The goddesses of vocals, Mamamoo, return for their crown with their new mini-album, Travel. Their recent track of success with “HIP” and Hwasa’s “Maria” created incredibly high expectations for this album. Aptly titled, the project takes inspiration from a plethora of music from around the world, ranging from the ’70s aesthetic in the U.S. to traditional Middle Eastern music. They were quite adventurous with their internationally inspired stylistic choices; some of them were used to a great synergistic effect, although other times the results sounded tacky. While their vocals are perfect, as always, there is an overall sense of complacency and mediocrity across the album — two things that do not represent Mamamoo well at all.
The mini-album begins with “Travel,” a laid-back, chill summer-bop with the cliché high-pass filter. It’s nothing revolutionary. Moonbyul’s melodic rap perfectly weaves in and out of the otherwise very ordinary and basic song. The song has the classic Mamamoo slowed-down beat rap verse in the middle of the song, then ramps back up to the chorus. Even the bridge is very formulaic, the instrumentation is more sparse and the vocalists trade lines. Overall, “Travel” is as forgettable as it is unoriginal.
The next song makes up for it, though. “Dingga” is everything “Dynamite” by BTS wished it was. The bouncy bassline is infectious and invites the listener to groove with the song. Strings join in for the chorus which has a really full and rich sound, and it’s really groovy. It combines bass drum hits on every beat with syncopated disco elements that create a compelling rhythmic drive. Hwasa’s and Wheein’s voices lend well to this song, as Hwasa brings her sexy sultry style, and Wheein really comes into her own as a distinct voice in the group.
The title track, “Aya,” seems to rely more on the word “Aya” than an actual melody to be catchy. The flute motif of “Aya” pervades throughout the song and carries it melodically (I definitely can see it becoming the subject of many TikToks and memes). The build-up of the pre-chorus to the chorus generates great expectations, but the anti-drop of the chorus is anticlimactic and disappointing. The third and fourth verses are the silver lining of the song. The introduction of the low brass in the beat gives it a sort of Latin pop flavor — it’s definitely a killer combination. The faster tempo dance break seems tacked on, like a last-ditch effort to generate some sort of variety within the song, and the ending is sudden and dissatisfying.
“Chuck,” “Diamond” and “Goodnight” carry the album. “Chuck” is a unique sound for K-pop: It starts with a breathy, raspy, quieter singing style complemented by a stripped back synth beat. The chorus features heavier instrumentals, but it’s incredibly catchy. It is such a dramatic and effective sound when the group harmonizes and slides up to a chord, and it really showcases how wonderful they are as vocalists. “Chuck” also highlights a sexier side of Solar’s voice that we really only got a glimpse of in her single “Spit it Out.”
“Diamond” is badass. The beat is slow but confident. The lyrics are slurred and seem to form one long string of beautiful melody. There are some really funky harmonies in there too — the pre-chorus to the chorus shifting from the G major to A major 7 gives a dreamy, ethereal quality to the music.
The queens of the emotional ballad strike again with “Good Night,” and do not disappoint. In an oversaturated field, filled with incredibly talented K-R&B artists, Mamamoo still manages to stick out. Mamamoo fills the song with their angelic voices, and heaven may actually sound like this.
Travel fails where it needs to succeed; its most important songs, the first and the title track, are lackluster and leave a lot to be desired. The other songs on the album are fantastic but don’t quite make up for it. Mamamoo has consistently been putting out music throughout quarantine, and frankly some of the songs on this album sound like they are burnt out. Maybe they should take a well-deserved break.
Daily Arts Writer Jason Zhang can be reached at email@example.com.