Winner – “Exit : E” Album Review

by: Raine


Admittedly, I’ve never gotten into Winner (purely due to lack of effort,) but I know they’re a pretty big YG group and battled it out against iKON and won on “YG’s Win: Who Is Next” to become signed by YG and debut into idoldom in 2013. It’s been a year and a half since their debut and on February 1, 2016 they came out with a mini-album/EP that I’d like to review: “Exit : E.”

I decided to tackle it mainly because of the members’ heavy involvement in the album. They took a long time to study different musical styles, music production, and figure out where they wanted this album to go. I respect that and decided it would be worth my time to dig into the album. Also, it’s doing well on the iTunes Albums chart according to Fuse’s Jeff Benjamin. So, without further ado, I present my album review!

Baby Baby

Lyrics, Music, and Arrangement by: Nam Taehyun, Song Min-ho, Lee Seung-hoon, and Uk Jin-kang

Lyrics: Here

The title video presents the members of Winner making it big after their debut and then continuing on to “live the life” of the beautiful, rich and famous: parties, alcohol, and women. It represents the uglier side of fame and how despite all of the booze, mingling and sex, those ensconced in the life tend to be lonely, hiding behind facades and the temporary respite found in partying. Taehyun misses his real love and manages to get out at the end, escaping the life that makes them lonely and call out for love in the lyrics.

As an aside, I really like the approach to sex. Meaning that they actual address it as a thing that happens rather than making these idols scarily chaste in their videos. Props.

This is heavily reminiscent of Marvin Gaye-style soul with a drumset laying out a beat that screams of the 90s R&B love ballads. (Think Boys II Men.) The five boys of Winner are singing about how they don’t want to be alone at night. I’m sure plenty of us wouldn’t mind answering their plaintive song.

My only complaint about the song is how abruptly it ended. That was kinda jarring. Finish complaint. Onto awesome.

I love the singing in the lower registers. This is a musical tool not often used by K-pop so when it comes around and is executed well, it’s sooooo sweet. Rap was cleverly included as it had a “call and answer” with sung bits so it didn’t seem to uncharacteristic in this older style song. The addition of the organ and the rich harmonies makes it a great opener to the album.

센치해 (Sentimental)

Lyrics, Music, and Arrangement by: Nam Taehyun, Song Min-ho, Lee Seung-hoon, and Uk Jin-kang

Lyrics: Here

Let’s start with the video. It plays out the lyrics where the guys talk about feeling lonely and sentimental as they sit alone and ruminate about a girl. In true YG fashion, the video is colorful, full of crazy antics, color in sets and costumes, and kooky dancing. The boys are each in their solitary spaces: a bathtub, a room, a bathroom. Then they come together for some therapeutic destruction.

As for the music, again there is pretty heavy use of a drum set, which I love. It’s especially fitting as this song, too, pulls from the 90s. It’s a slower rock number that mixes sounds of labelmates Big Bang, a touch of the 90s, some of B1A4’s “Who Am I,” and a new funkier sound with the relaxed rapping. It’s the inclusion of rap elements into older music styles that seems to be key on this album.

The opening of the song is pretty classic, just voice and guitar with mixing to make it sound like the tune is playing on the radio. It continues to present a simple texture, which means there isn’t a ton of mixing or instruments or different things going on. We got voices, harmonies, set, guitar, and keys. Pretty traditional 90s rock stuff. I’m impressed with the harmonies and the catchy melody. The singing in this song is a bit whiny in the mid-range, but ‘tis a minor complaint. Another sudden ending, though. Work on those endings, boys.

 철없어 (Immature)

Lyrics, Music, and Arrangement by: Kang Seung-yoon, Song Min-ho, and Uk Jin-kang

Lyrics: Here

The 90s is in with these boys and this time it’s pulling from the Blink 182 sound. Kinda whiny punk rock, the sort of sound that Japanese rock tends to emulate. It’s got a crowd-jumping and hair-tossing feel that reminds me of going to Warped Tour in the mid-90s. I think I just aged myself… In any case, the rap doesn’t fit as well in this song because it’s so classically rock. I do love the longer vocal lines in the middle with the spoken word under it. That’s a great blend of different vocal techniques. The singing style sounds a bit like G-dragon, but some interlabel similarities are to be expected.

As for the song ending, it’s the best one by far. That “What?” with the attitude is fabulous. Sing it again!

좋더라 (I’m Young) – Taehyun Solo

Lyrics, Music, and Arrangement by: Nam Taehyun, Rovin

Lyrics: Here

Wow. This song is just stunning. Well done, Taehyun. It’s beautiful, the lyrics are inspired, and his performance is subtle and not pushed. He plays with louds and softs, the colors of his voice, and he keeps the song simple. It’s about the inability to be with the woman he loves because of sad circumstance. Listening to the song outside of the video, I find the dialogue and the sounds of the actions from the video to be distracting, especially since they keep the same balancing that are in the video. I wish they’d edited them out for the album.

But aside from that, the voice plus keys combo, the occasional addition of some extra vocals and strings, it’s all just lovely. It manages to be low key while still expressing severe heartache, and most of that is due to the fact that the song fits Taehyun’s voice and vocal abilities so well.

As for the video that pervaded the audio track, it was beautiful, too. A man is in love with a woman he can no longer have. We see an interracial, sweet, sensual (YAY! they showed a normal physical relationship!) love story that fails. Despite its failure and the fact that the woman has moved on, they are still drawn to each other. In the end, she is pregnant with her new man’s child, leaving Taehyun with a broken heart. There was a lot of black and white filming to indicate time and emotion, and a lot of camera storytelling to show us their history. It is my favorite of the three videos with how thoughtful and sensitive it was. The subject matter is difficult, but then so is life.

사랑가시 (Pricked) – Mino and Taehyun

Lyrics, Music, and Arrangement by: Song Min-ho and Uk Jin-kang

Lyrics: Here

Man, this is a great song, too! It starts with Mino rocking his baritone and playing with his lower register as he’s accompanied by an acoustic guitar that plays in a style reminiscent of 2000s’ Everlast. Then the song continues with great interaction between Mino and Taehyun as they trade raps, lyric lines, vocal punctuation, and harmonies. Perhaps my favorite thing about it is how they play with diction, holding out the “sh” sound, hitting consonants hard and morphing vowels at the ends of phrases. Stuff like that is just plain ol’ creative. Plus, it’s really rare to find a key change that happens with no preparation. What I mean by that is the melody starts a note higher without any kind of musical transition. It happens suddenly, much like the heartbreak they’re singing about. The lyrics talk about the scars on the heart when left by someone we love. Veritably “pricked” by the pain.

Winner Exit-E

So, I’m quite surprised by how much I like this EP. It was really well thought out and put together. The efforts are obvious, but cohesive and well-presented. It has definite influences from YG and the American 90s (which I’m highly partial to), but they manage to make the sound their own. Winner, you have earned yourself a new fan.

What did you think, RD fans? Did this album strike your fancy? Leave me a comment below!

4 responses to “Winner – “Exit : E” Album Review”

  1. This, hands down, is one of the best kpop albums this year! How I hope more people could appreciate real music such as this

  2. This is, hands down, one of the best kpop albums this year. How I hope more people will appreciate true music like these!

  3. i love ur review.. Pretty much same with my thoughts of the album.. It’s so 90’s.. the era where we can found more melodic songs..
    I just love the boys come out with the musics that not so popular in Korea i think, but it really captures my heart.. I love BABY BABY the most btw, the motown feels.. WOW.. this song just brings me to another era. lol

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