Day 45: After School – “Dress to kill” Review

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Day 45: After School – “Dress to kill” (2014)

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Genre: Pop / Dance / House

Tracklist: Dress code ~Theme of ‘Dress to kill’~ / Dress to kill / Ms.Independent / Triangle / Crazy Driver / Shh / Yes No Yes / Heaven / in the moonlight / rock it! / Spotlight / Killing eyes ~End of ‘Dress to kill’~

I usually ignore manufactured girlgroups and boygroups – there’s really no point in grabbing most of their albums given you can rarely find any type of artistic vision and the labels seem content with putting two good songs (to serve as promotional singles) on albums of otherwise utter garbage. But every now and then an actual decent album comes around and you have to admit that generalisations can be helpful, but may be misleading at times. After School employed Shinichi Osawa to work on two of the album tracks, reason enough to check it out.

After a rather uneventful opening, the girls jump into the laid back, sensual EDM track Dress to kill. The melody and delivery are seductive, the song draws you in well with its slow, deep beats and minimal nature, but ultimately fails to deliver a hook that is powerful enough for the lead up. It’s a song to enjoy when it comes up, wonderfully produced, but that didn’t fully live up to its potential.

Ms.Independent is one hell of a jam. It doesn’t try to hide the idol group origin, it gladly accepts a catchy, dumb little melody, the choral, messy vocals, the stupid lyrics – and that embrace of just how tacky the song is helps it achieve quite a lot. An explosive, force of nature chorus and a melody that will plant itself in your subconscious for weeks to come, topped off with excellent modern house production. I quite love Ms.Independent.

An attempt at a slightly darker, edgier song, Triangle, falls flat. The necessary attitude isn’t present in any of the vocals, the production is a bit empty at times – and the melody simply not as infecting. Which isn’t to say I dislike it, just that it doesn’t compare.

The autotuning and vocoding on Crazy Driver is painful, not adding anything to the song but rather serving as reminder of how dreadfully bland the song is to require such a thing to give it texture. There’s some good parts in this song, particularly in the form of the instrumental track, but not enough to make it…well…good.

One of the album’s singles, Shh goes out of its way to establish the mature, sensual image of the record. The Osawa production is absolutely flawless, delivering on all accounts. A dynamic, filled out, yet never overly stuffed backdrop on which the girls can lay their soft, almost spoken vocals. It’s a very powerful, almost oddly beautiful, track that came completely out of the blue and surprised me with its sheer quality. I do feel it could have been a bit shorter, getting too repetitive – but that’s just in the nature of house and while I don’t enjoy it, I know other people like this composition style that gives them more time to be absorbed into the atmosphere of a song.

An unremarkable but comfortable track, Yes No Yes is forgotten the moment it ends, but never regretted. It adds a slight jazz tint that none of the vocalists can portray well.

Heaven, the second Osawa production on the album, features the same quality of production, but feels more refined and as such succeeds more as a (first and foremost) Pop song. The flow of the individual sections is effortless, it’s sensually charged, catchy as hell. I think it’s fair to call Heaven one of the strongest Pop tracks to come out of South Korea in the last couple months. It’s not forced and never shoots to far, but always stays at the perfect level of tension.

Sadly, it’s pretty obvious that After School have a group of producers that just don’t know how to use a girlgroup well – or don’t care. Osawa does his best, treating them like any other of his projects, but aside from that there’s little going on. in the moonlight is just uneventful and a bit grating to listen to, apparently never having heard about harmony.

rock it! opens on a rather exciting synthpop beat, but then seems scared to go all the way and develops into a been-there-done-that house beat with a melody that basically just lines up the same notes and small steps. Every now and then showing some synthpop commitment before jumping right back.

Credit where credit is due, Spotlight is genuinely catchy and the production is never annoying, however, I feel it is a bit empty, lacking any conviction behind the vocals or the production. It doesn’t seem to strive for more than middle ground.

Spotlight is followed by a brief outro that exists solely to fill the tracklist. you all know it’s true.

Dress to kill shows that, in mainstream Pop music, producers are all that truly matters. Unless you have build up a strong persona and image around yourself or are really talented, it’s the producers that turn you into good pop music – and if you are extremely talented, you should be smart enough to realize producers will make that visible to the world. At no point does this album deliver anything ground-breaking, but the well-produced tunes are pretty fantastic pop jams. Using Shinichi Osawa guaranteed two masterpieces – and Ms. Independent manages to get to a similar level by fully embracing the ridiculous, over the top nature of the girlgroup system. The rest of the album is stuck between tolerable and decent, but as a whole it’s an enjoyable listen, vastly superior to many other albums coming out of the business and coming in favorably compared to their own prior releases that usually included one or two good songs between a bunch of entirely forgettable and insufferable ones.

Rating: 3/5

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