforting journey that somehow makes everything tangibly beautiful. Climatically, the song finishes with a real finesse, ensuring the listener is once again in awe of what they have just heard.
And finally, “Portrait of You” ties a perfectly packaged bow onto the EXO member’s first solo EP. The instrumentation stands out more than anything in this particular offering, and from a lyrical perspective this track is a real highlight. A gem of a curtain-closer, it once again feels larger than life, and is worthy of multiple listens.
All in all, these are six undeniably solid ballads, with no room for critique or argument. Music may be subjective, but this EP has objectively been impeccably produced, rigorously perfected, and faultlessly executed. It takes the listener on a short journey that contains all the ingredients required for a classic, and there’s no doubt that in a few years time, this release will hold up just the same. The bucket-loads of quality highlighted in all corners of the release will ensure its timelessness to even the most savvy of listener, thus allowing it to go down as musical perfection.
Rating - 10/10