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[Review] "Honestly" by Code V

May 29, 2011 @ 12:10 pm
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If any one group is deserving of the title of most underrated boy band in Korea, Code V is definitely a front-runner for the honors. Having debuted in 2007 under the name BLESS, it goes without saying that it's been more than a slow-paced musical career for this quintet of vocalists. Last year, the five members - Taemin (leader at the time), Sang Woo, Nallo, Sol, and Jae Won - made a return to the K-pop scene under the new stage name Code V. Surprisingly, the boys managed to gain some attention with their single, "Addiction", but before anything took off, Code V was witness to the departure of their very own leader, Taemin, who left four members behind and an empty slot for the filling. Now, Code V is back with their latest album, "Honestly",  and a new member to boot. Can they gain the momentum they need to impress the sea of new Korean pop enthusiasts? Let's find out. === Track List: 01. Tell You Honestly 02. Go! 03. Summer Love 04. Miracle 05. Addiction 06. I'm More Sad 07. Now Go And See 08. Don't Apologize 09. Addiction (Remix) 10. Tell You Honestly (Inst.) 11. Go! (Inst.) === If Code V should be recognized for anything, it's their vocal competency and chemistry as a boy band. These guys understand harmony, both figuratively speaking and in the technical context. Code V have been singing together for years (with the exception of new member Rui), but because they're not 'idols' per se, they haven't schlepped across the media fronts as frequently, pimping themselves out on reality shows, variety programs, commercials, pseudo-acting gigs, and what have you. Instead, Code V have focused on blending their singing in whatever way possible to make themselves sound great first and foremost. Code V do what musicians ought to have as their top priority, and that's sell their voices. There hasn't been enough face time or photographic references for listeners to match Code V's voices to their corresponding faces, and in a time when looks are as equally (or more) important than talent, sitting through "Honestly" will drag far more than it actually does because most of us are simply not accustomed to just listening without the visual memories of our favorite boy bands sprouting in our minds simultaneously. To top things off, Code V are dead set on a very timeless R&B style circa mid 90s to early 2000s. A lot of this album reflects the classic R&B elements, with the occasional departure to a more familiar K-pop sound.

"Honestly" opens with the lead single, "Tell You Honestly", which is the perfect example of the classic K-pop throwback to the old school way of singing R&B music that Code V habitually do throughout this album. "Tell You Honestly" is a calm ballad that features every detail of R&B to a T; from the strings, to the hard hits of a real kick drum, and even a little flair here and there of an electric guitar. What makes this song, though, is of course Code V's singing. Most Korean pop groups lack a certain fluidity from one voice to the other during these kinds of ballads. Here, because Code V have gone the traditional route of forming an ensemble, in that they all have somewhat similar voices rather than a thousand very different ones, they have mastered the ease of blending with each other to make almost seamless transitions between phrases. In other words, they sound like one unified voice throughout this entire song. As I've mentioned earlier, Code V know what harmonies are, know how to sing them, and thus you'll find them all over the place. For those who tire of the one-note vocals in mainstream K-pop, at least appreciate that you've stumbled upon a group of male vocalists who can deliver them beautifully. Following the lead single is "Go!", which opens with Jae Won talking in that British accent of his. "Go!" picks things up a bit into a solid mid-tempo track that's much more cheerful than the lead single. Code V are almost always aiming for that swooping emotional connection to their audience through powerful ballads, but it's nice to hear them step into the light and into faster beats-per-minute once in a while. This song's alright, but the highlight has to be at the middle eight, where the instrumental dwindles down to a sole piano line and raw singing. I do have to raise an eyebrow at the random auto-tune at the end. I'm not sure what it's doing there (Go!). --- "Summer Love" continues with the same vibes as "Go!", and I personally prefer this over the previous one because there's a little more variety in the transitions. It also features a powerful climax that suits the build up from the rest of the song.  You'll hear Sang Woo and Nallo belting the highs here, as they usually take the lead throughout Code V's music. The old-school synths in this track give it a very relaxing effect, which follows right in line with Code V's easy-going style (Summer Love). --- Then we have the ballad "Miracle". If Code V wanted to, they could easily call themselves a ballad group, kind of like 2AM, because slow-tempo songs are what they do best. They become untouchable when they're singing ballads, and while K-pop asks for variety and being able to do triple axles on stage, Code V aren't quite cut out to be top idols in that respect. They just don't have that punch to stand next to K-pop's superstars. However, at this point, Code V can carry on with their musical career knowing their voices pretty much slay any top agency drone, and that they have loyal fans who appreciate them for just singing really, really well. "Miracle" is arguable the highlight ballad of this album. The first few seconds give off the impression that this will be a complete snore-fest, but just by giving it an extra minute, things start flourishing into something rather beautiful. "Miracle" is an inspirational song and everything happening here correlates very well with that theme. Not one chorus is the same as the other, hinting at the idea that Code V may or may not have recorded this song from start to finish without stopping. As the song progresses, the direction of this subtle tune takes an interesting turn at the middle eight. Code V had been singing their hearts out during the choruses, but when it reappears at the end, not only are they doing it again, but this time with a full-out choir behind them. They're pretty much taking K-pop to church, giving "Miracle" that warm and spiritual feeling. And with Code V's soothing vocals, this added element proves that they're one of the very few boy bands that can deliver the exceptional magic required to pull off power ballads. Right on its heels is Code V's 2010 single, "Addiction". This song falls a little more along the expected style of K-pop. Unheard in any of the previous tracks until this one is Code V's token rapper, Jae Won.  His line is very minimal here, but rather than dusting him under the rug like most groups do with rappers, Jae Won - wait for it - actually sings as well. His role is more important than just the rapper, as he's also a vital component of Code V when they sing a capella. Yes, these guys go the distance and put their pipes to work sans processing and instruments to showcase that they're in fact all raw talent (as seen here in a 2010 medley, and here during a recent promo interview for "Honestly"). "Addiction" has a very similar vibe to Big Bang's "Haru Haru", except it lacks all of the swag, which is understandable since Code V has none. Although "Addiction" has a swift beat, the vocals and delivery is gentle in comparison - a juxtaposition we hear all the time in pop music. The rest of the album, like with "Addiction", has already been released at one point or another. "I'm More Sad" was released along side "Addiction", and as expected, it's another mellow track. It's easy-going and very lounge-sounding. It's as energetic as things get on this album, but it's a decent track nonetheless (I'm More Sad). --- You will recognize "Now Go And See" if you watched the K-drama "Baker King, Kim Tak Goo", since it appeared on the OST, as well as the last song, "Don't Apologize", which appeared on the K-drama, "Giant". (Now Go And See, Don't Apologize). === The songs on "Honestly" possess a particular layer of sophistication, in that Code V sing each and every one almost flawlessly. Their vocals are some of the strongest to come out of Korea, especially for a boy band, and it wouldn't do them justice comparing their talent to current K-pop idol bands because they clearly surpass them in that department. They understand the fundamentals of singing and their technique is clean and polished, much like the veterans of Korean pop music. But with the highs, also come the lows, as Code V lack a clear presence in K-pop. As hard as they have tried, there's still something missing in them to leave a powerful mark among K-pop audiences. Perhaps they're not pimped out as hard or forced to do silly things to gain the attention that others receive, but even with an album that is sung freakishly well, Code V are still climbing up that steep hill to the top. "Honestly" is too slow of an album to have been released right now, mainly because K-pop is quickly shifting gears for the Summer and everything heard here is almost too calm for the season. If you're a fan of old-school K-pop (and ballads), this album may be your one ticket to the way things used to sound. From the compositions to the harmonies and style, most of what you will find in Code V's latest album will satisfy your fancy. What I think would have been a perfect addition to this collective is one stunning track done in a capella. You just don't hear that enough in K-pop these days. --- Overall Rating: 3.9/5 === What are your thoughts on this album? — Suggestions for a future review?  Hit the author up on Twitter (@rothsresidence) or via e-mail (arnold.arteaga@allkpop.com)! — Note: This article does not reflect the opinions of allkpop, only of the author.

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