Review: Stray Kids’ album Noeasy is noisy, fun and the crowning glory of their K-pop career to date

Stray Kids. The eight-member K-pop band’s third LP, No Easy, offers a lot of different styles to suit listeners.
PHOTO: JYP Entertainment

Stray Kids are back, and with a new album that proves that being noisy – in the best of ways – is Noeasy thing to achieve.

The 14-track album of that name, released on Aug 23 and co-produced and written largely by the eight-member K-pop band, paints a picture of a world that hasn’t always been easy for them or kind to their slightly industrial brand of pop music (often described as “noisy”).

Noeasy is fronted by Thunderous, a single in the brash, rambunctious style that the boy band is known for. Although the new track launches Stray Kids into a new era, it also takes inspiration from the past.

K-pop acts, especially in recent years, have often incorporated elements of traditional Korean arts and music into their performances, and Thunderous is no different.

Not only does its music video feature a modern-meets-historical mash-up of styles, the song pulls on traditional aesthetics: the Korean title, Sorikkun, is the term for those who sing pansori – a musical style (along with samulnori instrumentals) that’s featured on the track.

The lyrics also include cultural nods and onomatopoeic references to various “thunderous” exclamations reminiscent of elements in traditional performances.

Chang-bin’s second verse is especially notable for this, as the rapper-songwriter uses a speak-sing style often featured in pansori and mentions a woodcutter, an apparent reference to one of Korea’s most famous folklore characters.

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The band’s 14-track album was released on August 23.
PHOTO: JYP Entertainment

Beyond its infusion of cultural heritage, Thunderous is a show of Stray Kids’ panache and performance style as they call out those who nag them. The title also is a nod to the Korean term jansori-kkun, or someone who nags.

“Keep on talking, we don’t play by the rules,” declares Felix, leading into Hyun-jin’s “Yeah, everybody’s talking nonsense.”

It’s not surprising that Stray Kids, coming off their win from the K-pop boy band competition series Kingdom, use their latest track to assert their dominance after facing the scrutiny of the public eye.

Thunderous is the lead single on Noeasy, but it is far from the only impactful moment among the tracks. The album is split into a few distinct sections and showcases all the flavours of Stray Kids that their loyal fans love.

It begins with Cheese, Thunderous and Domino, a trio of aggressive, confident bass-fuelled tracks that explore their public image and how they represent themselves to the world.

From the fourth track, Ssick (still upbeat but funkier than the previous tracks), the album reflects more groove and harmonies then the bombast of the earlier trio, before leading into softer, more introspective moments.

It’s followed by the bright electro euphoria of The View – a rare song in the middle of the album not to begin with an “s” – and the romantic Sorry, I Love You, which blends trap beats and heartfelt balladry, which then lead into the stand-out slinking R&B of Silent Cry.

The reflective Secret Secret comes next, with sweeping string melodies and heartfelt thoughts about the confessions and secrets you share with the rain (but not the world), before the group’s sentimental declaration of being together in the concert-closer-ready pop of Star Lost.

The members separate for a bit following Star Lost, with three tracks split among the members: Bang Chan and Hyun-jin on the sultry alt R&B track Red Lights, the beachy Surfin’ from Lee Know, Felix and Chang-bin, and Han, Seung-min and I.N singing about heartbreak on the ballad Gone Away.

Noeasy closes out with the already released Mixtape: OH, but not before bringing together the Stray Kids pack on the howling Wolfgang, the Kingdom finale song that pays homage to their bond and their desire to create music as impactful as composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

As a listening experience, Noeasy offers a lot of different styles to suit listeners and finds its strength in the band’s creativity and storytelling. Stray Kids have grown with each release, and their third LP is the crowning glory of their career to date.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.