[Review] F.T. Island "Five Treasure Box"
F.T. Island is a group that you can count on. One of the few instrument-playing rock bands in the K-pop scene, these guys- who have released more music in the five years since their debut than most idols will release in their entire careers (I counted just over 140 different songs, and that's not counting re-recordings, remixes, live covers, etc)- know exactly who they are and what they want out of their music, and it shows.
They borrow from all kinds of places for inspiration- "I Wish", features clear Spanish influences a la "Hello Hello" (and maybe a little trot influence, as well?). Some listeners didn't care for the switch between the latin-influenced verses and plain rock chorus, but I like it- it keeps things interesting. "Stay with Me" is frantic and desperate- I can almost hear some punk inspiration. "U (All I Want is You)" is an easygoing love song with some unexpected country and rockabilly overtones that I kind of needed after the wild ride of the first few songs. It can be easy for the casual listener to forget that Hongki isn't the only vocalist in the group, but this song shows that he's not the only talented singer around. It's not the most impressive song on the album, but it's something different for the group, and I like it.
No F.T. Island album is complete without some angst-filled, theatrical ballads, but they have a way of arranging their songs so that even familiar territory feels new- the arpeggios in the background of "Your Words", for example, and the changes between the pared-down acoustic parts and the full-band parts are really compelling. "Let Her Go" features a lot of piano, and has a more traditional K-pop ballad feel than the others- it's not a style I particularly enjoy, but it's not bad.
"Paper Plane" kicks off the second half of the album, featuring songs that the band has previously released in Japanese. Like "U (All I Want is U)", this song lets us hear some of the other vocals- I love how the verses build up so much anticipation into the chorus. "WANNA GO" is the most hectic song on the album, racing through J-rock influences and encouraging you to "Go! Go! Go! Go!" "LIFE" has a great, sing-a-long quality to it- it's one of those songs I could see the band stopping to listen to their audience sing it back to them during a concert. "Compass" is another song that gives the rest of the band a chance to sing; it sounds like the band's take on a lullaby. "Let it Go!" ends the album with an energetic bang.
No matter where the inspiration comes from, the songs are unmistakably F.T. Island. Sure, it's largely due to frontman Hongki's distinctive vocals, but the result is ultimately a group effort. The band's musicianship is put front and center, starting with the impressive opening guitar riff of "I Wish", and carrying all the way through the rest of the album. While some K-pop bands stuff their songs to the gills with vocals so that they'll have stuff to do on stage, F.T. Island can play around with instrumental solos and give their songs some breathing room.
When they do sing, however, they have some serious skills- I especially love their use of harmonies. While I'm not always thrilled with the rapping (I just don't care for rapping in my rock music, sorry), they do manage to suprise me- for example, Jaejin's rap in "I Wish" suits the song really well, adding to it instead of dragging it out. I also appreciate how when they use English in these songs, they don't always stick to stock phrases. "Nobody cares how hard you try/Nobody cares how far you fly", for example, is something we just haven't heard before in K-pop.
They're so in tune with each other that it's kind of hard to tell where one person's contribution ends and another begins, but that's part of what makes them such a successful group with consistently good material. There aren't many K-pop bands active today that I think will still be together in ten years, but F.T. Island is one that might actually stand the test of time.
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