Under the tutelage of Shinsadong Tiger, EXID have been consistently good with their albums. Each one is littered with gems that equal or better the title track. This time, however, they are without lead vocalist Solji, one of the great powerhouse vocals of K-pop. It’s normal for a member to take a short hiatus due to illness, but it’s pretty rare for a group to begin another round of promotions without them. Solji’s absence poses a unique challenge for EXID and Shinsadong Tiger. Do they produce tracks with her voice in mind so that when she’s back she can fill in easily or do they forget about her?
The short answer is a bit of both. On stark opener “Boy,” they certainly do not need her. “Boy” does a great job of lining out each of the members; they are given time and space to themselves. Not that we need an introduction to them at this stage, but in contrast with lead single “Night Rather than Day,” it works exceptionally. Hani, Junghwa, and Hyerin are appropriately breathy. They struggle to get the words out, not wanting to admit how they are really feeling. It’s a perfect track for Hani and Junghwa in particular, but Hyerin works well too. Her shrill voice combines that of a lead and sub vocalist so she can sound frail, even when belting. It’s something that Solji would have sounded less natural doing.
“Boy” is a stripped back track, synths stab along with percussion as different sounds weave in and out. Best of these is the flute sounding synth that scales up and down. It gives the complex emotions in the lyrics life. The girls are lonely and pining for a boy but they’ve become so despondent they even miss the most cringeworthy attitudes. The chorus with no vocals offers them something to hide behind, a strange modulation of the word boy. They say they desire this boy but can barely even say the word.
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The song ends on an interesting bit of soundscape to make it sound as if they performing live at some futuristic lounge. It tees up “Night Rather than Day” perfectly. As part of Eclipse, it fits right into this feeling, and as a single, it is the most refreshing one from an idol group in a long time. EXID have moved on from being ashamed of how they feel and are now more than happy to be suggestive. Together, “Boy” and this track make an interesting pair. In “Boy,” their shame comes from the fact that they need the comfort of a guy not being able to live alone hurts them. On “Night Rather than Day,” they are not one bit ashamed of being sexually forward. They represent an image of women rarely seen in K-pop.
The song itself is gorgeous loungey R&B with sprinkles of a multitude of styles. It has jazz elements, a disco beat, and the grooviest bass electronics. They also start to blend their vocals a bit more. LE especially adds her crisp raps to accompany Hani in the chorus, adding a decisive punch to the sentiments being expressed. Hyerin’s job is a lot more clearly to replace Solji here and she does a good job. To really take the song to another level though, it needed someone with Solji’s strength to take control.
Third track “How Why” acts as a sort of bridge between the duo of “Boy” and “Night Rather than Day” and the solos, Hani’s “Milk” and LE’s “Velvet.” It is also the type of track I expected (and dreaded) to be their single. Luckily as a b-side, it can afford to be slightly different. The soundscape motif continues but this time moves us outside to the sound of wind blowing through trees. I immediately thought of Taeyeon’s “Why;” it’s summery and teases that popular dembow riddim sound. It builds to a chorus that ultimately relies more heavily on standard synths which I think helps it from being too tired. It is the weakest part of the album by far, though. It’s that sort of inspirational summer track that I could imagine any western artist releasing, and EXID are better than that. I’m glad they had the courage to go with “Night Rather than Day” as the single.
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However, the solos bring us right back up to speed. The girls turn back to their desire, with Hani displacing her thoughts and LE being as blatant as she can be. Hani tells a story of a heartbroken day. To forget about someone she fills herself with chocolate, bread, and, most of all, milk. Not exactly an original metaphor, but there are some great lines in there. “I look in the mirror and my makeup’s smudged, why doesn’t my desire for you smudge?” Hani coos sadly over sensual acoustic guitars. The use of the Korean word for milk “uyu” and the English words “only you’ to rhyme are wonderful. It’s also a great reminder of Hani the vocalist, something that gets buried among her many other talents.
LE’ is also missing someone, but only their body. “Velvet” is beyond sexy. She raps about her lover, the heat and touch of their body. The mid-tempo hip-hop beats let it sway as LE adds some nice touches to her vocals. Here and elsewhere in the album she starts rapping but ends her bar with a higher pitched inflection. It’s a great detail that adds a raunchier aspect to “Velvet” in particular.
As a duo of solos Hani and LE encapsulate the intense emotions EXID like to get across in their music. EXID portray a spectrum of characters that tell stories of all kinds of women. Not only that, but they do it with a unique musical edge, incorporating a litany of genres without stepping outside their range. Eclipse is that rare mini that can stick with a theme throughout the runtime while continually teeing up new things to discover. All this without their star lead singer.
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