Over the course of the four years since they debuted, Monsta X have been prone to wandering across the musical map. In 2015, they emerged from Korean reality show No Mercy (like a more intense X Factor) with hip-hop at their core. Since then, they’ve invested in adding more bass-y breaks, EDM flashes and pop purity.
On 2018’s ‘Take.1 Are You There?’, they experimented once again, mixing swelling synth-pop (‘Underwater’) with classic boyband pop (‘By My Side’), or skipping genre lines within one song, such as on ‘Myself’, which built up moody indie-rock guitar motifs before jumping into fidgeting beats and big, atmospheric synths. Some of their trials fared better than others.
Their third album, ‘Take.2 We Are Here’, like its title, sounds assured. On it, the seven-piece group rediscover their niche as masters of the throbbing dancefloor cut, sounding far more cohesive in the process. ‘Take.2…’ is far from going backwards, though. Its tracklist boasts a range of emotions and moods, from the stuttering euphoria build of ‘Intro’ (does what it says on the tin) to the firework synths of the swaggering ‘Rodeo’, and features some giant leaps forward for the band.
‘Play It Cool’ is the most immediate of those steps. A link-up with K-pop’s collaborator of the moment Steve Aoki, it merges Balearic haze with house piano and bubbling undercurrents of garage. Monsta X might have made you want to dance before, but this is them fully dedicating themselves to Ibizan club life. If that’s the case, then ‘No Reason’, at least musically, is the soundtrack to the beachside walk home, still feeling the glowy rush that comes from dancing til dawn under a booming soundsystem. Translate the lyrics and it could also serve as an accompaniment to the comedown once the dopamine hit fades (“It’s all over now, but I still want something / What’s wrong with me?”).
Some of the album’s most distinctive moments come from the rap line of Jooheon and I.M. On record highlight ‘Party Time’, which is essentially a smoother, chiller take on Chance The Rapper’s ‘All Night’, they share a similar cadence and flow with the Chicago star – one that’s bright and warm, and makes you want to join them in sinking shots. On ‘Alligator’, which lurches side to side like the scaly reptiles, their shared verse is both brain-burrowingly infectious and as intimidating as you’d expect from a dispatch that warns, “You are detected in my radar / Never let it go like alligator.”
There are some moments that let the record down. ‘Turbulence’ suffers from having a little too much going on at times, an overwhelming assault on your ears as they battle to pick the layers apart. ‘Give Me Dat’, despite having everything thrown at it, also fails to really fully take off.
K-pop continues to make its mark in the west and Monsta X had their own watershed moment last year when they became the first Korean group to perform on the US Jingle Ball tour alongside household names such as Camila Cabello, Cardi B, and Shawn Mendes. Focused, fiery, and fun, ’Take.2 We Are Here’ is just the statement they needed to maintain their momentum.