After finding myself lukewarm about Tense, the last thing I expected to happen was to fall in love with DBSK all over again, much less via a song called “Spellbound.” This track is all class and jazz each and every second and a total treat. It’s not often that I come across a song as full and refined as this one in K-pop. When EDM, Reggae, Hip-hop, House, and Electronica move the airwaves, seeing “Spellbound” whip up a confident, cohesive, pop number with a firm jazz foundation is surprising to say the least.
The key words though are “confident” and “cohesive,” (rather than surprising) because DBSK has tackled “retro” since the beginning of Tohoshinki. DBSK wouldn’t be DBSK without throwbacks; I admit wholeheartedly that tracks like “No” and “Choosey Lover” are still favorites of mine from eras past. As for the duo, songs have been treading on the side of just too much–cacophonous in every aspect possible. Starting right from “Keep Your Head Down,” the DBSK of the past four years embodied everything about excess. It was about proving worth, prestige, name, and identity. DBSK was a name that had become bigger than a name and for Homin, the two that had to carry the weight of such a name, set on a journey to be “larger than life.”
Image however, does not always translate to musical competence. DBSK fell on its feet over and over again, single after single, trying to find footing in a sound that would define them for the rest of their careers. The first manifestation went back to its roots of SMP, but modernized; the second embraced electronica, and meshed with the product of SM’s next biggest boy band, Super Junior. Where DBSK is now though, is a bit of a mystery. Jazz was stamped all over Tense, but Tense is not jazz. “Something” and “Spellbound” aren’t really jazz either. DBSK is seemingly treading new territory for an album that’s supposed to sit at the end of a decade of musical development.
So what are they? Jazz-inspired of course, but it’s as much of a musical footprint of DBSK’s identity as “Android”‘s synth pop. What is consistent over the years however,is that Bold is the name of the game. Both “Something” and “Spellbound” embrace that quality and take musical assertion to the next level. This is what has come to speak to DBSK sound: big singles that pushes vocals as far as they can go. Ironically, their last big hit, “Mirotic,” is the antithesis of “big single” vocally, despite the song sitting at the head of their greatest Korean album.
What sets apart “Spellbound” from all of DBSK’s most recent singles however, is the fluidity, maturity and nonchalance of the song. It’s still a energetic, blasting single, characteristic of the duo, but the literal magic comes through how all the big guns are performed like they could do it all in their sleep. Basically, no real estate misused in the song; from the first seconds to the last, the vocals are always running parallel to a myriad of different instrumental components. Every listen brings something new to discover within all the layers.
It’s easy to clump “Something” into the same category, but “Spellbound” and “Something” are very different. While “Something” is similar in that it requires great performance strength and carries many similar jazz elements/style as “Spellbound,” it was a song that got stuck in within the same 5 or 6 notes. Because the verses and the chorus all had the same core melody, we were subjected listening to the same 8 bars on loop and bombarded by the same foundational note for 5 whole minutes. That’s quickly headache inducing, especially when the horns are extremely prominent.
“Spellbound” tones down the jazz instrumentals in manner that emphasizes its beauty instead of its power. In addition, the main verses have much more variety–so much so, that every single verse is completely different from the other. It’s the apex of music composition, in my opinion, to create a song that is continuously different, but thematically unified. By creating permutations of thematic elements and spreading out the melodic components of the song over a much larger vocal range, “Spellbound” alleviates nearly every problem associated with “Something.”
The best part of “Spellbound” though, is that the hook is independent of the vocals themselves. It’s catchy, but not in the way that is aggressive. Look at “Spellbound”‘s “suri surima su-suri-saba” (which shows up really often, but subtly) in context of the hooks found in songs like Shinee‘s “Everybody,” whose chorus was just “Everybody” repeated ad nauseum, or even “Something.” Heavy-handed hooks can become very irksome, very quickly, depending on how much you take to the vibrancy of the sound mixing.
Coupled alongside the incredibly strong technical strengths to “Spellbound” are the equally solid vocals. Yunho and Changmin‘s naturally gritty voices finally have a piece they can shine in, and they serve as a great contrast to the smoother jazz instrumentation. The duo’s timbres work wonders in building even more dimension over all the dimension established by the sound production, instrumentals, and ad-lib flourishes that compliments the aura of the whole piece. The density of “Spellbound” is remarkable, and it’s not hard to see why it’s high quality track.
[I also have to mention that “Spellbound” just so happens to have a fabulous dance video with some of the best back-up dancers in K-pop. Although, at this point of my obsession with the main track, the music video’s fabulousness is just icing on the cake.]