f(x) Doesn't Miss a Beat on '4 Walls': Album Review


Last summer, f(x) hit a wall when original member Sulli took a hiatus from the act leaving many speculating discord inside the underrated-yet-extremely-consistent quintet. She officially left the group in August this year just as f(x) was announced to be preparing for their comeback as a foursome.

The girl group's labelmates Girls' Generation and EXO all lost members this past year too but with nine and 10 members, respectively, their losses, while still certainly important, could arguably be patched up more easily than a team with half those numbers.

But shrewd damage control is the crowning achievement of f(x)'s new album, 4 Walls. Throughout the 10-track set, the ladies step up more than ever: for example, Amber's raps are way tighter, Luna's vocals feel extra powerful and Krystal's unique timbre blends with the others for their undeviating signature color.

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Plus, the emphasis on house and trendy dance music lets the production do an equal amount of talking. For example, take the slinky lead single that feels like a perfect fit to the girls' alluring aura -- much more so than the sonically similar "View," the latest single by f(x) labelmates SHINee who is better known for big pop productions. The deep house sound is perfect for f(x) and creates a superior sister to "View," complete with moments of belting, rapping and even an awesome synthy breakdown at the bridge.

The quartet also rock the house genre on 4 Walls standout "Rude Love" with its repetitive-yet-addictively-lush chorus, but it isn't the only dance sound they get creative with.

"Deja Vu" mixes industrial beats with glitch-pop sounds while throwing in cowboy yelps to juxtapose the girls' icy coos on the hook. Meanwhile, "X" has a '90s feel to it with the touches of disco and R&B, as the gorgeous "When I'm Alone" -- which is written by Carly Rae Jepsen and is likely about masturbation -- is a synth-pop gem and beautiful closer to the LP.

There are moments where the group ungracefully falters, arguably worse than the worst tracks on their two recent LPs Pink Tape and Red Light -- both two of the year's best K-pop albums from 2013 and 2014, respectively. "Papi" struggles to find an identity with an odd mix of vaguely Latin samples over bouncy synthesizers and sexy comehithers, while the psychotic EDM banger "Cash Me Out" pales in comparison to the elegance of the other electronic explorations here.

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But 4 Walls proves that f(x) is still wholly capable of creating yet another great full-length album -- a rarity in K-pop to do once -- by finding the right sonicscapes and having each member step up her artistic game -- which is really the only way any artist can continue to remain great.

You can stream 4 Walls on Spotify now.