ATEEZ have taken 2019 by storm, releasing a steady stream of music that has now culminated with their first full album. The fact that all of this has been accomplished in under a year is staggering – even more so when you realize that each and every track has been composed by the same small team of collaborators. This sense of focus has given their work a distinct point of view and purpose. ATEEZ may draw from many of today’s trends, but they do so in a way that comes across as idiosyncratic and incredibly exciting. New single Wonderland is no exception, offering the most theatrical statement the group has made to date.
Nothing about Wonderland is subdued. It’s big and brash and revels in its own bombast. The instrumental is packed with orchestral flourishes and marching band percussion. It feels like the coronation of everything the group has released thus far — the grand finale to a thrilling saga that has been unexpectedly ambitious from day one. In the hands of lesser producers, Wonderland‘s hard-hitting production would be rendered generic, with faceless EDM and trap influences. In the hands of Eden, LEEZ, Buddy and Ollounder, that same energy is generated from a unique palette of sounds. Trumpeting synths abound. Thundering drumbeats ensure that the track feels epic even in its more restrained moments.
Wonderland kicks off with an extended introduction from leader Hongjoong — more a statement of intent than a simple rap. This leads into a high energy verse that climbs to the song’s stirring pre-chorus. The best part of most ATEEZ singles has been their soaring, melodic pre-choruses, and Wonderland continues this pattern with aplomb. Jongho takes the lead here and proves yet again why he is one of the most commanding vocals in K-pop right now.
Rather than keep the intensity rising, Wonderland‘s production drops out just before the chorus. For a brief (and somewhat frightening) moment, it feels as if we’re in for some disappointingly threadbare instrumental loop, but the guys fire back with a lumbering hook that comes across as half hip-hop hype and half sea shanty. It’s an odd melody for K-pop, but fits firmly within ATEEZ’s pirate aesthetic. From here, Wonderland‘s second verse switches things up in thrilling fashion as symphonic flourishes tug at the instrumental to build both tension and excitement. This is over-the-top song construction, and I love every moment of it. And while the track never finds a climax quite as genius as Say My Name‘s epic synth drop or Wave‘s euphoric refrain, Wonderland‘s combative elements graft together in the end to forge a knockout finale.
Even as I’ve praised their past material, I’ve always managed to underrate ATEEZ singles. That’s not happening this time.
This slaps. The end.
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If only I could get away with such clear, concise reviews! 🙂
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I couldn’t put a word to the flavor of the chorus but “half hip-hop hype and half sea shanty” is exactly it.
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Now, THIS is more like it. Ateez is a miss for me most of the time despite liking their pirate-esque sound, this however got more “packed” sound and the chorus finally gave me the pirate theme that i wanted
What this song needs is more cowbell !!!!! Distorted cowbell! (the second verse second half) Yes, cowbell.
“The guys fire back with a lumbering hook that comes across as half hip-hop hype and half sea shanty. It’s an odd melody for K-pop, but fits firmly within ATEEZ’s pirate aesthetic.”
Never was a truer sentence written.
And then a perfect outro, loud, militaristic snare drums, super vocal doubling. (Its like Bang Bang Bang ending, one more time WITH FEELING.)
This song has so many goodies packed into it. It is big, its bombastic, and also delivers on all of that. The structure changes and swoops hither and tither. The tempo shifts. I love this song. This may be fighting for my year end number one with ACE Undercover. Although the small boy who sits behind me in the car and demands to be dj on my ipod has declared Stray Kids “Side Effect”s to be his song of the year so far. We shall see what he thinks of this one.
I’m glad you love it! Personally, I’m still a Wave guy… despite that song initially scoring lower on my review. I know it’s not as musically ambitious or complex as Wonderland, but it just feels so joyous to me.
With that said, Wonderland is immense, and a definite highlight from ATEEZ’s one-year career. It’s also fun to write about, because there is just. so. much. going. on.
(Oh, and that small boy dj has good taste 😉 )
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Nick, i seriously cannot thank you enough for essentially getting me into ATEEZ after the One To All mini-album dropped. i haven’t felt this excited, and this triumphant, about a kpop comeback in a LONG time.
it’s not really what you review, but i truly want to laud ATEEZ’s marketing/video team this time, for the amazing anticipation that their teaser videos built up. a new layer of sound was added every day as each individual member’s teaser dropped, and then they put out a whole 1.5-minute-long performance video that withheld nothing about the song’s sound and intent. i truly haven’t felt so little disappointment in a group’s comeback in a long time!!! i came, i expected, and i got what i wanted!! all hail ATEEZ!!!!!!!
(also, it’s a little funny to me to have this sea-shanty-esque chorus kinda released on the heels of AKMU’s “naval” gazing album, with “Chantey”… now i want to try listening to the two albums in a row haha)
Yeah, ATEEZ’s marketing squad is A+. When they debuted a year ago, few paid any attention to them. But, it feels like they’re everywhere now and it all feels very natural. It helps that they’ve got a rock-solid composer team behind them.
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