It seems Ravi of VIXX just won’t slow down. If he’s not preparing for fanmeetings with the rest of his group, jetting off on solo tours of Europe, or composing in his studio until 2 am, he’s releasing new material. This time around, it comes in the form of a second album. Compared to his mixtapes, Ravi “official” releases tend to rely a little more on the pop and EDM notes that spill over from his work with VIXX. But that isn’t to say that his own flair is toned down. Far from it. Ravi delivers songs that match his voice and style perfectly well, whilst also trying new things that few would expect of him. It may not be to everyone’s taste, true. His rapping and low voice certainly have divided opinions in the past. But with R.OOK BOOK, it’s undeniable that he has a talent for composing music, one that really deserves to have the spotlight.
Things start off strong with ‘R.OOK BOOK‘, taking its name from the title of the album. This is fitting as the song works more as an intro, with the running time coming in at under 2 minutes. It’s immediately evident that the tone of this album is very different from his first. You could even say it takes more cues from his latest mixtape, which surely shows how well he has developed into his own style over the years. This is much more laid back, with a soundscape that echoes the feel. However, his rapping is quickfire, smooth yet contrasting in pace in a way that juxtaposes the overall tempo well.
This continues when ‘Tuxedo’ begins. Being the title track, this song had a lot of expectations to live up to, much of them set by his first official solo release, ‘Bomb.’ That song did exactly what it’s title hinted at – it exploded it being, an unapologetically forceful instrumental and chorus that not everyone liked. If ‘Bomb’ matched the connotations of its name, Ravi follows the trend with ‘Tuxedo.’ The track opens with some funky guitar, going into a song that is sleek, stylish and almost perfectly tailored to Ravi’s voice. Throw some brass in the chorus and a distinctive melody line and here’s a song that has a catchiness to it unlike some of Ravi’s previous solo ventures. There are copious amounts of autotune used on these singing sections (or rather, half singing sections, a style that is becoming increasingly more distinctive to his songs) and whilst to some this will sound fine, others will no doubt dislike the sound. However, it is nice to hear Ravi embracing his choices and using them without restraint.
Another theme emerges as the album continues. Notice the titles? Ravi is truly piecing together his own look book with these. ‘L.A.Y.E.R.E.D’ uses the same theme of clothes and style. Featuring Saay in some lovely vocal sections, this song is a little more ethereal, with some winding synths in the background, Ravi’s and Saay’s vocals layered in points. It also has some great moments wherein Ravi’s lower register voice is layered with his higher, stylised voice. Contrasts like this really serve to break up songs that have a relatively simple structure and slow pace, making it easy to listen to, but not dull.
‘See-Through’ instantly takes a different turn with a much more prominent hip-hop beat. Much of the vocal parts are characterised by Ravi’s half singing, half talking style, and rather than contrast this with softer vocals, he passes it on to Cold Bay. This rapper has yet to debut, but supported Ravi on his European tour. There’s a nice synergy to how their styles match that is seamless in this song. What really stands out the most here however, is the interesting fade out. The sound becomes muffled and distorted in an electronic way, before taking us to silence. It feels quite abrupt despite the slow fade, an interesting choice given how spaced out the rest of the song feels.
‘Runway’ feels like a continuation of the style established in ‘Tuxedo.’ The guitar matches and provides a good momentum for the entire track. There’s more autotune here too, and it does start to get a little repetitive. The small additions of vocals in the background, including harmonies, help to alleviate this some, but it would have been nice for this song to have kept to the style more faithfully. By the time the piano comes in before the last chorus, it’s a bit too late. But it is an excellent addition. If this had been featured more heavily throughout, this easily would have been one of the best tracks on the album.
The introduction to ‘U-niverse’ or ‘Cosmocorps’ takes a sample from an old speech, and quite how this fits in doesn’t become apparent in any part of the song. However, it is interesting and gets the listeners attention. The variety in rhythms between sections here is a welcome change from the relatively consistent pace of some of the previous songs. There are more trap elements too, which make it somewhat more distinct, along with an appearance by Rick Bridges in the second verse. It is also, perhaps notably, one of only two tracks on the album that does not fit its title into the look book theme.
‘Hoodie’ is an excellent example of how well Ravi can include other artists in his songs. The vocal sections here by Xydo sound wonderfully in the trap, synth and piano mix of the instrumental. The chorus is very repeatable rather than repetitive, no doubt something that will be infectious to sing along with at concerts. Most importantly, it sounds as though the autotune is greatly reduced, if not absent in this chorus sections in which Ravi very nearly sings. It sounds much cleaner due to this and marks itself apart from some of the more similar sounding offerings.
To round off the album, Ravi’s collaboration song with solo artist Chungha – ‘Live’ – is included, and it’s a very nice addition. Chungha’s voice works beautifully in this song and indeed fits very well with Ravi’s voice in the sections in which they harmonise. It is also nice to hear Ravi getting into the full flow of his rapping. If anything, this is more reminiscent of a song that he might compose for VIXX, and perhaps this is due to composing it with Chungha in mind. Her vocals provide a lovely lift to the chorus and moments in which Ravi whispers are some of those tiny additions that make all the difference. Hopefully, the good reception that this song received from both Ravi and Chungha’s fans will prompt more release from this matchup in the future.
In essence, this album feels like a coming together of the two sides of compositions we’ve seen from Ravi thus far – his solo efforts found in his mixtapes and the songs he has written to fit somebody else. Whether he has quite found the style that works best for him is yet to be seen. But the songs he does produce whilst in that process are high enough quality that it doesn’t seem right to ask him to rush.