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aespa – ‘Armageddon’ review

May 27th, 2024

The path to aespa’s debut album has been chaotic, to say the least. Whispers about their first full-length have been circulating since 2021 – the year after they debuted with ‘Black Mamba’ – but were continuously silenced in favour of a series of up-and-down mini-albums instead. Last year, when they were apparently set to put out an LP for real, internal drama at SM Entertainment saw aespa’s album seemingly become collateral damage.

At last, though, the time has finally arrived for the girl group to share a more fleshed-out statement than their previous releases have afforded them (although, with 2022’s ‘Girls’ clocking in at nine tracks, there’s only a difference of one song). ‘Armageddon’ has high expectations to beat, both because of the time it’s taken to get here and the quality aespa have shown they can achieve. Thankfully, for the most part, it doesn’t let the group down.

Across the album, the four-piece follow a narrative of once being insecure and uncertain in themselves, only to blossom into unwavering new levels of confidence. ‘Mine’ has the women reflecting on growing up with fear and feeling like the “fake portrait” that was their reflection in a “broken mirror” was “going to swallow me up”. By the time the song’s layers of bass-y cool have wrapped up, though, they’re standing tall. “Won’t bow my head anymore / No I won’t,” they vow.

‘Prologue’, a lilting, la-la-la-ing pop waltz, finds them getting even more comfortable with following their own path. “I don’t need to compare / My life with someone else,” aespa tell us, sharing a valuable lesson we could all learn from in our social media-reliant age. ‘Live My Life’, too, is full of strong resolutions to do things on their own terms. After all, each member is “the main character in my life”.

‘Armageddon’ begins with a group of supremely confident tracks that more than scratch the itch for the experimental pop aespa do so well. ‘Supernova’ feels both high fashion and grimy and gritty at the same time, thanks to its revving sound effects and poised swathes of synths. The title track continues that low-slung, high-attitude approach, seamlessly weaving out of softer moments, while ‘Set The Tone’ could be the group’s intro music for a big fight, full of boasts like, “We set the tone / Music on where we go / Crazy beat drum”.

Elsewhere, the album dips into sonic territory that is more widely accessible but a little more hit-and-miss. ‘Bahama’ is a breezy and bright summer pop song that details taking a friend on a trip to the titular island. “Take me, take me / Take me on an / Ocean blue / Bahama, ba ba / Bahama, hama,” the group coo cheerfully over handclaps and sunkissed, sparkling melodies, forming an instantly infectious new addition to your summer playlist. ‘Licorice’ sits in the middle ground between accessible and experimental, still packing in the energy of aespa’s artistry but making it more universally palatable.

On the other hand, though, there are some less successful tracks. ‘Live My Life’’s stomping pop-punk influence and the poignant glitter of ‘Melody’ are fun and sweet respectively, but both feel a little pedestrian compared to the rest of the album. ‘Long Chat (#♥)’, too, is a cute moment on the record, diving into the all-night conversations of friends. It’s a shame, then, that it struggles to make an impression that lasts as long as those streams of messages.

Over the last four years, aespa’s release history has been a little checkered, with the group often sharing a record that knocks your socks off and then, on the next, losing that quality again. Happily, much of ‘Armageddon’ falls into the former camp and reinforces what we already knew – that when aespa are allowed to run free in the sounds and sonics they’ve made their trademark, they’re nothing short of exquisite.

Details

  • Release date: May 27, 2024
  • Record label: SM Entertainment
This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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