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  • Cy White

fromis_9: Midnight Guest & from our Memento Box

This is a first for me on the site: a double review for a K-pop group. It seemed particularly fitting to talk about their most recent release. After all, it is their final project as nine. As of July 31, nine-member girl group fromis_9 will continue as eight. Member Jang Gyu-ri, one of the group's lead vocalists, departed the group at the end of her contract with Pledis Entertainment. Ultimately, that's not what this is about, but it is somewhat bittersweet. Having just started listening to the group, it isn't lost on me that as they begin to pique my interest their infrastructure permanently changes.

fromis_9: Midnight Guest

While most singers from South Korea tend to sound the same, there are those who stand out just for the sheer power of their vocals and the range. The women of fromis_9 fit that exact description. Tone-wise, they're not doing anything much different, but their vocal ability and dexterity is notable. They harken back to the early days of Korean pop music when vocals really were the defining factor between groups. They remind me of groups like A Pink, where the lightness of the music masks the actually vocal power of the singers in the groups. (If you don't believe me, I dare you to not to awestricken with Eun Ji's vocals. That girl's range will destroy you because you don't expect it.) They also have incredible control in terms of harmonization, similar to groups like The Grace and to a lesser extent SPICA.

Though vocally fromis_9 doesn't have "melt your speakers" heavy vocals like the aforementioned The Grace or SPICA, and they definitely lean more toward bubblegum than pop that relies more on R&B and soul conventions, the harmonies are there and they should be applauded.

Midnight Guest is a typical pop album that musically doesn't do much to stand out, so it's not surprising they'd get lost in the shuffle of pop groups coming from the country. However, pay attention to what's actually happening vocally. Tracks "Escape Room" and "Love is Around" do a great job highlighting how strong they are when they lean into more mature genre work. Particularly, the subtlety of "Love is Around" truly showcases the group's impeccable harmonization. Would I listen to this EP again in its entirety? Probably not. But there are some notable moments of vocal brilliance that really do set fromis_9 apart from their peers in K-pop.

fromis_9: from our Memento Box

Though perhaps this wasn't the intention, it's not lost on me that this EP carries the conceit of a box full of memories. The album doesn't really carry heavy notes of regret or lamenting. On the contrary, it's a bright piece of pop that carries over from Midnight Guest.

Delivering on, if nothing else, the same impressive vocals that make them a group apart. The harmony work is tight as ever, with particularly inventive construction in track "Blind Letter." It speaks to the precision in the ears of each member to be able to stray from the foundational melody line to add layers of dissonant harmonies, all without sounding discordant or uneasy to the listener.

Opening on some bright house-pop, ...Memento Box is quite playful. It continues this construction of 808-laced pop with track "Cheese," providing perhaps the connecting thread for the whole EP. With nostalgic musical construction and classically rendered harmony work, it's a lesson in how to incorporate old-school pop conventions with currently trending tropes.

While Midnight Guest closes on a retro K-pop throwback, they take a completely different approach for ...Memento Box, reaching for something more ethereal, more "grown-up," for lack of a better word. It's a sensual drip of house straight from Soho. The skitter beat and doses of hollow bass could very well find a place in clubs catering to the house scene. Can you imagine the remixes? The field day someone from the House of Jack would have if they got their hands on this track! While it's still very much a pop tune, there's an underlying grittiness to the groove that suggests they could go there if given the opportunity. Their vocal depth means they know how to paint the tune with inventive textures. Closing the EP, and this chapter in this group's iteration, on something inventive and nuanced that hints at just how mature they are as a vocal group.

fromis_9 has certainly mastered the art of layering, understanding vocal nuance and that sometimes subtlety is the truest form of control. They'll never be confused for an R&B powerhouse group, but their vocals suggest they're up to the task of tackling work for an audience with a more mature aural palate. Though down one member, in the future I'm hoping (though not exactly hopeful) they'll push the envelope and aim for music that's more in line with their vocal prowess.

Seems the five-year curse has reared its ugly head once again, though in K-pop, that's honestly no longer a surprise. Given the sheer glut of groups that crop up every year, it's more surprising they lasted this long as a complete unit. Here's to a bright future for both Gyu-ri and her former members in fromis_9.

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