Ah, summer. After a cold winter and even busier spring, there is something so refreshing and carefree about these summer months. And nothing says ‘summer’ quite like turning the volume up on that quintessential sun-tinged anthem, the one you can’t stop playing over and over because it makes you so happy. Well, EXO has bottled that unique formula up and delivered the very essence of summer with their new Special Album, DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING. Brimming with vibrant energy and powerful hooks, DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING is pure joy to listen to from top to bottom, giving you a warm ocean breeze and cool nighttime air. Featuring five brand new tracks, it’s time to grab your sunglasses and sunblock because EXO is taking you on a holiday in the sun.
Although each song on DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING stands out on its own merit, there’s a cohesive tissue connecting them here, both thematically and musically. One thing that stands out is how full sounding the productions are, meticulously thought out and then executed, from the piano flourishes and guitar strums, down to the hand claps and percussion. The music arrangements are exciting and ever-evolving, ensuring there’s never a sense of stasis for too long during the songs. And vocally speaking, EXO has brought their A-game too, singing with more passion and bravado than ever. The harmonies are tighter, and the vocal texture is richer, allowing each member to strut their stuff.
Title track “Don’t fight the feeling” is an aptly-named, pulse-pounding bop, with its rolling bass and resounding chorus that crackles with infectious energy. There’s a build to the song’s structure, with the verses starting out bass-heavy, like thunder in the distance, growing louder as the piano joins in driving the pre-chorus, and finally swelling into the perfect storm of sound as the chorus hits. There is no fighting the feeling here, as EXO commands you to the dancefloor. Verse 2 expands this concept by dropping a rap from SEHUN in the middle, switching the tempo up before LAY barrels in with the pre-chorus, this time stronger and reinforced. The bridge is a short but effective climax handled by D.O. and BAEKHYUN, whose powerful high notes send the song off jubilantly into the sky. At just under three minutes, “Don’t fight the feeling” accomplishes a lot in a short window, incorporating a bevy of hooks that make it a full aural experience. Hit the repeat button generously and take it all in.
“Paradise” opens with a soft falsetto over moody synths like drops in the ocean. Hand claps join as the music builds to its syncopated chorus, which sees EXO passing the baton between members. Its chant-like hook is instantly memorable and easy to sing along to, further augmented by the breezy ‘la da las’ and English phrasing. In fact the second to last chorus switches to English completely which was a nice surprise, sung in unison for a choral-like effect. It’s nothing but sunshine and smiles with “Paradise,” a slice of heaven made even sweeter with its potent blend of high and low vocals. The verses retain a sense of fun while still expressing emotion and yearning, and BAEKHYUN’s power note at the end will surely send shivers down your spine.
It’s hard to pick a favorite on DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING, but “No matter” has secured an early lead. From the slinky, jazzy bassline to the shimmery R&B-tinged flourishes at the pre-chorus, “No matter” has me ‘hook,’ line and sinker. The smooth vocals are sung loose and freely giving the song an air of effortless, summer breeze, and the layered ‘oh ohs’ and ‘ooh oohs’ seem to call back to the era of 1940s barbershop music. Once again EXO trades off lines in the choruses, allowing each member to stand in the spotlight and put their own spin on the melody. And similarly to the title track, Verse 2 is also lengthened, adding two raps from CHANYEOL and SEHUN in between parts sung by KAI, BAEKHYUN and LAY. However where “Don’t fight the feeling” divulged its rap with a trap-style breakdown, here the tempo and music keep moving, making its inclusion all the more seamless to digest. The falsetto high note and generous ad libs at the end are just the cherries on top of an already addicting song.
Track four, “Runaway,” is where DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING diverges a bit thematically from the others, like a stormy summer night. From the first minor chords of the organ to the percussion-led beat, “Runaway” indubitably leans towards a moodier R&B soundscape. EXO’s vocals are especially expressive here, pained and full of tonal angst. The melody of the pre-chorus is striking, with the music softening to focus in on just voice and guitar, casting a particularly haunting atmosphere. Calling back to the organ, EXO sings the chorus in unison like a choir, heightening the drama with their powerful presence, their scattered ad libs looped over the bridge like lightning bolts dropping from the sky. But it’s the solo line, ‘I’m gone I’m gone,’ shared by XIUMIN and CHANYEOL that is perhaps the most affecting, low and guttural, serving as an ominous warning and a resonant goodbye.
The last song on the album, “Just as usual,” returns us to lighter moods, a warm midtempo ballad that is undoubtedly a love letter to fans. Vocals are at the forefront here, and the second verse is chock full of delicate harmonies swirling together beautifully. I especially love the line ‘Yeah I can feel it,’ sung by LAY and XIUMIN, which is brimming with hope and positivity, like the sun coming out after a long rain. The uplifting chorus is again passed off between members which keeps things interesting and equal, and even the impassioned ad libs share a mixture of voices. The final lines of the song, tenderly sung by CHANYEOL and D.O., translate to ‘I’ll protect you by my side/ I’ll watch over you oh oh/ I will keep looking at you/ A little bit closer to me/ Stay in my arms.’ Like a promise, EXO is assuring fans their gift of music is unchanging, and their gratitude to fans is steadfast. As DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING rightly proves, all good things are well worth the wait.
EXO’s Special Album ‘DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING’ is out now. Available in four types: Photo Book Ver. 1, Photo Book Ver. 2, Jewel Case Ver. and Expansion Ver., pick up your copy today from SM Global Shop and start your summer off with feeling!
*All opinions stated are the author’s own.