On May 17th, B2ST released their first full-length album, "Fiction And Fact", and save for an unplugged version of "Lightless," all of the songs on B2ST's new album are brand spanking new. So how did they pan out? Let's find out, shall we? === Track List: 1. The Fact 2. Fiction 3. Back to You 4. You 5. Freeze 6. Virus 7. 불러보지만 (Calling You) 8. 비가 오는 날엔 (On Raining Days) 9. Lightless (Unplugged Version) 10. Fiction (Orchestra Version) === To say B2ST have come a long way from their 2009 debut is something of an understatement. It has taken them several mini-albums and overcoming a rough start to get to where they are now, but they've worked hard, grown, and developed into quite the force amongst the boy bands of today. When B2ST debuted, one of the very first pieces of information to surface about these six (Dong Woon, Doo Joon, Hyun Seung, Jun Hyung, Ki Kwang, and Yo Seob) was that they were either failed solo artists, idol rejects, or something in between. They came from a purgatory of sorts; misfits taken in by the talent agency Cube Entertainment, who gave them another chance at the stardom few of them were oh-so close to achieving. Acknowledging the pasts of say, Hyun Seung - the member who was a hair away from making it into the Big Bang - or Ki Kwang - aka AJ, the forgotten solo artist - is crucial to fully appreciating the music of B2ST and all of their achievements thus far. - Musically, B2ST began as a cookie-cutter, run of the mill boy band that offered nothing more than the same old auto-tuned vocals sold on a silver platter of abs and biceps. B2ST's singing voices, even Yo Seob's at the time, were close to mediocre with little sense of unity as a group. They were average at best, and with a group as precise as SHINee overshadowing all rookies during that time period, B2ST's 2009 debut fell to a lackluster standard and left very little to savor. However, B2ST possessed something that other rookies seemed to have lacked, and it's what ultimately kept them reappearing on the scene time and time again: B2ST had a drive to lay it all out there - the good and the bad. You didn't need to have followed B2ST through every single variety show or waking hour of their existence to see their thirst to always be better. It was evident from one mini-album to the next and in the consistency of their performances. Many groups go up and regress, but B2ST have been getting better as a pop group season after season. - As they trickled teasers for their "Fiction And Fact" album this week, the improvement from their previous endeavors to where they are now is monumentally impressive this time. It was a very risky move to release an album full of mellow overtones rather than something filled with pounding beats and drilling synths (as B2ST have done before), but they have somehow managed to inject those idiosyncrasies into "Fiction And Fact" without overwhelming the softness of it all. The album opens with "The Fact" (video above); this song is short enough to be considered an intro-track, but long enough to enjoy as a full song. "The Fact" is slow and features a simple instrumentation with a chiming guitar part. Like in last year's releases, the production of this song and the rest of this album is stellar. Right from the start, there's a clear indication that B2ST wont be recycling any of their old styles (like they did from "Shock" to "Soom"), which is always a challenge for a pop group. This time, they have gone down an R&B road while successfully keeping it 100% pop with very melodic structures and phrases. - "Fiction" transitions almost flawlessly from "The Fact", laying down those very same heart-wrenching melodies you hear in the first song. About a year ago, I had argued that it was the production that brought B2ST to life, but today, it's the complete opposite. The production in "Fiction" is like a final gloss layered above a well sung and well delivered lead single. When you can strip away an amazing production from a song and still have the remains of something brilliant, that's when you know you've nailed it. As a song, one of the best parts of "Fiction" is the chorus, not because it's catchy, but because of the way it was pieced together. There are essentially two things going on: a broad set of lines (sung by Hyun Seung and Yo Seob the first time around) and an underlying base, i.e. "fiction in fiction." It's so subtle, but remove one of those two things and the entire feeling is lost. It's that kind of attention to structure that I'm impressed to hear out of Cube Entertainment right now, and guess what - it happens several times in this album. "Fiction" is very strong, and yet it contrasts dramatically with the vibes that K-pop wants us to feel as the Summer approaches. This album doesn't sound chipper or high-energy, so this will come off as far-removed to those who are purchasing bikini swimsuits right now. - B2ST have always had a good grip on catchy melodies, but there was always that cheesy factor that ended up cheapening the credibility of their music. Fortunately, their songwriters and B2ST have removed most of the corny elements this year and replaced it with a dash of sophistication. "Back To You" (third song) could have easily fallen victim to sounding like a complete cheese-fest, but the boys turned it into a charming number, and it worked (Back To You). - The following song, titled "You", also highlights something that hadn't entirely been covered before, which is placing B2ST's vocals onto an upbeat pop song and making them sound fantastic from start to finish.This song features a laid back beat with engaging verses and a beautiful chorus. It's one of the better songs on this album. Why? Because the vocals sound absolutely amazing. B2ST's voices have also gone through a transformation of their own. Dong Woon's voice in particular is like night and day. Well, not completely, but he's the one member who has most improved in the vocal department. During his newbie days, Dong Woon sounded less like a singer and more like someone singing directly from his throat - or rather, someone just talking his lines in hopes of at least staying in pitch. I remember questioning his presence in a singing group, as his singing was...well...nonexistent. Now Dong Woon has opened up and come to realize that singing takes more than just pushing from the throat. Dong Woon's voice is very mute and it's hard to hear how broad his range might be because it always feels like he's going to break at any second. Regardless, he's cautiously pushing his vocal limits, and as he does so (like in "You"), we get to hear just how far he can go. I mean, he even reaches his head voice in some of these songs. The boy is learning, as well as Doo Joon, the other secondary vocalist in B2ST. There are moments when the lead singers - Hyun Seung, Ki Kwang, and Yo Seob - sound untouchable, and now Doo Joon is working his way up there. - "Freeze" follows as the most 'Cube'-esque track, featuring a brighter tone with an unending pace and a ton of energy. It reminds me of the up beat songs Big Bang released before their wax into the age of electro-pop. It's a little too CF, but kudos to Jun Hyung for at least working on something himself. - The next song on the album is "Virus" and it brings us back to the primary style of the album. This one isn't as strong as any of the previous tracks; for the most part it remains pretty flat, but it's chock full of falsettos (Freeze, Virus). - "Calling You" is another mid tempo song you will have to let grow on you, as it lacks the dramatic melodies and force of the first half of the album. Around this point in "Fiction And Fact" is where I think a really B2ST up-tempo song would have sat well among the many mopy low/mid tracks. This album isn't as hectic as I had imagined, which is great, but at least one over the top song could have definitely worked here (Calling You). - Lastly, there's "On Raining Days", the one song that cements B2ST as one of the most vocally talented idol pop bands in Korea. This song takes everything that B2ST weren't two years ago and displays exactly how far they've come. There's a certain quality in every member's voice that ties really well with the other, and "On Raining Days" has done an amazing job of taking those loose ends and weaving them together perfectly. It seems well suited for their vocals while keeping a good space between lines where each member can throw in any kind of melismas to decorate their lines but not take away from the overall feel of the song. It really brings this album to a comfortable close, as it draws from those swaying melodies we hear at the beginning. - B2ST is like the little boy band that could. They went from relying on their image as a means to sell their music to stripping away the over-processed treatments that plague the Korean pop music industry and revealing that they're more than just hot studs in flashy outfits. This album is very much pop, but also raw in that the focus is directly aimed at B2ST's vocal competency. Every member gets the opportunity to shine; even the rapper, whose raps make more sense now than ever before. Not only are they each getting decent lines, but they're singing them with all the conviction they can gather, and you hear it. These songs aren't explosive noise-wise, but they are still full of energy from B2ST's emotion, strength, and delivery. And as B2ST are growing individually, they're developing a very strong chemistry as a unit, as well. These guys know who they are and understand the kind of music they are sent out to perform. "Fiction And Fact" is cohesive, sophisticated, and may have single-handedly pushed all other boy band's releases to the left and claimed the top spot as the best male idol album of the first half of 2011. -- Overall Rating: 4.8/5 -- What are your thoughts on B2ST's album? — Suggestions for a future review? 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