Light may travel faster than sound, but in a storm, thunder’s cavernous rumbles leave a deeper impression than a sudden lightning streak in the sky. This is very much the case with Stray Kids, who have proven through the years that they’re no mere flash in the pan. Instead, they’ve carved a niche for themselves in the K-pop scene with their bold artistry (mala taste, anyone?) and unique creative perspective, which led the group – consisting Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin and I.N – to their eventual victory on reality TV competition Kingdom: Legendary War.
“[Through Kingdom,] we became more certain of the music and performances that Stray Kids could do,” Changbin said recently during a Q&A per Soompi. And this follows through in their second full-length, ‘NOEASY’, a syllabic Korean pronunciation of the word ‘noisy’. “It means that we want to leave a loud impact on the world with our music,” explained leader Bang Chan.
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Chan’s part of 3RACHA, Stray Kids’ very own producing sub-unit. Together with Changbin and Han, the trio are once again at the helm of the group’s noisemaking, alongside producers like VERSACHOI and HotSauce. The 14-track album also includes their winning Kingdom single ‘Wolfgang’ (“We are the maestros who lead the world”, they declare), and the surprise June release ‘Mixtape: OH’, which marked Hyunjin’s return after a four-month hiatus from the group.
Setting the scene for their first comeback in nearly a year is ‘Thunderous’, a title track that’s just as fierce as its name makes it out to be. “[Its] message… is that Stray Kids, as sorikkun (or singers), will face off against the jansorikkun ( or “naggers”) and confidently let our sound [loose],” explained Bang Chan, who once turned the tables on an anti-fan who termed their music as “construction noise”. And it’s clear that they mean business: “Man I’m not sorry, I’m dirty / Keep on talking, we don’t play by the rules”, he and Felix both defiantly maintain in the one-two English punchline at the chorus’ end (with “sorry” being a homonym of ‘소리’, sori, or ‘sound’ in Korean).
This lead single retains its strength and self-assuredness from start to the end, anchored by a cacophonous combination of thundering, brassy horns and controlled EDM beats.It even comes with a surprising pre-chorus hook, as Lee Know and Han both smugly deliver: “I’ll always say what I have to say, Ptui, Ptui, Ptui”. This particular key point of the song indicates how the guys are ever-ready to go into a sonic battle when required.
In ‘Thunderous’, Stray Kids also pay homage to traditional Korean culture through a number of references: its Korean title, ‘소리꾼’ (sorikkun) refers to a traditional Korean singer who tells stories in musical form, known as pansori. Along with its melody sampling percussion instruments heard in samul nori, a traditional Korean folk music genre, its elaborate music video – filmed at an open set for historical period dramas – also featured colourful pungmul dancers, and white lions associated with the Bongsan mask dance.
The other heavier tracks in ‘NOEASY’ also fare well. On the tongue-in-cheek opening track ‘Cheese’, the group respond flippantly to anti-fans who feed them with attention. “I love what you hate / Whatever you say, it’s all fun to me,” a dismissive Han proclaims to his “adoring public”, “Thank you, I love it / Gonna create chaos with our nonsense now.” They also assert their dominance in ‘Domino’, which features head-spinning transitions from heavy bass beats to a high-pitched taepyeongso (a traditional wind instrument) sample, then into a descending xylophone-esque chromatic scale, before it surprises with a genre twist towards the end.
‘NOEASY’ isn’t just made up of thunderclaps all the way, though. Just as how storms gradually subside, Stray Kids slow things down with mellower jams in the album’s latter portion. In one-sided conversation ‘Sorry, I Love You’, songwriter Changbin draws lyrical inspiration from an unrequited crush, evoking the uncertainty and uneasiness of wanting to make one’s feelings known, and the disappointment of it not working out.
“I feel left alone in the world / Will I get better by deceiving my own heart?” Han muses to himself in ‘Secret Secret’, who said that he wrote it in part to connect with fans and listeners alike. “What I wish to say through the song is, ‘Just like you, I’m thinking about the same thing. We’re both human’,” he shared in the album’s “Intro” video. A departure from the group’s usual EDM-heavy approach, the song takes on a more melodic, drum-led rhythm, much like if it were performed by an actual band. This, along with Han’s other self-penned song, ‘Gone Away’, bring to mind iKON’s rock-ballad style – their 2015 song ‘Apology’, for example.
The emotive and poignant ‘Gone Away’ – performed by Han, Seungmin and I.N – is one of three sub-unit songs included in the album, much like the ones that featured in their previous full-length ‘Go Live’. The member combinations get switched up this time: Bang Chan and Hyunjin border on Fifty Shades Of Grey territory in the sultry ‘Red Lights’, while Felix, Lee Know and Changbin give themselves a much-needed beach reprieve (complete with marimba beats) in the fun, aptly tropical-sounding ‘Surfin’’.
The song that probably best encapsulates where Stray Kids are at in their journey as a group is ‘The View’, described by Hyunjin as being “rhythmic and summery”. “Back then, the place used to be vast like a desert”, recounts Felix, “Now it is a wide field where I want to run” – just as it was visualised in the track’s teaser video clip. It may embody a certain hope for the future, but the guys are simply content to enjoy how far they’ve come – or in their own words, “I like the view right now”.
Filled with depth, creative substance and a whole repertoire of ‘noise’ to boot, ‘NOEASY’ is Stray Kids’ unapologetic reminder that they are not empty vessels. “I do think that our team [has taken] on a more decisive personality [in ‘NOEASY’],” reflects Changbin in the ‘Intro’ video. “Some parts are fun, some parts are mischievous, some parts are witty, fresh and new. Those are some things we’ve always been striving for [i]n terms of both music and performance.” That, along with the versatility displayed by the members, will no doubt continue placing them in good stead for years to come.
- Release date: August 23
- Record label: JYP Entertainment