You remember that poll I had a couple of months ago asking the readers which album I should review? The majority wanted me to review EXO or EXO and m-flo....but I just couldn't bring myself to downloading EXO's album and actually listening to it. What crime did my computer commit to have that filth downloaded onto it? Exactly, which is why I can't review EXO's album. I had a hard enough time getting through "Oolf", so I don't see how I'd actually listen to the whole album without hanging myself by my fucking nuts. On the other hand, there were enough people interested in the m-flo review, so here we go.
m-flo returns in just one year after releasing the controversial album "Square One". Square One split the fandom in half, with all of the bandwagoners from the Loves era crying foul as to how m-flo refused to rehash their sound from the 2000s and with plenty of other fans enjoying the next evolution to m-flo's style. It was the first album since "Astromantic" that m-flo really deviated from their usual sound, fusing many different dance subgenres and hiphop.
With "Neven", m-flo dials it back, making this album feel like a bridge from "Cosmicolor" (their fifth album in 2007 before their hiatus) and 2012's Square One. If one could say Square One was experimental like Astromantic was for m-flo, then Neven would be the album where m-flo fine-tuned their sound for this decade.
After a prologue, Neven gets started off with "Yeah!" and "Tonite". Yeah! is a good way to start off the album, as it is a dance track that really sets the tone, but it is followed up by "Tonite", which is a Square One leftover. Minmi sounds pretty fucking terrible on this track, bringing it down a few notches. Verbal's raps flow much better in Tonite than in Yeah!, but Taku's production in Tonite is lacking compared Yeah!. Both songs clock in at six minutes each, making the beginning of the album feel like a chore to listen to, mainly because of Tonite.
The album stumbles out of the gate, but with a short intermission, the album kicks it into high gear, delivering great song after great song, as if m-flo were apologizing about how the album started. "No Way", "Das Dance" and "Butterfly" are remarkable improvements over Yeah! and Tonite. No Way brings more energy into the album, waking up anyone who may have nearly fallen asleep after Tonite. No Way features Kiko Mizuhara, a Japanese idol. Given with how much Taku hates Japanese idols, I was really surprised that she featured on the song. What I wasn't surprised about was her total inability to sing. Luckily technology makes her voice listenable, and the production of the songs works around her inability to sing. This is really a song where Taku shines the most. After No Way, Das Dance continues the gravy train. I love the beat to the song, and while Verbal's lyrics are bad in this song, at least they're hilarious. Butterfly is another solid track featuring Minami from CREAM, who was all over Square One and in quite a few tracks in Neven.
Another short intermission and we've hit the middle of the album, which is arguably the least memorable part of the album for me. I've listened to this album many times and yet I have a hard time remembering the songs playing here. It's not implying that this part of the album is bad, it's the contrary. It's just that the three songs before and three songs after are much more memorable. "Chance" starts off this section, and it's one of the better tracks on the album. This is one of the only two songs on the album that are just Verbal and Taku, and in the future, I would like it if they did more songs with just the two of them. Sure, Taku can't sing and needs to heavily alter his voice, but it's not like there are an ample amount of vocalists that can sing in Japan without me wanting to kill myself. At the very least, Taku doesn't sing in that annoying high pitch that is synonymous with Japanese pop. "One In A Million" is another track featuring Minami, and it's another solid song with her in it. At this point, it just feels like deja vu whenever Minami is on the track. She sings the same way in every track, and with the number of tracks she is on in both Square One and Neven, a different vocalist would have been welcome. Next up is the ballad track "Lover", which just feels out of place on this album. Sure, it's one of the best songs on the album, but it would fit much better on m-flo's 2005 album "Beat Space Nine" than in Neven.
In the home stretch, Neven really goes out with a bang. This part of the album is my favorite part of the album, even with the lackluster "Transformerz" that closes out the album. Tranformerz is one of those songs that sounded pretty bad upon first listen (and that's rare for m-flo), but after going through this album several times, it sounds average at best, but it is really overshadowed by "FNKY ALGORTHM" and "Journey X". FNKY ALGORTHM is the lone song utilizing dubstep on this album, a welcome for the people who didn't enjoy the copious amounts of dubstep in Square One. However, the dubstep is used minimally and effectively, making this a really catchy track without getting weighed down by electronic fart noises. Lastly, there's Journey X, my favorite song on the album. This song really captures m-flo's true style, and it sounds like a direct evolution off of what came from "Expo Expo" before Lisa departed the group. The song sounds subdued due to the lack of loud electronic dance music, but I think Journey X's minimalism compared to other songs on the album really helps it shine.
All in all, I'm in the camp that believes Neven is a huge upgrade over Square One, and I even stated how much I enjoyed Square One in last year's review of the album. Square One was more ambitious and had better production from Taku, but Neven aligns itself with m-flo's natural sound. It is easy to compare this album to either Cosmicolor or Expo Expo and Neven really does feel like an evolution rather than a drastic change like Square One and to some extent Astromantic were. During the five years off from m-flo, Taku has really evolved and varied his style. During the group's first five albums, while Taku made a lot of great beats, a lot of the songs felt conservative and sometimes formulaic. It would be great if he kept up this change heading into m-flo's next album. While I think Taku has evolved over the past five-six years, Verbal has neither evolved nor devolved, but has changed his style a lot. He needs to stop hanging out with mainstream American rappers because the same laziness that has infected mainstream hiphop in America is infecting Verbal's lyrics. His flow is still there, and has adapted to m-flo's newer beats, but songs like Das Dance show that Verbal isn't the lyrical beast he used to be. Sure, I laugh every time I listen to Das Dance and maybe that was the intended outcome he was seeking, but Verbal can do better. My first suggestion would be to rap less in English and more in Japanese. The songs that were mainly in Japanese had better lyrics and better flow than the English songs. My last recommendation for m-flo's next album would be for there to be less Minami. Her songwriting ability isn't up to par to Emi Hinouchi, who co-wrote many songs with Verbal on Cosmicolor, and like I mentioned earlier, Minami's voice sounds the same in every song.
However, this album remains jjangbak and one of the few mainstream Japanese albums I have been able to listen to this year. God, I fucking hate Jpop, so it's always welcome when m-flo releases something to break up the monotony of the same 20-year-old song being released every week by idols.