Review

Song Review: E’Last – Dark Dream

E'Last - Dark DreamNow in their second year after debut, E’Last have maintained a symphonic sound that hearkens back to earlier generations of K-pop boy groups. I love them for this, but I’ve yet to fall head-over-heels in love with any of their songs. The drama and bombast is much-appreciated, but the songwriting tends to meander more than I’d like. It’s the difference between a stone cold classic like VIXX’s Error and this new single Dark Dream (악연).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like E’Last’s music a lot. It’s just that everything’s been so close to knock-your-socks-off excellence that the tiny gap becomes extra frustrating. There are parts of Dark Dream that approach perfection. When the song gets going during its fast-paced, thrilling chorus, there’s nothing stopping it. The verses bring down the energy, opting for a heavier melody and blasts of moody rap. This is fine, but these segments are overlong. Further listens tease out the details, and once you have that roadmap, Dark Dream‘s twists and turns feel less disorienting. Still, I’ll always prefer a tighter, more streamlined structure.

Thankfully, the song’s grandiose production is consistently thrilling. Many K-pop groups fuse symphonic elements into their music, but few do it with such aplomb. Dark Dream feels tailor-made for musical theatre, and I appreciate how slavishly it sticks to this concept. Even when the guys are shouting forgettable scraps of melody, the strings swirl in the background as if we’re listening to the most monumental song in pop music history. Strip this away, and Dark Dream would be far less effective. When it comes down to it, that’s always been E’Last’s Achilles heel.

 Hooks 8
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.5

20 thoughts on “Song Review: E’Last – Dark Dream

  1. I love the idea of what they are going for but I agree they have not gotten all the way there yet. I adore how the song opens and the grand sweeping feeling that accompanies it. Yet is seems like the song is missing is a solid peak or climax. It just kind of stops at the end rather than going out with the epic force it could have. However, I belive that E’Last have a masterpiece just wating in the wings for them and I am eager to see when they finally get there.

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  2. We aren’t always on the same page musically, but you took the words right out of my mouth on this one. I like “Dark Dream” but I’m not sure what to do with it. It might be a banger but the tempo changes are throwing me off. I’m going to have to see how it sounds in the car. I like the MV and am looking forward to stages, so that’s something.

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  3. Ok… That opening had no right to sound that good. The way Baekgyeul’s voice slowly weaves into the song after the dramatic opening of strings… Probably my favourite opening out of all the title tracks hehe.

    Oh, Nick, I can definitely empathise with you on the structural frustration! Maybe for a different reason to yours, because for me my main gripe is the bridge (though I can understand the structural whiplash being jarring too!)
    I think the bridge is a lot longer than it should be so it made the ending with the dance break a bit awkward. But I can appreciate the composers in attempting something new to differentiate from past title tracks.

    I don’t know how much I’ll return to this song (“Swear” unfortunately has been fallen victim to this terrible fate…) but one thing’s certain: E’Last and their frequent collaboration with composers like E have a clear idea on the group’s musical identity, and I think that’s great!
    Apart from my fondness for strings and holding a soft spot for E’Last, one of my favourite rookies, I want to think the guys are closer to soon deliver a masterpiece just like those second gen classics ^^

    Bonus: Bside “To.Lie” is quite nice! Probably my favourite E’Last bside now.
    It reminds me of WJSN’s “Let Me In” which, funny enough, just got released a few days ago! It’s probably the most upbeat track I’ve heard the guys done (unless you count “Dangerous” which… I think is borderline sexy and cool rather than happy haha).
    I’m glad the guys still get to explore different moods in their bsides rather than just ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’.

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  4. I understand where you’re coming from and I definitely felt that about their title tracks. Also, you mentioned vixx error but also back by infinite as well.

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  5. OFFTOPIC: aren’t you going to review NIK’s debut track, Santa Monica? It’s something you can like or dislike, of course, but it’s quite the only boy-group debut track in years that at least sounds “original” and somehow “unconventional”. I would like to read your opinion about that…
    And what about “Born To Be Wild” by The Wild Idol as well?

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    • Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure …

      ok, fine, I’ll post the reference
      ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egMWlD3fLJ8

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    • I liked “Santa Monica” too. It reminds me of Pentagon’s “Sha La La” – a nice lighter dance track that’s bright without being cute or bubbly. Not as strong musically or vocally but better rap. Plus I’m a sucker for a dance break and the stages have been solid.

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  6. For me it isn’t the tempo, its the performance. The kids in the group are usually the last ones I pick on. For me here I think the bones of the song are strong. I think this would suit a more outre, more seasoned group that would go more all out to sell the song. The performance doesn’ t have an energy, even a quiet burning about to bust apart energy. Picture what a Seventeen or a TVXQ or even perhaps an ACE or Ateez would do with this. They would perform the song like their Lives Depend on it. These boys here, they are good for bog standard kpop but they don’t rise to this theatricality.

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    • I just watched the MCOUNTDOWN stage and I’ve got to agree with you, although I don’t see it as picking on the guys so much as the many, many people involved in putting the performance together, none of whom apparently noticed that this style wasn’t working and suggested a change in concept. I appreciate the impulse to go big, but when it doesn’t work it’s a bit of a mess. It’s like they looked at KINGDOM’s last comeback and decided it needed more everything.

      Really, there’s a *lot* trying to happen with this performance. Watching the full cam, I’m struggling to think of any one group of those active in the last couple of years who could pull this off well. There are theatrical elements that remind me of ONEUS’ “To Be Or Not To Be”, acting portions I could see ATEEZ managing, some graceful choreo A.C.E could certainly eat for dinner, and then the formation stuff with the ropes that reminds me of stuff I’ve seen Stray Kids do on live performances.

      On top of all that, add in costuming with more members showing skin than I can think of since OnlyOneOf’s “Libido” and you’re asking an awful lot of a group whose younger members are still teenagers.

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      • Also, I looked up their profile to check their ages, and is it weird that every member has individual fanbase names? That seems weird to me.

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      • Oh my. Oh dear. Oh bless their hearts.
        I shall amend my comment: it isn’t the boys. It is everyone else at the agency except for the song picker who I think did a good job. The theming, the costumes, the choreo, all of the rest of it is so off. There is no style. Its just not a good kpop package, at all.
        ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwVnE36czhE

        For contrast, here is another equally symphonic song, ZEA “Ghost of the Wind”, about as many guys on the stage moving about in space and time, and it is just so much more polished and stylish even with a point off for interesting fabric choices on the jackets. (Incidentally, the first kpop song + MV I experienced.)
        ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-S2q1QBJ0A

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        • Oh, that is definitely a neat stage – I hadn’t heard of them before. The outfits are definitely something – I checked out a couple more stages and yeah. Something! It’s important to check your fabrics under the lights, people, especially whites! Are fancams/full cams a recent thing, because I’d love a view without the zooming cameras and I’m not finding one.

          I looked at E’Last’s prior stages and it seems like they’ve been consistent with the theatrical elegant concept since debut and making the outfits a bit more revealing each comeback. The prior stages seem to work better than this one and I wonder if mixing in the mature elements is part of what’s throwing them off. Younger/less experienced groups seem to mostly do elegant fine – thinking of Enhyphen’s last CB, or Oneus – but add sexy in and that’s another story.

          That said, I’m probably more picky about mature concepts than younger fans – like, I’ve seen abs before, you’re gonna have to do better than that. Besides, almost any athletic 20 year old male with low enough body fat can develop a six pack, it’s really not all that impressive. Come back when you’re 35 or 40, then we can talk. They’re so proud of their abs though, it makes me want to give them a cookie.

          Right now I’m really enjoying NIK’s stages for “Santa Monica”, speaking of engaging choreo and charisma for days (and unnecessary abs). Of the recent re-debut groups I like OMEGA X better musically (or noise-ically?) but the stages for their debut and this last comeback have struck me as weirdly flat. It’s a pretty standard dance song and a “we might not have a stylist” concept, but I like how NIK keeps changing up the number of members on stage rather than just rotating the center of a big formation. Obviously (to me at least, because I’m a trash can) long-hair guy is sucking a lot of the air out of the room, but most of the other guys are holding their own, especially the rappers.

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  7. I guess I’m the only one here loving everything they release. Highly disagree with the comment saying they don’t pull off the concept because they actually do, especially when they have such a charismatic member like Won Hyuk or Romin and Rano who really fit the “going crazy” concept and the rest of them like Seung Yeop, Choi In who are very theatrical in performances.

    I actually love their song structures and after consulting with my conductor, the composers isn’t creating a K-pop songs, they’re creating a musical piece, I guess that won’t be of everyone’s liking hehe.

    Dark dream, in particular, is one of the most complex songs I’ve heard in a while. I’m glad to know there’s at least one producer in kpop actually trying to make music and not just a chart hit.

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  8. Finally got around to this and I must say I never expected E’last to put out this kind of song!! A lot of elements – the pre chorus, the theatrical style and bgm, the overall mood – everything just feels so much like Oneus’s To be or Not to Be!

    TBONTB is my favorite song of 2020 which means Dark Dream has every potential to grow on me soon!!❤️🙃 I really liked the song – yes it’s kinda paced a little slow but on second listen it felt like that adds to to the dramatic vibe! 🙂 September first half had been so dull for me but I’m so happy that by the end there have been some amazing songs from unexpected places and it’s making this month pretty memorable now!

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  9. I like my subtle coffeehouse music, and my noise, and my quiet storm ballads, but what got me into Kpop was that performers like SHINee, EXO, NCT, Infinite, BTS, Ateez, etc. were just GOING for it like great metal bands but in a pop format. No quarter given. I like the song a lot, but if you listen to the instrumental, you really hear where it kind of clumps up. Onstage, they’re really good performers, and I approve of red crop top dude, but as I hear they are Atinys, they need to channel their inner crazy eyes San and go for it hard.

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  10. This reminds me of the ebb and flow of an opera. There are the bits with the sweeping melody and then the bits where everyone is “talking” and you never know when that will change into an argument or a lamentation and then switch to someone else and you wonder when the hell the melody is gonna come back around. I rather like it. It’s rich and overly dramatic.

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